This is the second review in our mini-series 'Battle of the Bands,' comparing some of the most popular fitness bands available in Canada today. For an overview of the series, read Battle of the Bands: Finding the best fitness band for you.
Due to its very recent release (Apr. 11, to be exact), the Samsung Galaxy Gear Fit is a very in-demand device and we weren't able to spend quite as long with it as we were some of the other bands in our project. Nonetheless, I was able to wear it for a little over a week and test it out, and have plenty to report back from my time with the world's first curved AMOLED wearable display.
Samsung released the Gear Fit as part of its lineup of next-generation Galaxy Gear smart watches, which first launched last year. In addition to the direct successor to the original Galaxy Gear (the Gear 2), they also released the Gear 2 Neo (essentially the Gear 2 without a camera) and the Gear Fit, targeted at those looking for a fitness band that has the features of a smart watch.
And in that regard, the Gear Fit is largely a success: It lets you perform many of the same functions as its larger siblings, while offering the streamlined look of a fitness band. Unfortunately, when stacked up against other fitness bands, it comes up short.
Battle of the Bands:
Upcoming entries in this series:
- Nike+ FuelBand SE Review - coming May 29
- Jawbone UP24 Review - coming June 5
- Polar Loop Review - coming June 12
- Picking our winners - coming June 19
There's no question that the Gear Fit is a sleek looking device. With a curved AMOLED touch display about two inches wide, the Gear Fit has a look that would be suited to any wrist, from the daintiest woman's to the burliest man's. Like the FitBit Flex, it has a band that is separate from the device itself, so you can switch it out for any of the six colours or replace it if it breaks.
The screen, which can be customized with various wallpapers and to show different information (I opted to have it display the time and my pedometer) looks very nice -- provided you're indoors. When I was outside in bright sunlight, I found the display difficult to read, and it was totally impossible while wearing polarized sunglasses. It shouldn't come as a surprise that a screen wasn't visible with polarized lenses, but if you're planning on checking your steps taken, heart rate or the time while out on a run, it's worth keeping in mind.
The band is intelligently designed with ridges, like many sport watches, so you get some air underneath the plastic and you won't get terribly sweaty wrists. It only comes in one size but is adjustable via the clasp and holes in the band. For those of us with small wrists the extra band can be quite long and add a bit of bulk.
There is a bit of an issue with the placement of the tracker on the band; because of the way it sits in the wristband, it's awkward to to see the screen as it's naturally tilted away from the wearer. There are two orientations you can choose from, horizontal and vertical. The horizontal is virtually impossible to use due to the angle of the screen, but, thankfully, it's more usable when set to vertical.
Battery and Charging
To charge the band, there's an attachment that clips onto the device that you plug the charging cord into. Conveniently, it uses Micro USB, the same connection that many Samsung devices use.
The battery life is pretty close to the manufacturer's claim of four days. Since the screen brightness is adjustable, you've got a little bit of wiggle room to extend its life by dimming the screen, or eating it up faster in favour of a brighter screen.
This is probably the Gear Fit's greatest weakness when compared to other fitness bands in our project: It's the only one not compatible with Apple's hugely popular iPhone, and only works with select Samsung Android tablets and phones. Now, this is fine if you've got one of the 17 devices it's compatible with, like the Samsung Galaxy S5, but the reality is that the limited compatibility is going to forever relegate the Gear Fit to a very small portion of the fitness band-wearing populous. In addition to the S5, the Gear Fit is compatible with Galaxy Grand 2, Galaxy Note 3, Galaxy Note 3 Neo, Galaxy Note 2, Galaxy S4, Galaxy S3, Galaxy S4 Zoom, Galaxy S4 Active, Galaxy S4 Mini, Galaxy Mega 6.3, Galaxy Mega 5.8, Galaxy Note 10.1 (2014 Edition), Galaxy Note PRO (12.2) and Galaxy TabPRO (12.2/10.1/8.4).
There are a few different apps that work with the S Health software that pairs with the Gear Fit, including Lark's activity tracker, RunKeeper and Workout Trainer, although these work more with S Health than the Gear Fit specifically.
Out of all the bands we tested, I found that the Samsung Galaxy Gear Fit had the most aggravating setup experience. In order to use the Gear Fit, you need to set up S Health (the fitness app featured on Samsung devices), a Samsung account to make it work, and the Gear Fit Manager to make changes on the band itself, which is separate from the tracking software. Still with me?
Once you're up and running, however, the software is quite good. S Health is designed to be able to work with just the phone for tracking steps and the like, but is improved with the addition of the Gear Fit. By including the Gear Fit, you can also track sleep, steps and heart rate without needing your phone right there.
The software built into the band is undeniably good. Occasionally it was a little sluggish, but for the most part it was responsive and did a lot more than other bands we looked at. Features to check my email and calls, control my music, set a time and log fitness activities were all convenient.
The food logging built into S Health has a good selection and lets you add photos and notes about your meal (although it does lack a barcode scanner). Food is sorted into categories so you can find what you want quite quickly, or you can add your own food items. The only downside to adding your own is the inability to add any nutrition information beyond the calorie count. For items already in the database, it includes a complete breakdown of nutritional info.
Sleep tracking is fairly basic on the Gear Fit. You set sleep mode by paging to the option on the Gear Fit screen, and it monitors motion until you turn off sleep mode in the morning. The data you get isn't terribly detailed: You get a bar showing the percentage of time you were motionless after turning on your band. Unlike other bands we tested, it doesn't show when the restless periods are, just how much time you spent being restless.
I did notice a couple of issues with the band while sleeping: First, one of the options you can turn on with the band is a motion sensor that automatically activates the screen when you lift up your arm (as if you're checking a watch). Extremely handy in the day time, sure, but it kept waking me up as the screen would suddenly light up when I moved at night. Second, the blocking mode (which stops notifications) does not automatically stop notifying you about emails, texts and calls when you set the band to sleep. I feel like I should be able to set these as an exception to go off during sleep, not the rule.
Compared to other fitness bands, I found that the Gear Fit tracked a higher-than-average number of steps. As I mentioned earlier, it was sometimes difficult to read the pedometer screen when outside, especially wearing sunglasses, but generally I found the Gear Fit provided good walking information. I set the customizable home screen on the Gear Fit to show the time (a feature I love on any band) and the pedometer, which appears as a circle that fills up as you approach your goal steps for the day.
When you first start with the band, you need to manually turn on the pedometer. Otherwise, you'll be as confused as I am when S Health doesn't show you taking any steps.
The Gear Fit has four categories of trackable activities: Walk, Run, Cycle or Hike. You can't track anything else, so it doesn't even pretend to calculate calories burned in other activities. I can kind of respect that, but it does make me feel like all that time in hot yoga was "wasted."
Because the Gear Fit isn't strictly a fitness band, it comes with loads of other options. You can get email, text and call notifications and get previews of messages or manage calls from your wrist. I used the email notifications and found it quite handy to be able to see who was contacting you and determine if it was worth pulling out the phone to respond.
Some of the other fitness-related features on the band include a stopwatch and timer, which were handy for both timing active periods and knowing when to take out my laundry. You can also measure your heart rate using either the Gear Fit or compatible phones using S Health (including the Galaxy S5 I was using.) Both use a light to measure heart rate, and it seemed quite accurate, although you do have to stand quite still for a time in order for it to read properly.
Setting an alarm is kind of tricky, because you need to set it on the phone, and it gets pushed through to the band if you have alarm notifications on. However, I couldn't figure out how to set the alarm on just the Gear Fit and not have the alarm go off at the same time on the phone.
Other features on the Gear Fit include Find My Phone, for tracking down a lost mobile device, and Media Control to adjust your phone's music without having to pull it out.
When you get halfway to your steps goal, you get a little buzz from the band and it displays a bronze medal; if you make that goal, you get gold. It might be minor, but it's certainly enough to make you think, "hey, I'm halfway there," which can make any fitness goal seem less scary.
You can share information from S Health through a lot of different means, ranging from sending it to Facebook or over email to posting an image to Picasa. I personally didn't find the features that useful, but I'm less inclined to post online about my workouts and actually kind of enjoyed that I wasn't going to accidentally post my progress to Twitter.
The screen on the Samsung Galaxy Gear Fit looks great, and provides a range of features that you can't get with any of the other fitness bands we looked at, like the ability to manage incoming messages. But overall the band did not perform some of the lifestyle-tracking tasks as well as some of the other bands, like sleep-tracking and the ability to enter a variety of exercises. If you own a compatible Samsung device already, the Gear Fit is a good choice, especially considering the other features it has.
The Samsung Galaxy Gear Fit is available now for $199.99.
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