Samsung is the home to smartwatches and fitness bands, and somewhere between the two of those is the Samsung Gear Fit2.
It’s a GPS-enabled fitness band with smartwatch elements such as notifications. While the majority of smartwatches out there run Android Wear or Apple’s watchOS, Samsung ploughs its own lonely furrow with Tizen. Does the gamble pay off?
Samsung Gear Fit2: Design
Love or hate Samsung, you can’t really argue with its design nous. The only real ugly duckling in its lineup these days is the Gear VR, but you try making any enormous VR goggles look good and you’ll quickly find it’s an impossible challenge. In any case, the Gear Fit2 is one of the best-looking fitness bands I’ve seen, with a bright, colourful screen, neatly encased in a couple of layers of curved plastic.
The rubber straps are discreet, but if you fancy something a bit more showy, they pop off easily with catches underneath the band. While this can be a slightly fiddly manoeuvre, it does make the device look more stylish in its charging dock – which, like the Moto 360, doubles up as a rather attractive night clock when you pop it on its charging dock.
The custom charging stand is a bit of a pain, of course, but not many fitness trackers use micro-USB – and this one has a very good excuse: it’s IP68-certified dust- and water-resistant. That means you can dunk it in a bucket, the bath or any other body of water to a depth of 1.5 metres for up to half an hour; in other words, you can shower with it, but it’s not designed for swimming.
Samsung Gear Fit2: Performance
That large screen is touch-sensitive, and you move through the menus with a swipe of the finger, which is pretty intuitive as – unlike plenty of fitness trackers – it works like a mini smartphone on the wrist. You can view workout data on the tiny Super AMOLED 128 x 432 display, although it’s only big enough for a cursory overview of things. Along with touch functions, a pair of buttons reside on the edge for activating features and backing up. That’s a sensible move given that touchscreens tend to go haywire when covered in rain or sweat, both of which are occupational hazards for the compulsive runner the device is aimed at.
Or at least, I think that’s who it’s aimed at, given it includes built-in GPS. This means you can run without your phone. The Gear Fit2 also has 4GB of internal storage for your music, and you can connect your Bluetooth earphones to it.
In fact, the Gear Fit2 is in a strange place, pitched halfway between the hardcore fitness fanatic and the casual buyer who just wants to track steps and improve themselves. The GPS means it’s probably overkill for the latter, but it has a damned good go at winning them over anyway. I’ve already talked about how it behaves very much like a smartphone on your wrist, but it has the added advantage that you don’t need to tell it you’re exercising. True, plenty of fitness trackers do this, but the Gear Fit2 is the first one to really draw my attention to it.
Walking to the Tube, every day without fail, the Gear Fit2 has told me at the same spot that I’m “walking at an excellent pace” and that I should keep it up. I imagine these cheery greetings might become an annoyance after a while, but for the moment it’s surprisingly good motivation, and good to know that no steps are lost on it.
It also detects when you’ve been sitting still for too long, encouraging you to move, and other clever little nods to those that just want to casually improve their general health and wellbeing. Widgets can be added to the homescreen to track the number of glasses of water drunk each day, or the number of coffees. That’s really smart: I know loads of fitness apps let you add that manually, but how much easier is it when it’s right there on the wrist, connected to the hand grabbing the coffee cup?
But it’s being sold as a fitness tracker, so let’s get to the nuts and bolts. How good is it at its core duties? Well, the first day I tried it out was something of a baptism of fire, as I wore it alongside three other GPS fitness bands for an impromptu group test at Run in the Dark. For various reasons, this isn’t completely scientific, but it gives you an idea of how it fares generally against other trackers. In short, it was pretty good at distance and pacing but gave an unreliable assessment of my heart rate, suggesting that it actually dipped dramatically halfway through the race, when all the others indicated a steadier rate.
Subsequent tests showed similar – if slightly less pronounced – fluctuations, but it does at least react to your behaviour out on the trail or the five-a-side football pitch (the referee didn’t order me to take it off this time, which is a testament to its understated style).
When you’re out running, starting and stopping is controlled by one of the buttons, while the touchscreen lets you cycle through six screens: duration, distance, calories, pace (minutes per km), speed (km/h) and heart rate. Upon finishing, you get a nice summary of vital statistics on the closing screen before it syncs with the S Health app.
Yes, that’s the same S Health app that you’ve been ignoring since the very first day you bought your Galaxy S7 handset (I had to actually hunt it down and re-enable it). But the good news here is that, unlike the Gear 360, Samsung does this time acknowledge that other Android manufacturers exist, permitting the Gear Fit2 to work with any device that runs Android 4.4 or later, and has 1.5GB of RAM or more. That means if you bought a non-budget Android phone in the past two to three years, you’re probably okay.
As for the app, I’m in two minds. In terms of positives, it auto-switches all tracking to the phone should your Gear Fit2 have run out of battery, and presents all the data in a nice, bright, easy-to-follow interface full of charts and graphs. But I have two main bugbears with it: the first is that it has no web presence at all. Fitbit, Garmin, TomTom et al all have websites where you can quickly look at your fitness data history. The second is that because the data is limited to the app, it’s not presented in the granular fashion I’d like. In other words, I can see I took more steps between 8am and 9am than in the hours that followed, but I can’t see how many more.
I appreciate these problems will make most people shrug and say “so what?”, and that’s entirely fair. It only had an impact on me because I was trying to compare a bunch of fitness trackers at the same time, which admittedly isn’t a typical use case. But it does come back to my concern earlier that the Gear Fit2 is caught between two stools. It can’t decide whether it’s for the hardcore fitness nerd that wants to analyse every minute of every mile, or for the kind of person that just wants to know whether they walked more yesterday than the day before.
The wide-ranging capabilities and bright, colourful screen have their limitations, too, and the biggest is the impact on the Gear Fit2’s dinky 200mAh battery. You’re looking at two to four days, depending on how bright you have the screen and how often you push the GPS into use. That’s actually not bad at all considering how much it does, plus it has the decency to offer plenty of warning when the juice is running out. And, like the Galaxy S7, it has a battery-saving mode where certain features are shut down and the screen switches to a grayscale display to ensure you don’t miss any precious steps.
Samsung Gear Fit2: Verdict
I really like the Gear Fit2, and it’s something I could definitely see myself buying. For me, it’s like a prettier version of the Garmin Vivosmart HR+, and that was my favourite fitness band of the year.
It’s not quite as laser-focused for the dedicated fitness buff, and the app is a little more wooly in the way it presents its stats, but as a product it’s both stylish and fully featured. If you have a Samsung phone with the ecosystem already set up, it’s about as close to a no-brainer as a £170 luxury item can be; for everyone else, it warrants serious consideration.
Samsung Gear Fit2: Design
Generally, fitness trackers offer you a blunt binary choice: plenty of features, or something that looks stylish to wear. The Gear Fit2 proves you can have both if you know where to look.