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Samsung Gear Fit review

Samsung's foray into the world of fitness bands brings some smartwatch capabilities as well. How does it fare? Here's our review of the Samsung Gear Fit!
April 18, 2014

Advances in technology have certainly played a big role in making our lives a whole lot easier, but with almost everything now available at the tip of your fingers, it has also been a contributing factor in making us a lot lazier. Various tech companies are now taking up the cause for our health and fitness needs, or at the very least, keep a track of it.

Samsung is the latest in an every-growing list of companies that is throwing their hat into the fitness ring, with the aptly named Samsung Gear Fit. With the Gear Fit, Samsung tries to bridge the gap between fitness bands and smartwatches, by attempting to offer the best of both worlds. Do they succeed in the first try? We find out, in this comprehensive review of the Samsung Gear Fit! 

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If you thought that the Gear line of smartwatches were a little less than accessible, or even just a bit of eyesore, the Gear Fit addresses that issue with a refreshingly accessible, and easy to look at, design.

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The Gear Fit is comprised of a 1.84-inch curved OLED display, a single button, along with a charging connector and a heart rate monitor on the back, that fits into a rubber band that is replaceable and available in numerous colour options to suit your style. If you’ve ever used a fitness band like Fitbit or the Nike FuelBand before, the Samsung Gear Fit takes up that particular motif, but features a lot more functionality due its unique display experience.

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As far as the band goes, it is surprisingly easy to put on, compared to the Gear smartwatches, which were a little confusing at first. A double pin fastener fits right into the holes on the other part of the band, allowing you to easily wear and remove the Gear Fit without any fuss.

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While the Gear Fit is bigger than most other fitness bands, the overall size of the entire setup does keep it from getting too bulky. In fact, it is quite light and fits snugly on your wrist without weighing it down, and as is the hope from any fitness band that you’d have on for long periods of time, after a while, you won’t even notice that you have the Gear Fit on.

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Of course, the eye-catching part of the Gear Fit is its vibrant display, and you should definitely get ready to answer questions about the device when the display turns on to show notifications, or when you check the time.

The touchscreen capabilities are easy to use and allow for quick access to various functions, but touch sensitivity was a little spotty at times, as I was forced to press a button multiple times until I was finally able to get in.

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If you watched my first hands-on with the Gear Fit, you’ll know that I found the landscape orientation a little bit odd considering the way the band is positioned on the wrist, which led to me suggesting wearing the Gear Fit backwards on your wrist for better reading comfort. This still holds true, but is helped a lot by the fact that you have the ability to make the display go into portrait mode, which is what I use on a semi-permanent basis now. When you view your notifications, you can set it to go into landscape mode whenever you open one, but reading a whole notification in this orientation can lead to some uncomfortable stretching of the arm and wrist.

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There is little to take away from the display of the Gear Fit as it primarily shows the potential of such devices in the future. Basically, if Samsung is able to outfit its device with such a great display in its first attempt, we’re really excited to see how far this form factor can go in general.

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Given how much, or rather how little, the Gear Fit is supposed to do, its performance was never in question. Swiping between functions was smooth, and there were never any issues getting to what I needed.

As far as battery life is concerned, it is capable of going for a couple of days, which isn’t particularly terrible, but definitely pales in comparison to the capabilities of the other fitness bands that can go for far longer than that. Of course, those fitness bands also don’t have a large display to power, so the difference in battery life is certainly understandable.

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It should be mentioned though that the charging module that snaps into the back of the device is really small, and basically looks like a small hunk of plastic, which means that if you aren’t careful, you could end up losing it quite easily.

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Leaving out all other factors, what ultimately matters is ease of use, and the Gear Fit is certainly an impressive first attempt, but unfortunately falls victim to the usual Samsung trope, and ends up trying to be too many things at once, without being really excellent at any one.

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Of course, the main component of the Gear Fit is fitness. Functionality as a fitness band includes things like tracking steps, you sleep cycle, and distance-based activities. There’s nothing more that you’d really be able to use this for, so it all depends on your fitness regime. For example, if you exclusively do a lot of weight training, you won’t be getting as much use out of the Gear Fit.

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The pedometer is a required feature of any fitness band, but proves to be quite inaccurate in this case. Walking around the LA Arboretum for a camera shootout resulted in around 3000 steps in one hour, which is certainly way too high to be accurate. The other issue with the pedometer, as well as the sleep tracker, is that they are not always firing, and you have to actively turn them on before you actually do the activities, which can definitely get frustrating if you forget to turn it on a few times.

Fitness tracking with the Gear Fit allows for the recording of the distance travelled, how long the workout was, and also the general amount of calories you’ve burned. All this information is collected in the S Health application, which is quite robust by itself, but anyone looking for more from their workout data may not be satisfied here.

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Unlike the heart rate monitor found on the back of the Samsung Galaxy S5 that is capable of only single readings, the HRM on the Gear Fit is capable of constantly monitoring your heart rate, but only after you turn on a coaching mode, which will constantly track the heart rate and let you know to take it easy in case of a high BPM.

The holes in its operation are what make the Gear Fit less than favourable companion for anyone who is very into fitness. It requires a lot of manual input to even work, the fitness tracking options available are quite basic and minimal, and while having an always-on heart rate monitor during workouts is definitely a positive, the Gear Fit doesn’t add anything to the fitness band game other a pretty screen.

On the other side of the coin is the capabilities of the Gear Fit as a smartwatch. You can of course, look at the time, and basic weather information on the homescreen, the background of which can also be set to a specific image that can be set from the Gear Fit Manager app on your Galaxy device. You also get a Find My Device app that notifies you if either of the devices are too far away from each other, and a Media Controller that lets you skip tracks or change the volume, and was the feature that I ended up using the most.

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Notifications are the marquee function provided by having a nice screen, but like I alluded to before, it’s far from a perfect implementation. When using the Gear Fit in portrait mode, notifications that come up are often scrunched up due to formatting issues.

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You can, of course, view notifications in landscape mode as well, but not only does this require quite a lot of scrolling, it is also hard to read it without straining your arm to line it up just right. Notifications are also on a view-only basis, so while you can set up basic templates for responses, you’ll still find yourself reaching for your phone more often than not.

And so there you have it, the Samsung Gear Fit. While it has its flaws, it does help when you consider that this is probably just the beginning. With all that Samsung missed in this first attempt at providing a fitness orientated experience, users will probably be more excited about the prospect of having fully capably displays on their wearable devices. This is the  first wearable capable of some smartwatch capabilities, that is very easy to use and wear throughout the day, and while having it on will add to your geek cred, the moment you realize you forgot to personally turn on the pedometer or the sleep tracker, is when you realize this is definitely more geek-orientated than catered to fitness buffs. The first order of business is fixing the current issues, and that should be enough for Samsung to unlock the potential of what was an exciting development in the world of wearable tech.