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Samsung Gear Sport review: middle of the road
Think smartwatch and, chances are, Samsung Gear comes to mind. Running the company’s custom Tizen OS rather than Android Wear, Samsung’s Gear range has had many additions over the past few years. From fitness devices to feature-rich smartwatches and everything in between, Samsung’s approach to wearables is that there’s something for everyone.
Earlier this year, the company unveiled the Gear Sport and the Gear Fit 2 Pro. While the latter is a fitness-focused wearable, the former is designed to fill the gap between the Gear Fit 2 Pro (at the lower end), and the company’s flagship wearable, the Gear S3 Classic and Gear S3 Frontier.
With new partnerships and a feature set that combines most of the features of the Gear S3 with a few of its own, should the Gear S3 be your new smartwatch? Is a fitness-first approach right for a smartwatch? Let’s find out – this is our Gear Sport review.
The design of Samsung’s Gear smartwatch range hasn’t changed much since the Gear S2 and that continues to be true with the Gear Sport. The watch brings a lot of the design cues of the Gear S3 to a lower price point. It looks good on the wrist and, crucially, it’s smaller than the Gear S3 which should mean it’ll fit more wrists.
Like the Gear S3, the signature rotating bezel has grooves that provide subtle tactile feedback. This time, though, there are no indentations to signify seconds on the clock. Instead, the bezel is free of any markings which provides a subtler and more understated experience.
The bezel is my favorite feature on the Gear Sport and it provides what is arguably the best way to navigate any smartwatch on the market. A little tug or a little push is all that’s needed to make it move, and it feels a little easier to use than the Gear S3’s bezel, which seems to be slightly firmer. While you can use the touchscreen, the rotating bezel provides a simple way to navigate the Tizen experience.
One of the biggest complaints with the Gear S3 was its large 46mm casing and Samsung is aiming to make the Gear Sport compatible with more wrists. The body casing is noticeably smaller at 42.9mm. It may still be a little large for some people, but should fit most wrists comfortably.
The Gear Sport comes with a silicon band in the box (either Black or Blue, depending on which color Gear Sport you buy) but there’s plenty of other bands available as well. As we saw back at the Gear Sport launch last month, there’s 10 different designs of Nato bands, and there’s also a hybrid strap that combines rubber at the bottom with leather on top for those who want a more stylish experience. The Gear Sport also supports any 20mm watch band, which allows you to change the band out and make it truly yours.
The rest of the Gear Sport follows the design we’ve come to expect from Samsung with a back and home key on the left and a heart rate monitor under the watch face. During my testing, a key thing I found is that you’ll want to pick the right loop when clasping the watch as too loose and the Gear Sport has a habit of rotating around your wrist rather quickly.
Unlike the Gear S3 Frontier or Gear S3 Classic which have the ability to work with multiple outfits, the Gear Sport is firmly designed for fitness fanatics. The sporty nature (and name) of this watch means it’s designed with a fitness-first approach, but it looks good most of the time. The Gear Sport should work with most outfits, though if you’re wearing business dress you might want to pick something else.
Unlike its Gear S3 sibling, the Gear Sport is designed to be a fitness companion on your wrist. While it possesses many of the features that make the Gear S3 a smartwatch, Samsung has removed a few to make the Gear Sport a more affordable watch.
The features removed don’t deter from the experience of the Gear Sport much. For example, the Gear Sport comes with Samsung Pay but only via NFC-enabled terminals. The Gear S3 and Samsung’s smartphones also come with MST technology, which allows you to use contactless payments even at terminals that don’t support NFC.
The Gear Sport is the first Samsung smartwatch to come with 5ATM support, allowing you to swim up to 50 meters underwater
The Gear S3 is rated at IP67 for dust and water resistance up to 1 meter for up to 30 minutes. The Gear Sport comes with 5 ATM support instead, which allows you to swim up to 50 meters underwater. It’s with this that the Gear Sport takes fitness much more seriously than the Gear S3.
Other hardware features include a 1.2” 360 x 360 pixels Super AMOLED display with Gorilla Glass 3 support that’s even bright outdoors in direct sunlight. There’s also 4 GB of internal storage, a dual core 1 GHz processor and 768 MB of RAM which provides a snappy experience. An array of sensors and connectivity options also make it onboard, including Bluetooth 4.2, WiFi, NFC, a Barometer, Heart Rate Monitor, and ambient light monitor to automatically adjust the display brightness based on the conditions.
We found that while the display is great at all brightness levels, keeping it at level 4 brightness or lower significantly helps the battery life. At levels 3 or lower however, it can be quite hard to see in bright sunlight so you’ll want to tweak it based on your conditions. I preferred to manually control the brightness rather than use the ambient light sensor as this helps ensure you can maximize the battery life.
The Gear Sport is powered by a 300 mAh battery that lasts between two and three days on average. During ten days with the Gear Sport, the battery was never a concern, but we found it to last around two days when you’re using all of the features. Overnight, you’ll find the Gear Sport drains around 8 to 15%, although if you enable the power saving mode and turn on Do Not Disturb, this can be as low as 5% in a whole night.
Battery life is not a concern and lasts around two days on average
From empty, the Gear Sport takes around 2.5 to 3 hours to charge when using the included charging dock which uses USB-C, but beware: if you use the charger from the Gear S3 (which uses microUSB), it takes noticeably longer to charge the Gear Sport so we’d recommend using the charger that comes with the Gear Sport.
Some Gear S3 features make their way to the Gear Sport, one of which is GPS, which allows you to see a live map of your route, as well as the route you took after the run. Combined with the new calorie counter feature – more on that below – this is great for those who take fitness seriously.
A fitness-first experience
The Gear Sport is definitely a worthy contender if you’re serious about your fitness. Like the Apple Watch, it brings several watch faces designed to show your workout and fitness stats at a glance. Automatic workout tracking also makes it easy to keep track of your fitness goals and the addition of a partnership with Speedo for swim tracking is perfect for tracking laps in the pool.
Part of the Tizen experience is based around the different home screens, each of which are occupied by a widget. A turn of the bezel to the left of the home screen pulls up different screens for each notification but it’s when you turn to the right that you see the full dedication to fitness in Tizen.
Out of the box, there are several widgets dedicated to showing your fitness stats. From the calories burned counter – with a helpful reminder of yesterday’s calories so you can compare – to your step counter, floor counter and average heart rate, there are several ways to check your stats at a glance.
One widget that is particularly useful is the workout screen which allows you to activate trackers for running, walking, cycling and swimming with just a couple of taps. The automatic workout tracker is definitely useful but we found that it can mistake brisk walking for a run. This widget makes it simple to ensure you’re accurately tracking your various exercise routines.
There’s also plenty of other widgets available, like a screen dedicated to showing your Samsung Health info (exercise, steps and sleep), a counter to show you how many cups of water you’ve consumed and various others around challenges, a leaderboard – where you can compare your weekly step count with your friends – and particularly useful for coffee lovers, a caffeine counter.
Of course, there are other non-fitness related widgets like App shortcuts, calendar, contacts, news briefings, an alarm, and a world clock. There are a few others available to download via Gear Apps but I found no need for these as the preinstalled widgets offer the functionality that I personally want to use.
Samsung has updated its Health app to offer you personalized fitness advice. After setting up your profile in Samsung Health, you’re able to pick from a variety of fitness programs that are tailored specifically to you. Once you pick your fitness program, you can either watch them on your phone or on your home TV.
Samsung partnered with a few companies in launching the Gear Sport.
The first of these is Under Armor, which launched an exclusive set of apps on the Gear Sport. As mentioned earlier, the live mapping of your run is through the Map My Run feature, which is now exclusive to Gear Sport. It’s unclear whether this will launch with other Gear devices via an update, but Samsung has said it’s under consideration.
The biggest partnership – for me at least – is Spotify. The Gear Sport is the first device to come with full offline capability for Spotify free and Premium users. This is my number one music streaming service and on the Gear Sport it’s great to have the ability to store around 400-500 tracks on the 4GB of internal memory.
I found it works rather well and while it takes a little bit of time to download to the Gear Sport, it’s incredibly useful for those times when you don’t want to take your phone with you. There’s also a collection of Spotify Run workout playlist. While I have very specific tastes in music, I found that these playlists are great to increase the tempo and get your heart rate pumping.
I’m not personally a swimmer so I’ve not really been able to try out the watch’s final partnership, with Speedo. This is Speedo’s first wearable partnership and while I’m yet to try out the feature, Samsung says it can track your laps in the pool, the distance, and the time of each lap. After each swim, the app supposedly produces a report on your swim workout. We’ll put this to the test in the near future and update with our findings.
Gear Sport – should you buy it?
Android-compatible smartwatches have undergone several changes in the few short years they’ve been available to purchase. Initially billed as a way to stop looking at your phone screen unnecessarily, they quickly became a method to track fitness. Samsung’s own internal research shows that 92% of active smartwatch owners use their watch primarily for fitness and this shows in the approach to the Gear Sport.
Designed to affordably bring the fitness benefits of the Gear ecosystem to a larger audience in mind, the Gear Sport mostly delivers on its goal. Rather than make a smartwatch with some fitness tendencies, Samsung opted to make a fitness device that fits sleekly on your wrist and offers the main smartwatch features that people use (fitness, communication, news and entertainment, and utilities).
As someone who’s getting back into fitness, I found the Gear Sport useful to keep track of my fitness goals
As someone who’s getting back into fitness, I found the Gear Sport useful to keep track of my goals. The subtle prompts around my progress coupled with at-a-glance reporting of where I am with my day’s fitness goals provides a welcome companion to keep me on track.
Should you buy the Gear Sport? If you’re interested in a device that offers a fully-fledged smartwatch experience with an emphasis on fitness, then the Gear Sport certainly delivers. If you’re more interested in a smartwatch that fits every outfit you’re wearing and also has fitness options, then the Gear S3 might be a better pick.
What do you think of the Gear Sport and do you plan to buy one? Do you use a smartwatch and if so, which one? Let us know your views in the comments below!