|Samsung Gear Fit2
Display: 1.84-inch Curved Super AMOLED
Samsung doesn’t give up easily, it seems. The company has repeatedly tried and tried again to create a winner in the wearables category, only to achieve mixed results. The Gear Fit2 isn’t a smartwatch, but rather a fitness band that can sort of act like a smartwatch because of its large screen and litany of features.
Contextually, it doesn’t really matter whether the device is characterized one way or another. Its purpose is to track activity and function as an extension of a compatible smartphone, showing incoming notifications, controlling audio playback and answering or rejecting phone calls. Having attempted to do something similar two years ago, Samsung finally put together something that is worth seriously talking about.
Design and Setup
The Gear Fit2 is designed to primarily work with Samsung smartphones, though other Android devices are also compatible. The iPhone is not.
The curved 1.84-inch AMOLED display is naturally the most obvious visual cue. Bright, sharp and vibrant, it’s also highly responsive, and the software does a nice job of making use of the limited real estate, which I’ll touch on later. Of course, swiping is the primary method of getting around, but there is also a power and back button to navigate back to the main screen or access deeper features within settings. A long touch on the home screen offers up other watch faces for greater customization. The home button can also be customized to quick launch a specific feature or action.
Underneath the body is a visible optical heart rate monitor, though Samsung tried to cram in whatever sensors it could, including GPS so the band doesn’t need a phone to record location and distance. There’s also 4GB of internal storage for music files, which is good enough for about 1,000 songs, but the feature does feel a little underwhelming when streaming music is so prominent now.
The rubberized strap is an elastomer that feels soft and rugged all at once, and is IP68-rated for water-resistance, down to 1.5 metres for up to 30 minutes. That means the Fit2 is fine to withstand the rain or a splash, but I would advise against trying to swim with it. It’s water-resistant, not waterproof.
The loop and single prong make for a quicker fit and removal, and the comfort is noticeable. I sometimes forgot I was even wearing it, and once stepped in the shower forgetting to remove it first.
Pairing it with a phone is pretty much obligatory because it’s the only way data can be synced over. If you were to use the Gear Fit2 on its own first, and then try pairing later, you would be forced to do a light reset or factory reset, which would delete everything you’ve achieved.
There is built-in Wi-Fi for the band to connect to the Internet on its own for retrieving notifications, even when the phone is out of Bluetooth range. The catch is that the phone and band have to be on the same Wi-Fi network.
In keeping with the theme of autonomy, the Gear Fit2 is supposed to be smart enough to recognize movement, sleep and calorie burn. That’s not new, since other bands and smartwatches already do that. What’s a little more unique in this case is that the band is designed to identify the actual activity.
Doing yoga will be logged differently from a solid 30 minutes on an elliptical, for example. A brisk walk will show different metrics than a solemn stroll. A nap will be noted as being distinct from overnight slumber. And when the band is taken off, its lack of tracking is also reflected in Samsung’s S Health app log when data is synced over.
Other metrics require manual input, like caffeine or water intake. Exercises can be triggered manually to ensure everything is being tracked properly, in case you have any qualms about the accuracy of the device’s own identifiers. Navigating to find everything is fairly straightforward, and in addition to the Gear S2 smartwatch, Samsung has finally started to figure out what a proper interface looks and feels like on a wearable device.
To save battery, the screen is off unless turned on. Raising my wrist to look at it turned it on automatically, which could be useful while on an exercise machine, but not always practical if I needed my arms for proper form. That’s not such a big deal, but in instances where I needed to interact with the menus, a slightly more responsive touch would have been appreciated. The side buttons are handy, not only for turning the screen on, but also for going back to the home screen quickly, or simply back to the previous page.
In the video, I show how basic navigation and the various screens work, so won’t rehash it here. The depth involved here may require digging in and doing more things manually, especially if you’re a stickler for accuracy. That’s not a drawback to the Gear Fit2, only a confirmation that the device is a lot like its competitors. These are smart devices, but they’re not brilliant just yet.
Apps and extras
By far, one of the biggest disappointments — as of this review — is the lack of Spotify integration. For reasons that are unclear, it’s currently only available in the United States. To be able to access and control my music library on a wearable without touching the phone would be a highlight I haven’t fully experienced on another similar product. Here’s hoping it’s coming to the Great White North soon, and when it does, that it would be possible to store playlists offline on the band itself so as to remove the phone when going to the gym entirely. Otherwise, storing music on the band and pairing it with Bluetooth headphones or earbuds is the only way to remove the phone from the equation.
App support otherwise is very limited, mainly because the Gear Fit2 runs on Samsung’s Tizen platform, not Android. Developers would have to make apps work specifically for the platform and the device at the same time. For the moment, Samsung supplies most of the goods, and outside of the basics, I didn’t find much use for most, personally.
Bringing in notifications is fine, but here too, integration wasn’t as deep as I would’ve liked. I could read messages coming in, but couldn’t respond to them with canned responses unless they were from contacts using Samsung’s Messages app or Facebook Messenger. WhatsApp, Hangouts and others are excluded because there’s no support for them. The best I could do was use the band to open the app on the phone to respond there.
Then there’s S Health, which Samsung sort of forces you to use with the Gear Fit2. The Gear app is what I used to manage the band’s settings and features, but all the health data went to S Health. I’ve never really been sold on it, and I’m not sure the Gear Fit2 warmed me up to it that much more. What matters, of course, is the data itself, and as long as the app did its job in organizing it, I was content.
Not surprisingly, battery life is not great on the Gear Fit2. The combination of a larger, colourful screen, various sensors and constant tracking sap whatever life the battery can muster. All told, I was usually able to get about two days of usage before needing to recharge. A power saving mode kicked in at about 10%, which stretched things out further by taking away the colour, killing notifications and sticking to step tracking.
Notifications were clearly a battery killer, as was the Wi-Fi connection. By turning those off manually, I was able to get a solid extra day of usage.
For Samsung, the Gear Fit2 fits better than its previous attempts at a wearable tracker. It may straddle the line between a smartwatch and fitness band, but that’s okay. The one caveat to doing as much as it does is the fact you will need to charge it often. It’s pretty durable, but not what I would consider rugged, so it’s unclear how much of a beating it can take. Profuse sweat is no problem. Water, on the other hand? The less, the better.
If you’re looking for a wearable that can look like a watch or band, the Gear Fit2 is a good bet, especially if you already use a Samsung smartphone.
The Samsung Gear Fit2 is available at Best Buy now.