Samsung Gear Fit Review8
The Gear Fit features a simple touch and tap interface similar to that on a smartphone, but with more limited features, focused around showing you the time, weather, and fitness information.
Why has Samsung picked the limited RTOS over richer platforms like Android or Tizen? The answer likely lies in the fact that such a barebones OS can make do with very humble hardware that consumes very little energy. This is what allows the Fit both to be compact and to last three to four days on average, something that other devices with color displays will find hard to match.
Another issue of the Gear Fit is its limited compatibility - the band works only with Samsung phones, and not even all of them. Right now, the Fit is compatible with 17 Samsung devices including the latest Galaxy S5, the S4, S III, Note III, Note 2, and others.
The interface itself is easy to grasp - it’s based on touching and tapping, just like on a smartphone. At the time of this writing, Samsung has already added support for both landscape and portrait orientation for the display. Initial prototypes of the Gear Fit had landscape support only and that made it a bit hard to read, but with portrait mode now available, there are no longer such issues.
Companion app and customization options
You set up the Gear Fit and customize its looks and functionality via Samsung’s official Gear Fit Manager application that you download for free from the Samsung app store. This app is where you first pair the Fit to your phone (via Bluetooth 4.0 LE), and you’d need it if you want to load up custom wallpapers, watchfaces, or to just re-arrange the icons on the bracelet.
The application features a set of wallpapers optimized for the long and narrow display of the Fit, and you can crop images from your phone as well, and load them up as background art. You can actually change the wallpaper on the Fit itself, but there, you only have a small sub-set of pre-defined images, and to load up new ones, you’d need the companion app.
You unlock the Gear Fit by either pressing on the single physical key on its side, or by raising your hand in a natural motion towards your eyes, just as you’d do when you look at a traditional watch. The unlocking with motion works okay most of the time, but there is a slight delay until the screen turns on. This is a bit of a nuisance when all you want to do is check the time. It’s also very annoying when the screen refuses to turn on, and you have to repeat the gesture over and over again (something that can get embarassingly weird or funny when you’re in public). We tested whether the screen would mistakenly turn on when you walk, and we can say that it almost never does, but if you’re working out or exercising, for instance, it does occasionally turn itself on, mistaking your movements for attempts to unlock it. Still, with all its quirks, turning the screen on is our preferred method of waking the device since it does not require you to use both your hands. We ought to mention that the screen turns off after a few seconds (you can change screen timeout to up to 5 minutes, but that would worsen battery life), so you would need to wake it up every time you want to glance the time, weather, steps or something else.
Once unlocked, you have the main screen which you can customize to show you one of the following things: clock + weather, clock + upcoming calendar meeting, clock + steps, dual clock, just (a fancy) clock.
In addition to the main screen, you have four additional menu pages that you can swipe between. Each of them houses three icons. Here are all the functions on the Gear Fit: notifications, media controller, pedometer, exercise (running, cycling, hiking), heart rate, sleep, timer, stopwatch, find my device, and settings.
The Gear Fit might not support third-party apps, but it shows you notifications from all kinds of different apps from native email, to calendar, Facebook, Viber, and all others that have implemented the feature. Such a rich notification system is welcome, as other popular wearables like the Pebble, for instance, cannot receive notifications from all that many apps, plus some have a problem with non-Latin text encodings. None of those issues are present on the Fit.
It would vibrate and light up when you receive a call or a text message. For calls, you can reject or reject and send the single pre-defined text reply: “I’ll call you later”, but you cannot actually talk on the Fit, unlike the Gear 2. For text messages, you can read the whole message on the smart bracelet, and you have a few pre-defined replies that you can send straight from the wearable. The same holds true for email – you can read full emails, as well as send quick pre-defined replies via the Samsung email app. Notifications for third-party apps like say Facebook, Whatsapp, Gmail or Viber happen in a very similar manner, but unlike calling, SMS and email (that are considered first-party apps), you cannot reply to these notifications from the Fit.
Finally, we ought to mention that deleting messages on the Gear Fit is an unnecessarily complicated task. Imagine a situation when someone sends you a few lines on Facebook - in Facebook’s traditional interface this would count as a single message. Not on the Gear Fit, though - every line will be counted as a separate message and you’d have to delete every single one of those to clear up your notifications box. We hope Samsung finds a way to fix this (at least for popular apps like Facebook) in the near future.
Gear Fit as a fitness tracker
The Gear Fit is more than just a beautiful curved screen that you can wear on your wrist, though. It has aspirations as a fitness tracker, and your journey with it towards better health starts with setting up a profile. You’d need to tell the Fit how old you are, what’s your sex, as well as how your height and weight. After you’re done with this, you can start getting fitter.
Pedometer - this is the feature that records the distance you travel by keeping track of the steps you take, a must-have feature for any fitness tracking gadget. Keep in mind that the pedometer does not record your steps unless you start it first - only then, it will start running in the background. For us, that's just plain weird for a device with aspirations as a fitness tracker: such features are expected to be turned on by default - it makes no sense for the user to have to worry remembering to turn on fitness tracking features on a... fitness tracker!
Right on the fit, you can see your steps for the past few days in a graph, so you don’t have to turn to your device for this. The pedometer, however, does sync your daily steps with the S Health app, and there you can see more detailed reports for longer periods of time.
Heart rate monitor - while pedometers are at the core of most fitness trackers, the Gear Fit’s signature feature is somewhat different. It’s got a dedicated heart-rate monitor, a feature that is missing on most other popular trackers.
The technology of measuring your pulse, or your heart rate, is not complicated - a dedicated sensor beams infrared light onto the veins of your forearm, and it shows you your pulse by calculating what’s reflected back. This simple mechanism, however, turns out to be very fiddly in real-life.
There are just too many conditions that you have to adhere to in order to get your heart rate - you need to keep still and quiet for an excruciatingly long 10 seconds. We tried getting our heart rate while walking, and this would simply fail - your hand needs to be still. Finally, the readings themselves are not continuous, and even worse - not always accurate. We measured our pulse after a basketball game and got readings of 110 beats per minute and 55 beats per minute within a minute! With all this in mind, the whole idea of a heart-rate monitor on the Fit becomes moot - those who really care about their heart rate would probably prefer a dedicated medical-grade oximeter that gives accurate and continuous measurements.
Exercise mode (running, cycling, hiking) - while the pedometer is an independent function of the Gear Fit (it runs even when the Fit is disconnected from the phone), the exercise mode - sadly - is bound to your smartphone. In order to start tracking your cycling exercise, for instance, you’d need a phone connection to get your location. We like to go on short bike rides without a big smartphone dangling in our pocket - unfortunately, if you want to get some exercise data, that’s not possible with the Fit - it’s not a truly autonomous device. If you have it connected to a phone, though, it does a good job on tracking your trip.
Sleep monitor - the Gear Fit also keeps track of your sleep, but just like all previous features, you have to manually start that sleeping mode everytime you go to bed. We just wished the bracelet would automatically detect when we go to sleep, but alas, it’s not doing that.
What does sleep mode do? Not much at the moment. It does not integrate with S Health yet (we expect Samsung to bring such support soon), and it only shows you how long you’ve ‘slept’ (the time since you pressed the ‘start’ and ‘stop’ button), and the percentage of ‘motionless’ hours during your sleep. No sleep cycles, no detailed breakdown, nothing. We do expect, though, that Samsung will improve on the limited sleep functions of the Fit in the very near future.
The timer and stopwatch features are straightforward, and work just as you’d expect them to. There’s also a ‘find my device’ feature, but unfortunately, we could not get it to work just yet.
Samsung Gear Fit Review - Interface and Functionality