When Samsung first announced its Gear Fit in February, I was intrigued mainly because it’s a hybrid between a smartwatch and fitness tracker. I’ve worn a number of smartwatches in the past and also currently wear a Fitbit Force (see disclosure) for tracking my daily steps. One device to pull double-duty sounds interesting to me, provided it doesn’t overwhelm my wrist with lots of apps.
The Gear Fit doesn’t, as I found out when meeting with Samsung to discuss the product and get a loaner unit earlier this week. There are only a few apps on the device and those that are there are ones you’d expect to track health and fitness. During my meeting — and along with some investigation on my own over the past day — I learned several interesting things about the Gear Fit that may help you decide if the device belongs on your wrist.
In no particular order, here are few of the most important ones:
- Yes, the Gear Fit can display information in a more ergonomic vertical mode. Earlier this week, we noted a software update to support portrait mode which makes much more sense for a device on the wrist. I found a setting that switches between horizontal and portrait mode:
- All of the health tracking features must be first enabled, meaning the Gear Fit works differently compared to other fitness trackers. Those generally monitor steps, distance traveled, calories burned and more all the time. You have to start an activity on the Gear Fit for tracking to begin, which I hope the company considers changing in the future.
- The Gear Fit doesn’t include internal storage, so you can’t transfer music to it from a connected phone. That’s different from the Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo which do support music storage.
- Just like the Samsung Galaxy S5 handset, you can measure your heart rate with the Gear Fit, thanks to a small sensor on its underside. However, like exercise tracking you have to turn this feature on. And unfortunately, the Gear Fit doesn’t monitor your heart rate continuously in real-time; you get a single reading which is saved to a history file. You also have to keep still when checking your heart rate.
- You can get real-time heart rate data to the Gear Fit with third-party accessories, however. I was pleased to see a number of supported heart-rate monitors, including a version of the Wahoo unit I bought for running some time ago.
- The Gear Fit works with dozens of app notifications. These are configured in the Gear Fit phone software and work very well. I’m already reading notifications from Gmail, Google+, Facebook, Twitter and more to name a few. You can tap the Gear Fit to open full messages from notifications, which shows them on the connected phone.
- There’s a Gear Fit manager application used to configure the device but S-Health is separate. That makes sense to some degree: Folks who have a Galaxy phone but not the Gear Fit may still want to track their exercise, food and such. If you have a Gear Fit, however, it seems a little cumbersome to require two separate apps.
- Speaking of S-Health, while you can track your food intake, there’s no bar code scanner included with the software. I suggested to Samsung that it consider adding one as it’s far easier to scan a UPC code when you can, than to type out your food.
- There are 6 brightness levels on the Gear Fit and the default is super bright; I had to knock it down to level 3. Level 6 is suggested for outdoor use.
- You can wear the Gear Fit on either arm and there’s a setting to let the device know if you’re wearing it on your left or right wrist.
- Charging the Gear Fit requires a small, included piece that snaps on to the back of the device. It’s not as bulky as the Galaxy Gear charger but I could see it easily getting lost. If that happens, you’ll have to buy a replacement charger as there’s no USB port on the Gear.
- To attach the Gear, there’s a small two-prong buckle that’s very similar to the mechanism on my Fitbit. It’s easy to snap and the device hasn’t fallen off my wrist yet, so it seems pretty secure.
- Samsung says it plans to work with more third-party software partners, so you could see sensor integration with other popular exercise trackers.
So far, the Gear Fit looks like a solid first effort from Samsung to enter the quantified self market. I already see areas for improvement but thankfully, these can be addressed through software updates. From a hardware standpoint, the device seems fairly capable and well designed. Stay tuned as the Gear Fit becomes my daily wearable for the next week or so.
Disclosure: Fitbit is backed by True Ventures, a venture capital firm that is an investor in the parent company of Gigaom.
Updated at 11:11am PT to correct the information about internal storage of music on the Gear Fit. A previous version incorrectly stated that the Fit had internal memory for music files.