The fitness band world has some very entrenched incumbents, but Samsung wants to get in on the party.
The quick take
Samsung learned a lot of lessons with its Gear S2 smartwatch and applied them smartly to the Gear Fit 2, its newest fitness tracker. The light, comfortable, powerful and nice-looking wearable handles all your fitness and activity tracking needs, while also adding in a little bit of the experience you’d expect to find on a fully fledged smartwatch. The software can be a bit more than some will want to deal with, and not everyone wants to use S Health for their data tracking, but the price is right and Samsung has put together a great total package.
- Dedicated GPS
- Smartwatch-like notifications
- Great display
- Solid hardware
- Too big for small wrists
- Screen shape isn’t ideal for notifications
- Less battery life than other fitness bands
- Some won’t want to use S Health
Time for a successor
Samsung Gear Fit 2 Full review
With a seemingly infinite number of smart wearables in the world today, we’re quickly getting into situations where we have more tech than body parts on which to put it. On your wrists alone you might have a smartwatch on one arm and a fitness tracker on the other … with overlapping functions that quickly turn into an annoyance.
The smartwatch certainly looks nicer, has a bigger screen and lends itself to interaction, while the fitness tracker is more comfortable, gets better battery life and has vastly better activity tracking. Rather than fully giving into our cyborg future by having connected doodads on both our wrists, why not try to split it down the middle and get just one device? A single wrist-bound wearable that tracks your activity every single day, while also allowing you to receive notifications and get other information on the same display.
Samsung is attempting to do just that with the Gear Fit 2, a refresher to the fitness-focused Gear Fit of 2014 and a sibling to the Gear S2 smartwatch of last year. The Gear Fit 2, as the name would suggest, is designed for fitness tracking first and foremost. But what the name doesn’t reveal is what else you can do with its 1.5-inch screen — it also offers notifications and interaction features you’d expect in a smartwatch.
So does it strike the balance of fitness tracker and smartwatch perfectly? Or does it come up short trying to do too much? We answer these questions in our full Samsung Gear Fit 2 review.
About this review
I (Andrew Martonik) am writing this review after six days with the Gear Fit 2, connected to a Galaxy S7. The Gear Fit 2’s software version was R360XXU1APE4, and was not updated during the course of the review. The Fit 2 we used was a review unit provided to us by Samsung.
Fiitness tracker, with a little smartwatch thrown in
Samsung Gear Fit 2 Hardware
It’s easy to see a lot of the design DNA from the Gear S2 in the Gear Fit 2, despite the end result being a different form factor than the thin-and-round smartwatch. It’s sleek, understated (at least in the black color I have) and put together amazingly well — just as we’ve come to expect from Samsung in the past couple of years. You’ll even find the same button layout, with a small home button and larger back button together on one side.
Samsung’s expertise in display technology is clear to see here, with the rectangular 216×432 resolution, 1.5-inch curved SuperAMOLED display taking up a large portion of the front of the Gear Fit 2. The display is expectedly great, with colors that really pop off of the primarily black interface — it’s even visible in sunlight, though you’ll have to crank up the brightness to see it.
The display is covered in Gorilla Glass 3 that flows smoothly into a nice bit of anodized aluminum. The main portion of the body around the sides and back are hard plastic. At roughly 12 mm thick, 25 mm wide and 52 mm long, the Gear Fit 2 lands near the top of size amongst fitness trackers — larger than something like an Under Armour Band, but notably smaller than a Fitbit Surge. But with its curved design and rectangular form the Fit 2 sits on my wrist nicely, and is quite a bit sleeker than a round smartwatch.
The Fit 2 looks rather gargantuan on smaller wrists, however. Samsung does offer both a “large” and “small” size … but that’s a bit of a misnomer, as the only difference is the length of the band.
It’s like they took a Gear S2 and squeezed in the sides — in a good way.
The band is attached to the body using the same proprietary connector found on the Gear S2, meaning it can be swapped out (for another color or size) later on down the road, but only for those approved and designed specifically for the Fit 2. That’s a smartwatch-like perk that you don’t find on most other fitness trackers, even if most people aren’t likely to swap bands. The included band is a very soft and comfortable elastomer material with a classy carbon fiber-like pattern on the outside and some bumps on the inside to hopefully keep it from sliding around too much.
You attach the band to your wrist by looping one end through a hole in the other, then securing a metal plug into one of 10 holes to fit just the right size. The loop helps the Fit 2 stay on your wrist even if you happen to snag it on something while you’re working out and pull the plug out of the hole — safety first.
Gear S2 lite
Samsung Gear Fit 2 Software
The Gear Fit 2 is running Tizen, and not Android. That’s been Samsung’s Samsung’s operating system of choice for wearables — and pretty much anything that isn’t a phone or tablet. Just like the hardware, it’s clear that the Gear S2’s software evolved to the Gear Fit 2 — and that’s not a bad thing at all.
Samsung quickly figured out with the launch of the original Gear Fit that a screen of this size and orientation actually lends itself better to a vertical screen rather than horizontal. It takes a little getting used to, but if you’ve spent time interacting with a smartwatch you’ll feel right at home here — and once you use it for a bit, you realize it’s much easier on the eyes.
The software will be familiar if you’ve seen a Gear S2, and easy enough to pick up if not.
Just like the Gear S2, the Gear Fit 2 has a set of horizontal-scrolling “home screens” of sorts, with each one corresponding to a built-in function (or app, if you will). Without the rotating bezel of the Gear S2 you simply swipe between the panels, with your only other interaction paradigm being the “back” and “home” buttons on the side of the body. You can also cover the screen with your palm to turn it off.
The main screen is your watch face, flanked by notifications on the left and then a set of user-defined screens on the right. You can swipe down from the top of the display to reveal a screen to see your battery and Bluetooth connection, as well as quickly toggle Do Not Disturb, change the brightness or launch the music player. As for the customizable screens, there are eight you can add and organize in any order — here’s the quick breakdown:
- 24-hour log: Shows a linear progression of your activity for the past day — periods when you were inactive, active, sleeping or didn’t have the Fit 2 on at all.
- Exercise: Lets you explicitly start an activity or workout — set your activity type, time goal and a few other parameters, then start tracking. You can also view a log of previous activity.
- Steps: Shows your step count, and how close it is to your daily goal.
- Floors: How many floors of elevation you went up/down today, with the ability to view historical data for the week.
- Heart rate: Displays your most recent heart rate reading and when it was taken, as well as your high and low heart rate for the day. Tap to view historical heart rate data for the week.
- Water: Record how many cups of water you’ve consumed today.
- Caffeine: Same as water, but for caffeine.
- Together: Set up step count challenges with friends, and see how you’re doing compared to them today.
Beyond those screens, you can press the home button while on the clock to pull up Music Player, Find My Phone, Timer and Stopwatch apps, which are about as basic as you can get. Samsung has chosen to keep a rather kludgy amount of settings available to tap and scroll through on the tiny screen, which is where you have to go to find things like GPS, Wi-Fi, vibration and more.
The Fit 2 does everything you expect, and displays more than the competition.
Despite many similarities the Gear Fit 2 understandably does less than the Gear S2, but in this case that’s a good thing — I was rather critical of the Gear S2 for trying to do too much, even though it did less than the Gear S and Galaxy Gear. When you’re inside each of the pre-installed apps you aren’t going to go more than two levels deep into the interface, and at the time of writing the only third-party apps available to install are three weird watch faces, and a Spotify app that can sync playlists over to your Gear Fit 2.
One thing that was roughly translated over from the Gear S2 is the notification experience. The Gear Manager app can monitor for notifications on your phone and pass them to the Gear Fit 2. You can choose which apps from your phone send notifications to the wearable, which is important because you can only act on a select few of them.
Apps like Gmail and Samsung’s own text messaging app have options to archive email or reply to messages, but most apps simply will show you content to read and give you no options to act. Part of that is due to the small and narrow screen, but also because of the lack of a microphone for any sort of voice commands or dictation. Unfortunately the situation in the end is a lot of buzzes that aren’t all that useful, so it’s worth your time to be very selective with which apps can send notifications to your wrist. It’s definitely useful to have the option (hey, you could turn off notifications altogether, too) but this isn’t a full smartwatch-like notification system.
The Gear Manager app
The Gear Manager app is the conduit for connecting your Gear Fit 2 (or previous Gear wearable) to your phone, and it’s available for pretty much every Android phone running Android 4.4 KitKat and higher. (Though because Samsung had yet to update its app in the Play Store to work with the Gear Fit 2 during my review period, I used it in conjunction with a Galaxy S7 instead.)
It may not be pretty, but Gear Manager does its job.
Gear Manager is a simple tool, and while it may not be as pretty as the Android Wear app from Google, it gets the job done. In Gear Manager you can hit all of the big tasks you wouldn’t want to manage just on the Fit 2, and a few others that you can do on the Fit 2 but are easier on a big screen. You can manage which apps can send notifications to the Fit 2, change your quick message replies, switch and customize watch faces, change the layout of apps, and install more apps when they become available.
You can also use Gear Manager to pull local music files from your phone for local playback without your phone when you’re working out, which is important when you consider the standalone fitness tracking (including GPS) on the Fit 2. If you happen to misplace your Gear Fit 2, you can also use Gear Manager to vibrate it so you can find it, or remotely lock it from being reactivated with another device until it’s found.
What did I do today?
Samsung Gear Fit 2 Tracking and fitness
Even with some of its smartwatch-like features, the Gear Fit 2 is focused on tracking your activity, and doing it just as well as products from Fitbit, Jawbone, Under Armour or any other company out there — that means it’s doing a whole heck of a lot more than your average smartwatch.
It’s always tracking, and is ready for additional input from you as well.
At the base level, the Fit 2 is always paying attention to your movements, automatically tracking your steps, flights climbed and heart rate throughout the day to determine your calories burned. Because it is always tracking movements, it can automatically categorize your activity level throughout the day — so even if you don’t explicitly start tracking a workout, the Fit 2 can categorize that movement as a “healthy” portion of your day.
Of course for the best tracking you’ll want to explicitly start a workout, which can be accomplished with just a couple of swipes and taps. You can choose the usual workouts like walking, running, hiking and cycling, but you can also choose things like step machines, exercise bikes, rowing machines, ellipticals, lunges, crunches, squats, pilates and yoga — and if none of those categories fit your workout, you can always do the general “other workout,” which would be best for something like a varied gym regimen. Unfortunately there’s no defined workout choice for wearing the Fit 2 while playing team sports — or, more specifically for me, soccer — so I’m using “other workout” for that.
After you select a type of workout, you can select what you’d like your goal for that workout to be. The choices vary depending on which type you choose, but for example if you’re going on a run, you can set your target to be a certain pace, duration, distance or calories; you can also choose to have no goal, if you’re going to just be taking it easy. Once you start a workout, the Gear Fit 2 gives you a surprisingly high density of information — a heads-up display of sorts so you can track your progress. The Fit 2 can even read out status updates to your headphones at a pre-determined interval.
Speaking of headphones, the Gear Fit 2 has local storage (I had about 2.1GB free) available for storing music (or, maybe podcasts) to play directly to Bluetooth headphones. After transferring music over from Gear Manager, you can browse tracks or make playlists and listen locally without a phone. The Fit 2 connected quickly to my Bluetooth headphones, and worked flawlessly with play/pause and volume controls as well.
You can do everything independent of your phone, if you wish.
At just 30 grams the Gear Fit 2 weighs one-third less than the Gear S2, and less than a beefier tracker like a Fitbit Surge. It’s also rated IP68 water- and dust-resistant, just like the Galaxy S7, meaning it’s good for 30 minutes spent in up to five feet of water — in other words, get it as sweaty as you like, or take a shower with it, but it isn’t advisable to go for a long swim with the Fit 2 on.
Being used to wearing a light and comfortable Under Armour Band it was a little bit of a step up to having the larger Gear Fit 2 on my wrist 24 hours a day, but I quickly got used to it. Even though the Fit 2 is rather thick, it’s so light that it didn’t bother me.
Getting into S Health
Though you wouldn’t know it when first setting up a Gear Fit 2, setting up the S Health app on your connected phone is a huge part of the experience of this wearable.
Once connected, S Health can display everything that the Gear Fit 2 collects, and also open up even more possibilities for data input — like your weight and food intake — through the phone. The S Health app is quite good and displays information well, but this is perhaps the one area that will be a sticking point for some — if you’ve previously owned a fitness tracker and have a wealth of data stored elsewhere, you may not want to transition to S Health. There’s no way to import.
S Health is good, but some people may not want to switch services.
The only thing that’s somewhat confusing here is the separation of functions between the Gear Manager app and the S Health app. While you could use the Gear Manager to manage the connection of your Fit 2 to your phone and never touch S Health, there’s very little chance you’d do so … conversely, few people are going to use S Health without a connected wearable of some kind, so why not bake the device management into S Health?
Because the Gear Fit 2 is designed to work independently and not necessarily rely on S Health on a connected phone (despite the few people who would do so), it creates an odd disconnect between what you’re doing on the wearable and how you check it in S Health. For example when I set up my Gear Fit 2, there was actually no mention of S Health in the setup process — I was only instructed to download Gear Manager.
Samsung claims you’ll get three to four days out of the 200 mAh battery in the Gear Fit 2. There are lots of factors here that can have huge impacts on battery life, though — how bright you set the screen, how often you’re using it for workouts, if you turn on GPS, whether you use the always-on display mode and so on. With screen brightness set to 8/10 and leaving always-on display off, but turning on GPS, auto heart rate monitoring and notifications from 20 apps, I was averaging out to getting three days of battery life out of the Gear Fit 2.
Battery life isn’t spectacular, but at least it charges quickly.
That’s not quite as long as other dedicated fitness trackers that push closer to a full week, but then again most of those don’t have a 1.5-inch display or give you notifications and lots of interactive experiences. If you want to take things extremely easy on the Gear Fit 2 (including the “Power saving” mode) you could probably get five days out of the battery, but then again there’s no real reason to hamstring its capabilities just to do so.
The Gear Fit 2 comes with a somewhat-large USB charging dock that you rest the wearable on, aligning it horizontally with magnets to press onto two gold contacts on the back. A recharge takes just 90 minutes, which is yet another reason you shouldn’t be too worried about its battery life. The charging dock is kind of cumbersome, meaning it isn’t totally ideal to carry around if you travel a lot. Even though the charging dock presents the Gear Fit 2 nicely on the table, I’d prefer a smaller charger — and considering you may be using the Fit 2 for sleep tracking you aren’t likely to leave it displayed on the charger all night, either.
A whole lot done right
Samsung Gear Fit 2 Bottom line
Though in some respects the Gear Fit 2 tries to masquerade as more of a general-purpose smartwatch replacement with its larger screen, it doesn’t quite fit the bill — and that’s right in the name; this is the Gear Fit 2. It can show more information on the larger-than-average screen, pull in notifications from your phone and in some cases let you interact with them, but the display size and shape don’t lend themselves well to these sort of tasks. Further, the baked-in software doesn’t reach beyond fitness applications.
For those who want a wrist-bound wearable focused on looking like a watch and providing you with more information and potential for interaction, the Gear S2 is available amongst a slew of other smartwatch options.
Instead, the Gear Fit 2 should be judged for how it handles all of the fitness and activity tracking functions you expect from a wearable nowadays. It can track every aspect of your movement throughout the day, including regularly checking your heart rate. If you want to go further, the Fit 2 is also equipped with a nice display, standalone GPS and constant heart rate tracking for runs and all sorts of other activities without the assistance of a phone. Together with a little bit of your own input, the Gear Fit 2 can give you a really solid picture of your fitness in S Health, so long as you’re okay with building into that ecosystem.
Should you buy it? Yes
At a retail launch price of $179, the Gear Fit 2 considerably undercuts the top-end Fitbit Surge, and competes strongly with sub-$200 fitness trackers that don’t offer a full screen or possibilities with non-fitness functions. At the same time, the Fit 2 checks all of the boxes when it comes to a fitness tracker. Not only can it track everything you want, it can display a whole lot more than the competition while you’re using it. If you’re willing to give S Health a try, the Gear Fit 2 is a fitness tracker to look at.
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