Samsung Gear Sport Review: The Smartwatch Meets Fitness Watch

A smartwatch with robust fitness tracking capability makes the Gear Sport one of the best wearables available

Samsung is looking to make sure it has a wearable for everyone, at virtually every price point. When it announced the Gear S3 last year, a lot of people were looking for something a bit smaller. Something that was more of a Gear S2 upgrade, and now Samsung has finally made that with the Gear Sport. The Gear Sport is more of a hybrid between a smartwatch and a fitness watch. It has all of the features of the Gear S3, as well as all of the features of the Gear Fit2 Pro, at a $299 price point. Which makes it a rather interesting product for Samsung, and it goes on sale this week. Now the big question is whether it's worth the price or the upgrade from the Gear S3 or the Gear Fit2?

Specs

The Gear Sport has a 1.2-inch 360x360 resolution circular Super AMOLED display, which nets a pixel density of 302 pixels per inch. Inside, there is a dual-core 1.0GHz processor, with 768MB of RAM and 4GB of storage which can be used to store apps and music for offline listening. It has Bluetooth 4.2, and also uses WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n for connectivity, there's no support for 5GHz or ac WiFi networks, there is also no LTE option for the Gear Sport. This is all powered by Tizen 3.0 and a 300mAh battery which Samsung says will last for days. Gear Sport is fairly durable as well, with a MIL-STD-810G certification, and it is also waterproof at 5 ATM. This is what allows it to be able to track swimming. Finally, it measures in at 42.9 x 44.6 x 11.6mm, and it weighs in at just 50 grams. Samsung is selling the Gear Sport in either black or blue colors.

Setup

During the review phase, we set up the Gear Sport with two different devices, a Galaxy S8 and a LG V30, to see how the process differed from each other, seeing as the Gear Sport is supposedly going to work better with a Samsung device, and it sort of did. Setting it up on the Galaxy S8 was super simple, since everything was already installed. Like the Gear app and the Samsung Health app. The Gear app will walk you through the process of getting it all set up, connected to WiFi, etc. Now on the LG V30, we needed to download everything, which included a plug-in for the Gear Sport that works with the Gear app. It took a bit longer, but it was still pretty simple and Samsung still walks you through setting it up.

The unfortunate thing here though, and this really only affects those that carry around multiple phones, is the fact that it can only be paired to one device at a time for notifications. Of course, Samsung Health does sync over the cloud, so if you are only looking for fitness stats, then it works perfectly fine. But notifications can only come from one smartphone at a time. Which, again, doesn't affect most people.

Hardware

First thing you will notice about the Gear Sport is that it has a silicon band, out of the box. Samsung includes a silicon wrist band in the box with the Gear Sport, which shows you that this designed for fitness and not to be a classy looking smartwatch - that's what the Gear S3 Classic or Frontier are made for. Since this is designed for fitness, a leather band wouldn't make much sense, since it'll get disgusting pretty quickly after a few workouts, as leather doesn't react well to liquids, whether that's sweat or water. But the silicon band here looks and feels really nice, it's a bit thick, compared to the competition, but a nice touch. Of course, it can be changed out for another band, since this does use traditional 20mm watch straps.

The actual watch itself, looks identical to the Gear S3, but perhaps a bit thinner. Samsung does include two buttons on the right side of the watch, and the rotating bezel for navigating through the OS. Now the back of the watch feels like it's made of plastic, which isn't that big of a deal, you won't be showing that off to much. You will find that heart rate monitor in the center on the back though. While the back does feel like its plastic, the rest of the casing is stainless steel and should keep the Gear Sport looking pretty good.

Samsung is using a circular Super AMOLED panel here on the Gear Sport, which has a resolution of 360x360 giving you about 302 pixels per inch, and the display looks pretty incredible. Of course, that's no surprise to anyone that has used any of Samsung's wearables in the past few years. The screen not only looks good, but it also gets fairly bright. It was pretty easy to see and use the Gear Sport outdoors in direct sunlight, which is actually a necessity for a fitness tracker, especially if you are outside running, you definitely need to be able to see how long you've been running, how far you've run, etc.

Now, that rotating bezel. It works identically to the Gear S3, in that it works great. It makes navigating through the operating system (which is Tizen by the way, not Android Wear) much easier. Because instead of touching the screen which is already fairly small, you are able rotate the bezel and go through apps and other items, without touching the screen so you can still actually see the display. The Gear Sport is a $299 fitness tracker/smartwatch hybrid, and at that price point, people are going to expect top-notch hardware, which is what Samsung has delivered here. It'll be competing with the Fitbit Ionic which is the same price point, but arguably doesn't look as nice.

Software

The Gear Sport is running Tizen 3.0, with build R600XXU1AQI8 at the time of this review. The Gear Sport does work with any Android device running Android 4.4 KitKat or later, as well as iPhones running iOS 9.0 or later. We tested the Gear Sport with both a Galaxy S8 and a LG V30, and it worked great with both, it was a slightly better experience setting up the Gear Sport on the Galaxy S8 - since the Gear and Samsung Health apps were pre-installed - but otherwise, the experience was pretty much the same with both devices.

The software on the Gear Sport absolutely flies on the 1.0GHz dual-core processor with 768MB of RAM. With those specs, you would expect it too, as well. The software is laid out pretty nicely, actually. Making it easy to find different things like your step count for the day, calories burned, your notifications and even apps. Rotating the bezel left to right, you'll see calories burned, steps taken, floors climbed, heart rate zones for the day, minutes active for the day and for the week, exercises and weather. The Gear Sport does allow you to add other widgets to the watch, on the watch. So I was able to add a reminder for upcoming NBA games for my favorite teams, and the leaderboard in Samsung Health. There are plenty of others you can add as well.

Since this is a fitness tracker, it seems fitting to talk about exercising. And the Gear Sport does have a few different exercises available for you to track. This includes running, walking, cycling and swimming. Now we did try basically all of them, but since every fitness tracker can track your running, walking and cycling, we decided to focus a bit more on swimming, since there are only a couple of others out there that can do this. Now when starting your exercise session, you are able to set goals. For example, when tracking swimming you can decide how many laps you want to accomplish during your session. Once you get going, you'll be able to see how far you've swam, how long you've been swimming, your pace and your heart rate. And this is the same for all exercises, although some are a bit different, for example running and walking will be based on miles and not yards, with the pace being per mile, etc. But it's mostly all the same, in that aspect.

Tracking exercise manually is one way to do things, but the Gear Sport can also automatically detect when you are doing different exercises like running or walking. This makes it easier for those that forget to start the tracking on your nightly (or morning) run. This isn't exclusive to the Gear Sport, it's actually a popular feature for most fitness trackers. However, if you do want it to track more workouts (manually or automatically), you can enable them in the settings in the Samsung Health app, things like the Elliptical, Weight Training and so much more.

On the smartwatch side of things here, Samsung has included support for interacting with your smart home devices. Using Samsung Connect, you are able to turn off the lights at home, check your cameras and much more from your wrist, which is a nice feature to have. You also have NFC built-into the Gear Sport, which means Samsung Pay is supported. Now Android Pay would normally be supported here, but this is running Tizen, which means Android Pay isn't supported due to the different operating system. But that's not a problem, since Samsung Pay is supported at more places and has more banks supported. We did use Samsung Pay during the review period, and it actually worked out rather well. Although the looks you get (still) from tapping your wrist on the terminal, is pretty hysterical.

Apps

The app you'll be using the most with the Gear Sport is Samsung Health (formerly known as S Health). If you don't have a Samsung smartphone, you can download it from the Google Play Store, otherwise it should be pre-installed on your device. Samsung Health is a pretty robust fitness application from Samsung, and it actually puts the likes of Fitbit and Nokia Health (formerly Withings) to shame. As Samsung has included way more than just the usual fitness tracking metrics in this app. For example, it can track your glucose which is good for those that are Diabetic, it can also track your blood pressure and more. Not to mention the online doctor visits that you can book within the app. Of course, it does the usual tracking your sleep, water intake, steps taken and so forth. But it has a ton of features, many of which you may not even use, but still nice to have available to you.

Now there is a heart rate monitor included in the Gear Sport, and it works somewhat well. However, we did notice that sometimes when we want it to measure the heart rate, it would come back saying it was unable too. The majority of the time that this happened, it was after getting out of the pool, so the water could have something to do with it. As far as accuracy goes, anything that measures your heart rate and isn't on your chest, isn't going to be 100% accurate. Having said that, the readings from the Gear Sport were right in line with what we got on other fitness trackers like the Fitbit Ionic, so it appears to be as accurate as it can be, given where it is measuring your heart rate. It's a good feature to have, especially if you're looking to push yourself a bit harder in the gym with each workout.

As far as other apps go, basically everything that was compatible with the Gear S3 is available here on the Gear Sport, since it is the same platform. Now out of the box, you'll only get the Samsung apps, since unlike Android Wear, this is not running the same OS as your smartphone. So apps like Uber, can't bundle in its Gear version of its app with its Android app. Luckily, Samsung does make it really easy to find apps in the Galaxy Apps store, both on your smartphone and on the Gear Sport. So you can find some new watch faces, some new apps to use and much more.

For controlling your Gear Sport, you'll be using the Samsung Gear App, which is pre-loaded on Samsung smartphones and also available in the Google Play Store for non-Samsung devices. The Gear app contains all of the settings and watch faces for your Gear Sport. Using this app, you will be able to determine which apps send notifications to your wrist, you can also set up quick replies for sending from your wrist when you don't have your phone around (because typing on a small, circular screen really isn't that great of an experience), and so much more. There is also a Find My Gear option available, so if you've lost your Gear Sport (or another Gear wearable), you can find it with the app. It also works the other way around with your Gear Sport. Using the Gear Sport to find your phone in case you've lost that. It's not really a new feature, but still very nice to see available.

Battery Life

Samsung says that you can go "days" on a single charge with the Gear Sport. That was not the case in our testing. We found that we needed to charge it at the end of the day, after taking it off the charger around 6AM, and at about 11PM it was down to around 25-30%. Definitely not enough to keep it on overnight and expect it to still have juice in the morning. Obviously this all depends on how you use it, and this does include tracking a few workouts, but also getting plenty of notifications. But you still shouldn't expect the Gear Sport to usually last more than a single day, and that is really the only down side to the Gear Sport, unfortunately.

The Good 

Design, Look and Feel.

Interchangeable watch bands - standard 20mm bands

Waterproof

Tracks Swimming

Integrates with a ton of fitness apps - like Endomundo, Map My Run, etc

The Bad

Heart Rate Monitor sometimes is unable to measure the heart rate

Unable to customize workouts listed on the watch, to track manually (they can track automatically though)

Battery life

Wrap Up

The Samsung Gear Sport is filling an area of the market that Samsung didn't already have filled, and that's a smartwatch and fitness tracker hybrid. The Gear Sport sits right in the middle of the Gear S3 which is a full smartwatch, and the Gear Fit2 Pro which is a full fitness tracker. The Gear Sport is able to do all of your fitness tracking needs, while also fulfilling your smartwatch needs. And it actually does it really well. The Gear Sport is really made for those that are looking for a fitness tracker that can also give them some useful notifications, unlike those from Fitbit which basically only alert you to calls, texts and a select few other apps (like Twitter). The Gear Sport will send you any and all notifications from your smartphone. Of course, the big deal here is swim tracking, something that the original Gear Fit2 didn't do, but the Gear Fit2 Pro does do. And it actually does it quite well. Those who do go for the occasional swim, or swim quite often, this is one of just a handful of fitness trackers that you'll be able to use.

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