Remember life before fitness bands? Those innocent days when tracking your health meant counting how many pints you'd downed that week and timing how long it took you to walk to the curry house?
Well they're long gone. In fact there are so many fitness bands on the market now, we need someone to invent a fitness tracker tracker just to, er, keep track of them.
Samsung's Gear Fit is the latest - a simple plastic band with a curved screen and a burning desire to keep you in shape. But it'll have to do more than just count your steps if it's to justify its S$268 price tag and Samsung-only compatibility.
READ MORE: Samsung Gear 2 review
No, it's not the Gear 2
The Gear Fit's not the only new wearable Samsung's thrusting on to an already crowded marketplace - you might also be aware of its flashy cousins the Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo. Both are proper smartwatches, with the ability to run apps, make calls and, in the case of the Gear 2, take photos.
Given that both can also track your heart rate and count your steps, why would you choose a Gear Fit over the other two? Maybe it's the lure of that curved screen. Or, maybe it's a simple money thing; after all, the Gear 2 is a full S$130 more expensive than the Fit.
But then again, the Neo is the same price as the Fit, and all it loses over the Gear 2 is the metal finish and the camera - while retaining the IR remote capability, the heart rate sensor, the built-in music player and the S Voice control for your phone.
We'd also question why you'd want the Gear Fit over any of the other fitness bands out there - the excellent Fitbit Flex, for instance, which is nearly S$150 cheaper and will work with more than just Samsung phones.
Ah, so it was that curved screen after all. You tart.
READ MORE: Samsung Gear Fit hands-on review
Whatever your initial reason for buying the Fit over the Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo, here's another one: it's really light - a mere 27g, to the Gear 2's 68g and Neo's 55g. Numbers blah - it really feels a lot lighter too. Putting on one of the Gears feels like putting on a watch, whereas a Fit’s presence is soon entirely forgotten.
This is important if you’re planning to wear the Fit in bed – it doesn’t watch you or smell you like some of the more advanced sleep trackers, but it will give you basic time asleep and movement feedback. So long as you’ve remembered to activate the Sleep app before power-down, that is. Who’s a clever post-human? You are.
Display: 1.84in curved Super AMOLED (128x432)
OS: Tizen-based OS
Connectivity: Bluetooth 4.0
Ruggedness: IP67 (water resistant 1m for 30 mins)Sensor: Accelerometer, Gyroscope, Optical Heart Rate Sensor
Colours: black, brown, orange
Battery: 210mAh, Typical Usage 3-4 daysDimensions: 23.4x57.4x11.9mm, 27g
Walk the walk?
Come the morning, you’ll want to make sure the Pedometer app is running. If it’s still on from yesterday then you’re fine, but it doesn’t start automatically, for example, when you close the Sleep app.
The Pedometer is the app that will track your movement all day, and is the chief source of data that you might want to compare your activity from day to day. Set a daily step goal and go for an ice cream when the goal complete notification vibes up on your wrist. There’s no altitude sensor, mind, so you won’t get Fitbit-style ‘floors climbed’ feedback.
More precise event tracking comes by firing up the Exercise app, which can be set to Walking, Running, Cycling or Hiking. This brings in the heart-rate sensor and allows you to set specific distance, time or effort goals. The difference between walking and hiking? Kendal Mint Cake, we think. Oh, and Hiking, like the Cycling option, takes GPS data from your connected smartphone to calculate distance and speed. Which makes some kind of sense given that the accelerometer is redundant for bike riding. Slightly less for hiking, unless your walking boots are extremely plushly cushioned. Either way, successful data recording depends on your keeping your phone somewhere where it can still get a decent GPS reading. Which slightly takes the fun out of having a wearable.
In Running mode, you have the option to activate Firstbeat coaching that, by watching your heart rate, actively encourages you to speed, slow down or maintain your pace. We had mixed results with this.
One run in particular, the Fit completely panicked after just five minutes of a 30-minte run, telling me repeatedly to slow down, then reporting that I had completed my ‘Moderate’ goal. It seems likely that this sporadic accuracy is to do with the heart rate sensor failing to get an accurate reading – on-screen prompts guide you to keep the Fit off the wrist bone, but that’s exactly where it likes to sit once you start pounding down the pavement. No ultra-marathoneer, me, but a recorded max heart rate of 211bpm seems unlikely.
On the whole, despite on-screen prompts, this is not an intuitive exercise device. Full instructions are available as a PDF from Samsung’s support site and you might well have to swallow your pride and download them.
READ MORE: Fitbit Flex review
CURVES IN ALL THE WRONG PLACES
There’s more bad news, which we’ve been hiding from you until now. You know that fancy curved OLED screen? It’s a pig to use. There, we said it.
Pertinent to the subject in hand – exercising – it’s too sensitive to accurately scroll or select while you’re breathing hard or still on the move. This isn’t helped by the fact that the icons of the top menu are similarly styled to those in the sub-menus so a miss-press error is difficult to diagnose.
Swiping and scrolling and sweating and trying to diagnose the aforementioned coaching glitch, I realised I had walked into the middle of a mob of Royal Parks stags. There was death in their eyes and blood on their antlers and although I survived, another park user called me an ‘idiot'. At that point I was about as annoyed with a gadget as I get.
That’s not to say that the Fit’s screen isn’t clear. The OLED tech is crispy, despite its 128x432 pixel specification. You can choose from a variety of wallpapers that help readout as much as they look pretty, and the brightness is adjustable. There’s no ambient light sensor-powered auto-adjust, though.
Battery life seems to be within Samsung’s claimed 3-4 days, certainly after the first week’s excited prodding has passed. Be careful not to lose the Fit’s proprietary charging cradle, though or you are, as they say, fubar.
You can choose what wrist you have your Fit on, and you can have it turn on automatically when you rotate said wrist. This works as you would want it perhaps half the time. Sometimes you turn your wrist for the screen to remain resolutely blank; moments later you notice it glowing away to itself unbidden.
A couple of times it auto-activated in the shower – it’s IP67 rugged – and the water on the screen sent it into a fit of ghost menu scrolling and app activation. We turned that feature off in the end. Neither of us was enjoying it.
A recent firmware update gave you the ability to change between landscape and portrait screen orientation. Landscape view suits the device and long-form text flows better, but it’s awkward to read. Portrait is more natural to manipulate, but the text wrap goes all to pieces.
You might ask, what is this ‘text’ are we reading on the Fit? Actual SMS texts, we might answer, and emails and notifications. Almost any app that can flash up on your phone’s notification bar can also trigger a vibrating alert on your Fit watch. The first couple of sentences can be scrolled through, before it prompts you to continue reading on your mobile device. (Everything to do with the Fit and its phone app refers to your ‘mobile device’, not ‘phone’. It gets irritating after a while. Surely the Fit is also a mobile device?)
Hit the continue button and your phone will light up and act on the notification, with varying levels of success depending on what else your phone is up to at the time. The Gear Fit Manager has a screen for selecting (and then deselecting) which of your phone’s apps get to ping your Fit.
READ MORE: Samsung Galaxy S5 review
Other functions of the Fit include Find My Device that launches a ringtone and lights up the LED on your phone. Plus, there are stopwatch and timer apps in addition to the always-on clock app. And, finally, the Media Controller, which works damn well. Play, pause, skip and volume without getting your phone out of your pocket, as well as the name of the currently playing track. It’ll work with media apps other than the standard Samsung music player, too, though it’ll often keep scrolling the name of the last played track on the official app, rather than, say, the podcast you are now listening to in Podkicker.
You can reject incoming calls, or send a pre-programmed text message. Speaking of apps, that’s currently a functionality disconnect between the Fit, the Gear Fit Manager app and Samsung’s S Health app – with the latter tending to record its own pedometer reading despite input from the Fit. This is worse on last-gen Samsung devices, such as the Note 3, which has a less clever Manager app for the wearable. All of which, we’ve been told by Samsung, will be upgraded, updated and fixed in the near future.
When we first saw the Samsung Gear Fit, we saw a light, wearable fitness device with a unique curved screen and the ability to work seamlessly with Samsung phones. What we got was a light, but quite bulky, wearable device. It has a curved screen that’s as irritating to use as it is cool to look at. It’s a fitness device that works via a new-fangled optical heart rate sensor that we don’t trust, compared to the battered heart-rate strap we’ve been using for years. It does not, as yet, work seamlessly with Samsung devices.
That’s the bah humbugs. We do like getting notifications straight to the wrist, especially while wandering about the house while the phone is charging somewhere. Controlling music playback is a boon, especially given the inability of most headphone remote buttons to do anything useful. Plus, it tells the time, and the date, and what your next calendar event is. And although the curved screen doesn't always work, it does look cool.