There were many reasons I didn't like Samsung's Gear smart watch. It had a weird camera, you had to master clumsy gestures, and using it as a phone never felt natural.
My guess is that Samsung' might agree with me, though the folks inside the company would never admit it publicly. Why else bring out the successor Gear 2 so soon after the original (with a new operating system, Tizen, instead of Android)?
I had higher hopes for Samsung's Gear Fit activity tracker watch that I've been wearing for almost two weeks. In part, I was seduced by its fashionable good looks and the promise of a device that could do more than count my steps or read my heart rate — but not too much more. Alas, it comes up a step or two short, even as I think a product like this could have a very hearty future.
Gear Fit arrives Friday, the same launch day as the Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo smartwatches, and the Samsung Galaxy S5 smartphone that I used with Gear Fit to test it. Indeed, you must buy into Samsung's complete ecosystem. For now, Gear Fit only works with the Galaxy S5 and 17 other Samsung phones and tablets, with Samsung showing no inclination to open the product up to the Android world at large.
Gear Fit is a focused product, and much of that focus has to do with fitness. It's meant to compete against the Fitbits, Nike + FuelBands and Jawbone Ups of the world. Gear Fit is certainly a lot slicker than the original Gear, and apparently, the Gear 2, as well — review units of the latter haven't been made available yet.
It has a heart-rate monitor and pedometer, and you can set fitness (and coaching) goals as it tracks your progress while you're hiking, running, walking or cycling. You might get a message to "speed up" while running.
Through a last-minute software update, Gear Fit can also monitor your sleep, but I didn't get a chance to test that function. There's a stopwatch and timer, as well, and you can play music on the phone through a remote-control feature on the watch.
The areas where Gear Fit ventures off from fitness tracking are mostly useful. The watch can send you notifications — of incoming calls (you can reject a call from the device with a canned text response), e-mails, texts, Facebook posts and more; it's compatible with third-party apps.
You control the notifications through the Gear Fit Manager app on the Samsung phone that you pair Gear Fit with (via Bluetooth 4.0). Gear Fit also works with the S Health fitness app on Samsung phones. It can sync up and store the data from your wrist, a process that seems easier than it has been since a new software update to the S Health app. But going back and forth between the two apps might confuse some.
Inside the watch is an accelerometer and gyroscope. As with the Galaxy S5 smartphone, it has the added benefit of being water resistant. You can submerge it in one meter of water for up to 30 minutes, though it's not actually designed for use in the pool.
A Find My Device feature can help you locate the phone it's paired with.
Unfortunately, there are enough drawbacks with Gear Fit, coupled with a relatively high $199 price, that prevents me from wanting to buy one just yet.
The highlight of the Gear Fit design is a lovely rectangular 1.84-inch curved and multi-colored Super Amoled touch-screen display that I could make out in all kinds of lighting conditions. The watchband itself can be replaced with different color options, and can be adjusted to fit all size wrists.
Navigation is smooth and simple. You swipe from side to side or up and down, depending on how you've oriented the display through an internal setting.
While Gear Fit works aesthetically, you're sometimes challenged functionally. The screen was really designed for horizontal or wide viewing, and that's how Samsung initially sets things up. But it soon became apparent that you had to turn your wrist or head in an awkward fashion to actually view the display properly. Gear Fit cried out for a vertical or portrait orientation alternative and Samsung just delivered that alternative as part of the software update that also brought the sleep tracker function. It only partially solves the problem, however, because viewed from a vertical perspective, the display is too often too narrow.
Inside Gear Fit Manager software on the phone, you can change the Gear Fit's display wallpaper and watch faces, but many of those faces don't work in portrait mode.
When you're reading an e-mail in this narrow view, you can only see one or two words per line, as compared with three to five words, in horizontal mode. It makes a difference.
The built-in heart rate monitor was generally reliable, though it didn't get a reading every time. You have to remain quiet and still.
I got decent battery life, about three to four days, or in line with Samsung's claims. But to charge Gear Fit, you have to attach a little doodad to the watch, which then lets you connect to a USB. In my mind, it's not a matter of if but when I'll lose this small piece.
Samsung is tantalizingly close to a wearable that is indeed worth wearing. Gear Fit is attractive and full of potential, but it's also pricey, imperfect and limited to Samsung's own gear.
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THE BOTTOM LINE
Samsung Gear Fit
Pro. Slick, smooth and attractive. Variety of fitness functions and notifications. Decent battery. Lovely screen.
Con. Screen is too narrow in vertical view but hard to read on your wrist when worn horizontally. Charging is through a small piece you may lose. Limited to Samsung devices.