Wednesday, 06 July 2016 10:46

Samsung Gear Fit2 (review)

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Samsung has had many iterations of its Gear range of smartwatches and fitness bands, improving on design and usability each time. The Gear Fit2 fitness band and its accompanying S Health app are very good with few compromises.

The Samsung Gear Fit2 is more of a fitness band than a smartwatch, and that makes it more useful than the latter, although it has most of the smartphone notifications you expect.

It is an all-day and all-night tracker and automatically detects most exercise or movement making it a wear and forget item – except when you need to charge it.

Like all wearables, the key is how well it and the health app work together.

Design

I like the “band design” with its rubber “elastomer” strap, and Gorilla Glass 3 covered curved screen although it is highly reminiscent of the Microsoft Band 2. I like the eminently readable 1.5”, 432 x 216, colourful AMOLED touch screen.

Initially, it comes in black rubber, but pink and blue band variants are coming. It is comfortable to wear.

The Fit2 is charged using a special USB cradle — you can put it on the cradle “either way”: left or right side up  and it will charge. It is a small thing but an element of good design. A USB charger is not provided.

The Fit2 comes in two sizes – petite (small size from 125-170mm) to meaty wrists (155-210mm) but can be a little tricky to put on until you master the clip. It is designed to be worn over the left or right wrist and has a back and home button on its right side.

It is not waterproof  IP68 sweat and quick dunk resistant only  so it is not for professional athletes.

Setup

Easy. Make sure you have GearFit on your Android device  sorry, it does not support iOS  and S Health as your app software. It pairs via Bluetooth.

Once set up you can go to the Samsung app store and select from a range of watch faces – many are free, but the useful ones cost a few dollars.

The selection of the Fit2 face is more important that you might think. For example, the standard face comes with a 24-hour clock, and three indicators – floors climbed, calories burned and steps taken. I wanted day/date, battery indicator and maybe weather/temperature. The home screen is just big enough to fit all that.

Once installed you swipe left for individual fitness widgets and right for notifications. It will track 15 different exercises, including outdoor cardio, workout machines, and strength training. Running, elliptical training, cycling, walking, and rowing are tracked automatically.

Battery

It is advertised as being for three to four days typical use or up to five days with low use. The reality is that with one hour's GPS, music play, and smart notifications this needs to be charged every day or so. Continuous GPS use for nine hours will drain it. That’s not bad as far as a fitness band with this level of amenity goes. Recharging takes about three hours using a 500mAh USB (charger not provided).

Music

It is designed to be used with the new IconX wireless earbuds. It should support other Bluetooth devices. The Music app is based on Spotify, but you still need a smartphone to play streaming music. The memory will accommodate approximately 1000 MP3 tracks.

Sensors

Fitness devices are measured by the number of sensors. For example, a basic Fitbit has one – a multi-axis accelerometer. The Fit2 has that as well as a barometer, gyro, continuous heart rate Sensor, haptic sensor, Wi-Fi N, Bluetooth 4.2, GPS, 4GB ROM (2GB usable for 1000 songs), and an audio and video player.

The GPS is an interesting device because it helps to record pace and splits. I found it annoyingly slow to acquire a signal – on average it took a minute. It will record your route, and you can see it on a smartphone later.

The HR monitor is accurate at rest e.g. sitting or standing, and it takes a measurement every 10 minutes. But it varies during continuous monitoring during exercise when it takes a measurement every second. Due to age and exercise issues, I monitor heart rate very closely and in comparison to another band, it was about 20% higher.

Accuracy

In comparison to other fitness bands it is very good – over 5km it was within 20 steps (pedometer) of the Microsoft Band2 and about 300 metres different in distance. Both showed 11 floors climbed. The Band2 showed peak heart rate of 88 and the Fit2 showed 103 – not a huge difference.

Sleep monitoring is important to me. With the Band2 you can manually set it to monitor sleep (it will do it automatically as well). With the Fit2 it is automatic. The key difference between the two is in the presentation of data. While both said I had a 93% sleep efficiency, the Band2 was more accurate in measuring time asleep as you can start and stop it manually. Both show light and restful sleep periods but the Band2 is perhaps a tad ahead on app presentation.

The app

Samsung’s S Health is a good app – certainly, it does everything you need it to do. But I can’t help feel it has been designed by a programmer instead of a user experience (UX) expert. It takes a few days to become familiar with all its features and quirks. The Band2 has a better interface and its available on the web as well .

Fortunately, software is easy to upgrade – the Fit2 hardware will do pretty much all you will ever need.

The bottom line is that the S Health and Gear apps are very competent and will get better over time. There has been a lot of work gaining "partner apps" and integrating it into social media called “Together.”

Notifications

Notifications include text, calls, email, apps, and calendar. You can also send pre-written quick replies and emoticons to anyone who calls or messages you.

Bluetooth and Wi-Fi

It connects to most Android smartphones via Bluetooth. It will also connect via Wi-Fi to any network your phone has accessed before. This untethers it from the phone to an extent as you can receive notifications when you are out of Bluetooth range.

Summary

I mentioned earlier that the true measure of a fitness band was how well it interacted with the software. The hardware is defined by its sensors, but the software can be upgraded easily.

On the hardware front, the Fit2 is — apart from the UV and galvanic skin response sensor  pretty much on par with the Band2. It is going to give you reasonably accurate telemetry. It also has onboard music storage.

On the software front, Microsoft Health is well advanced over S Health and its guided workouts, golf and cycling are class leading. But software is easy to change, and I am sure Samsung will release many more updates for all its Gear devices.

My take: for a new user the $289 Fit2 does everything you could want and as you become more familiar with the app you will use it even more. Its competition is the Microsoft Band2 that will also work on iOS and Garmin’s Charge HR.

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Ray Shaw

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Ray Shaw [email protected]  has a passion for IT ever since building his first computer in 1980. He is a qualified journalist, hosted a consumer IT based radio program on ABC radio for 10 years, has developed world leading software for the events industry and is smart enough to no longer own a retail computer store!

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