Samsung makes fantastic looking watches but it doesn’t always give them the best tools for success. So isa typical Samsung watch?
I’ve been wearing Samsung’s newest Gear watch for about a week, across anand a . The Gear Sport isn’t the super-powered mega-watch that last year’s was. Instead it focuses on fitness… and even takes a step back on making phone calls. It feels more practical than ambitious.
The Sport has GPS and adds 50-meter water resistance, a first for a Samsung watch. That means it’s swim-ready in fresh or salt water, like current top-end fitness trackers such as the, the and .
It also launches alongside a Spotify app update that lets you download songs and albums if you have a premium account.
The Gear Sport launched last Friday for $299 (£299, or AU$499), along with a new longer-battery-life version of theheart-rate-enabled headphones with music storage. (We haven’t reviewed that yet, but we will.)
After wearing the Gear Sport for a while, I appreciate the watch’s more practical outlook and design and its detailed on-screen fitness and notification readouts. But I still don’t think it’s easy to set up or use. It’s worth considering, maybe, if you’ve wanted something a bit like an Apple Watch Series 3 for a Samsung (or, other Android) phone. In other words, it’s a swim-ready fitness watch with a little music onboard. Its smart features are far better than Fitbit Ionic, but getting it all to function feels like a serious project.
A smaller case, a classic look
The Gear Sport has a squared-off circle design, with rounded edges that poke under the circular bezel. The hematite-type glossy black model I tried looked great. It’s a sleeker-looking watch than many round Android Wear watches I’ve seen. It’s not as massive as last year’s Gear S3. The thinner replaceable band is comfortable and it’s pretty nicely done. But the case is definitely chunkier than the older Gear S2.
The spinning bezel is still a unique touch. Introduced two years ago, it cycles through watchfaces and quick-glance apps. Is it faster than swiping or using a spinning side crown button? Maybe not, but it’s still satisfying.
The display looks fantastic. The watch faces are bold and crisp. The extra fitness features have a lot more detail than similar watches, so you can check your weekly graphs and progress at a glance.
Spotify works, but it’s a pain to set up
My early experiences with the Gear Sport Spotify app were weird. When paired with a phone, it acts as a remote to the phone app. On its own, it can browse and download music, or stream it over Wi-Fi or cellular (the Gear Sport doesn’t have cellular LTE, but last year’s Gear S3 had it as an option).
Once connected, Spotify works well. The round interface can show album art, plus play and volume controls. Logging in was annoying, though. When away from a phone, the app made me log in on the watch by tapping my account info into a tiny keyboard. It didn’t seamlessly sync my account from the phone app.
Still, having Spotify on a fitness watch with locally saved music (that can be downloaded over Wi-Fi from the watch itself) is a great perk for Spotify users. Eventually, the watch will be able to use Spotify with iOS, but right now it only works for Android phones.
S-Health has lots of features
Daily move motivation. Resting heart rate. Weekly activity charts. Caffeine and water tracking. Auto-pause in workouts, and auto-tracking of activities. Samsung’s health features push the edge on what fitness watches can do, and I appreciated the many mini glanceable faces and fitness watch faces that Samsung includes to make the most of its step-counting, barometric altimeter, and heart rate tracking. Gear Sport also tracks sleep, complete with estimations of light and deep sleep cycles. Battery life, so far, has lasted about two days’ continuous use on average.
The only problem is, you have to use S-Health. Samsung’s health ecosystem lives on iOS and Android, but it’s not a service most people are using. As a result, it feels farther afield than far more fitness-forward apps such as Garmin and Fitbit.
Not many great apps, and bad voice assist
The Gear Sport still runs Samsung’s Tizen, which gives the watch its own design and unique interface. But that means a siloed store of Gear apps that often require separate app hook-ins to work properly on Android phones. There are some key partners: Spotify for music, Speedo for swim-tracking, and Under Armour for additional fitness app hook-ins beyond Samsung S-Health. But other apps such as Maps, Photos, Music, and other core phone-to-watch functions feel removed from Google’s own Android world.
That’s never more clear than when I’m forced to use S-Voice, the voice assistant on Gear Sport. It usually doesn’t understand me, and it had a hard time doing advanced things I’m used to doing on Apple Watch and Android Wear watches. You can’t use Google Assistant on Gear Sport, and you can’t even access Bixby.
Samsung Pay returns
Setting up Samsung Pay is easy, and I was able to make payments perfectly fine on the go from contactless payment terminals. But Samsung left its work-anywhere MST technology off this watch, so it won’t work at quite as many places as Samsung phones or last year’s Gear S3 watches.
Also, Samsung Pay won’t work with an iPhone. But for Android users, it’s a similar offering to Google’s Android Pay.
I’m going to wear it more before a final rated review, since Samsung’s key apps like Spotify, S-Health and Samsung Pay arrived later than expected. So far, I like Gear Sport more than the Gear S3, but I don’t think all the app-connectivity problems have been solved.
It feels nice to wear, but it doesn’t always feel nice to use.