Samsung Gear Sport hands-on: A smaller Gear watch aimed at swimmers
Samsung Gear Sport release date: TBC
Samsung Gear Sport price: £TBC
For all the new features that it added, Samsung’s previous entry into its long-running Gear smartwatch line felt like it sacrificed usability for headline features.
The Gear S3 was simply too big and bulky for the majority of wrists, and considering it had some seriously clever additions, that was a real shame. Thankfully, the Gear Sport offers a feature-packed smartwatch in a smaller body.
With the name ‘Gear Sport’, the focus of this wearable is obvious. Samsung says that the reason most people buy wearables is to improve their health, which echoes views held across the wearables industry. As such, the Gear Sport is a well-rounded device to monitor various forms of exercise.
Unlike the Gear S3, the Gear Sport boasts a 5-ATM rating for water-resistance. This is the same as the Apple Watch Series 2 and the recently announced Fitbit Ionic, and means the device can be used to track swimming – an activity for which support on smartwatches is still rare.
To complement this, Samsung has not only updated its own S-Health app with a range of swimming features, but it has partnered with Speedo to create a completely new app.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get the opportunity to swim with the device during my brief demo, but the app appears to be well built, allowing you to track the number of lengths swum plus speed and distance travelled. It can also identify your strokes – freestyle, breaststroke, and so on – so you don’t have to manually input this information.
Another new software feature expands on the previously available calorie counter, but lets you add in calories you’ve eaten to set daily targets. Samsung is also trying to turn the Gear Sport into a personal coach, by loading the Note 8 and S-Health app with a range of workout regimes. The company has promised support will be coming to other Galaxy devices soon, too.
It’s even possible to connect the watch up to particular Samsung Smart TVs to follow these workouts, with your heart rate appearing on the television screen. This looked great in demos, but will only really be useful if you’re completely submerged in the Samsung ecosystem.
The onboard GPS means you won’t have to carry around your phone to accurately track your runs, and Samsung says the heart rate sensor has been ever-so-slightly tweaked to make the readings more reliable – a common complaint levelled at optical heart rate monitors.
Sign up for the newsletter
Get news, competitions and special offers direct to your inbox
What really sets Samsung’s Gear Sport, and even the older models in the series apart, is the rotating bezel that acts as the main method of input. Everything in the Tizen OS is built around spinning that bezel, and it makes so much more sense on a display of this size as opposed to having to prod with your finger.
Tizen does lack the app selection you’d find on watchOS, however, but having the ability to store 500 songs from Spotify offline is a seriously neat trick that’s still notably absent from most wearables. Combine that with the NFC chip inside for Samsung Pay and you can pretty much head off on a run and leave your wallet and phone at home.
The 1.2-inch screen is smaller than Gear S3, but the 320 x 320 resolution is sharp and, since this is an AMOLED panel, it’s bright and colourful.
While the Gear S3 looked ridiculous on my smaller wrists, the Gear Sport feels like a regular watch. Its sturdy build and circular screen makes it look like a traditional timepiece, and the two buttons on the side are clicky and satisfying to press. Samsung’s strap choices have improved, too – although the silicone one included in the box will probably need some time to break in to lose its rigid feel.
The fabric options I saw – styled like classic NATO straps – aren’t quite as sporty, but they’re softer and more comfortable for everyday wear. There’s a bunch of classier leather options, too. Samsung says there will be 23 strap varieties available at launch, which is a huge improvement over previous Gear watches. You’ll also be able to use your own strap; the Gear Sport will work with any standard 22mm strap.
Battery life remains a mystery, however – although Samsung has stated that there’s a 300mAh cell inside. The company is also remaining coy about the price. Nevertheless, from what I’ve seen so far, the Samsung Gear Sport is shaping up to be a decent rival to whatever Apple has in store for the next Apple Watch.
I like the Gear Sport a lot, especially since it takes all those useful features from the Gear S3 and puts them into a smaller and more manageable body. The addition of dedicated swimming features gives it broader appeal – and, hopefully, the implementation will be as good as it was made out to be.
Of course, mysteries remain around the all-important battery life and price. However, if Samsung gets these right then this could be a wearable to give the Fitbit Ionic and whatever Apple has up its sleeves a run for their money.