When smartwatches were first teased, companies like Google promised they would unplaster our faces from our ever-present smartphone screens and wisp us into a new age where we could remain connected without feeling addicted. It didn’t happen. They’re good for fitness tracking and feeding smartphone notifications to our wrists, but smartwatches remain more of a computing side dish than a main course. But as side dishes go, the 2017 Samsung Gear Sport comes with all the trimmings.
Unlike Samsung’s macho-big Gear S3, its smaller, cheaper sibling will fit a range of wrists. Even modest watches can overwhelm my slender forearms, but the 1.2-inch circular AMOLED screen, stainless steel body help keep the package compact. At 45mm top-to-bottom, it’s slightly wider than the biggest Apple Watch.
Samsung’s stock silicone sport band had a lingering rubbery smell that didn’t wear off quickly enough, but was fine by day two. Any standard watch strap is compatible, so you can swap it if desired. The Sport won’t win points for its low-key design, but it doesn’t irritate my skin and I don’t feel self-conscious when I wear it. For a smartwatch, that’s a win.
Samsung Gear Sport
One of the best smartwatch interfaces around with a fantastic rotating bezel. Waterproof up to 50m. Offline Spotify support. Battery life can last days. Fitness tracking with Samsung health is robust and useful. Great notification support. Has GPS, heart rate monitoring, and NFC.
Untethered Spotify use can kill the battery quickly. Not the prettiest design. Silicone watch strap feels cheap (but is replaceable). No LTE support. 4GB storage may not be enough if you like to sync a lot of music. S Voice assistant isn’t very useful.
Like an Apple Watch Series 3, the Sport has GPS, heart rate monitoring, and automatically detects when you go on a walk outside. It’ll also track other activities, like cycling, running, even sleeping. With a simple twist of the watch’s circular bezel, you can easily see your steps walked, floors climbed, and heart rate. It’s designed to work best with Samsung’s Health app, which seems like it’s built to track anything.
Plan to go hang gliding? Ice dancing? Kite surfing? Orienteering? Snowshoeing? Windsurfing? It’s all here. I have no idea what exercise you get out of yachting, but rest assured that Samsung has the fitness portion of your luxurious boat trip covered.
Unlike previous Samsung watches, the Sport is waterproof up to 50 meters, making it an ideal watch to wear if you accidentally fall off that yacht. I haven’t made it to the pool yet, but I have worn the watch in the shower multiple times with no problems whatsoever.
It can sync all that swimming and exercise data with a number of other fitness tracking apps, like Under Armour and MyFitnessPal, and plays nice with a few others, like Runkeeper and Fitbit. Sadly absent are Google Fit and Apple Health. If you’re in either of those ecosystems, you may want to choose an Apple Watch or Android Wear device. This device technically works with any iPhone or Android device, but naturally is designed to pair with a Galaxy phone.
So Samsung’s got its fitness features down pat. What else can the Gear Sport do? Like most smartwatches, not a whole lot. But at least you can accomplish little in style. The Gear Sport’s Tizen operating system is, in my opinion, easier and more pleasant to use than anything from Apple or Google. You simply twist the watch’s bezel left to move between recent notifications from your phone, and swipe it right to look at whatever widgets you’ve set up. Pushing the lower side button opens a radial menu to seamlessly scroll through the rest of the apps you’ve installed.
Unfortunately, Samsung’s app ecosystem is anemic compared to Android and Apple, right down to S Voice, which pales in comparison to any other voice assistant. It’s not like there are a plethora of game-changing apps to use on other watches, though. I played around with a few apps, including an oddly fun Tetris knockoff. The only app that’s really drawn me in so far is Spotify. Unlike the Apple Watch, you can use Spotify on the Gear Sport without your phone. You’ll have to manually connect the watch to your home Wi-Fi and then type your Spotify password on the smallest keyboard ever (it’s tiny, but doable). Within 20 minutes, I had my favorite playlists downloaded to the Gear Sport and ready for a walk with a pair of Bluetooth earbuds.
Word to the wise: make sure you charge the Gear Sport before rocking out to a playlist. My battery, which had impressively lasted 48 hours straight (I never took the watch off) was hanging in there at 40 percent. Spotify completely demolished what was left after only a couple of hours. Luckily, it juices up quickly with the included wireless charging stand.
On the inside, not much has changed from the Gear S3. The Sport has enough processing power and RAM to get the job done, and not a scratch more. The only spec that may matter to you is the 4GB of storage. After adding a few hundred Spotify songs, some watch faces, and a few apps, I have less than 1GB free. Space management may become an issue if you sync music.
Samsung’s $300 Gear Sport has grown on me the more I’ve worn it. The rotating bezel gives this wearable, by far, the easiest-to-learn smartwatch interface around. Like most of these “smart” watches, the Sport doesn’t do a ton, but what it does, it does well.
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