DNA Review: The Gear Sport strikes a balance with size, style, quality
By Edwin Yapp December 22, 2017
- Sports swimming, payment capabilities in a more manageable package
- Capable Tizen-based watch but still not a fan of those who want many apps
BACK in October, I reviewed the Samsung Gear Fit2 Pro, and found it to be a pretty capable fitness tracker, which I define as purposefully-built devices that are biased towards tracking and capturing data points when exercising.
I also made a quick mention about how fitness trackers are different from smartwatches, which have a wider variety of functions besides just fitness functions, and also a nicer appeal if you’re attending an evening formal function.
Last year, the runaway successes for smartwatches were the Apple Watch and the Samsung Gear S3. Both had different appeals to different markets and while the Apple Watch continues to be very popular due to it being an Apple product, the Samsung Gear S3 had captured the imagination of quite a few due to its superior build quality, affordable pricing, great looks, functionality and ease of use.
Despite that, the Gear S3 had one big problem – its size. Measuring 46mm across the bezel, many felt that the watch was huge for a lot of wrists. In comparison, its predecessor, the Gear S2 only measured about 42mm, which some felt was a little too small.
In comes the Samsung Gear Sport, this year’s smartwatch offering from the South Korean giant launched in October. The Gear Sport compromises on size with a bezel measurement at 43mm, which many believe is the perfect size for most wrists but at the same time retains the best of what the Gear S3 had to offer – premium build, all metal finishing (as opposed to the S2) and an affordable price at RM1,299.
Design and build
Being an owner of the S2 myself, I’ve been itching to review the Gear Sport for a while now. When the Gear S3 first came out, I, like many others, did not feel the urge to upgrade due to its massive size. But as mentioned, the Gear Sport is a great compromise for those wanting to upgrade to a better-looking smartwatch with better specs but at the same time a manageable size.
The Gear Sport comes in two variants: the black and the blue. Both measure at 42.9 x 44.6 x 11.6mm and weigh in at 67g (with strap) / 50g (without strap). The display is a 1.2-inch 360 x 360 Super AMOLED covered in Gorilla Glass 3. The Gear Sport doesn’t support LTE connection for standalone cellular functionality.
Under the hood, it has a 1GHz processor, 4GB storage equipped with 768MB of RAM. It has a 300mAH battery and comes with the latest Tizen 3.0, proprietary software from Samsung. A more detail spec sheet can be found here.
The main attraction in the Gear Sport that’s different to both S2 and S3 is that it has water resistance of up to 5 atm, or about 50m. That’s a nice touch for those who are avid swimmers.
Looks wise, it isn’t very different to the Gear S3, just a smaller watch face. The Gear Sport comes in an all stainless steel encasing and oozes premium finish quality, worthy of being an acceptable dress watch without being too tacky as a fitness tracker at the same time.
The straps on the Gear Sport are at 20mm instead of the standard 22mm, which isn’t a big deal as there are quite a lot of 20mm 3rd-party straps that are available should you want to switch them up.
The Gear Sport has the usual front rotating bezel just like the Gear S2/ S3 and is IMHO still the best way to interact with a watch due to the small size. I found the screen to have a great resolution, bright enough for outside under sunlight usage and sensitive enough to use as a touch screen.
The bezel is also very nice to use, accurate in what it’s supposed to do – the selection of apps and features. The original straps are very comfortable to wear all day long, including while asleep. Overall, I would say that the Gear Sport has top-notch quality build, something which isn’t surprising since the S3 exudes the same kind of quality.
Battery and performance
If there is one thing about smartwatches that everyone complains about, it must be the battery life. To be fair, smartwatches’ battery life has improved over the years as companies have managed to use software to squeeze as much out of them as best they can.
In the heydays, you couldn’t even get a day’s usage out of them but with the Gear Sport, you can easily squeeze two days out of a full charge, two-and-a-half, if you’re a really light user and do not always connect to the phone via Bluetooth.
Sure, I would understand why this still doesn’t satisfy most people but my argument is that anyone who is used to using electronic equipment these days can easily tune themselves to giving the Gear Sport a bit of a ‘spot charge’ every now and then to keep going, not to mention a longer charge at night if you’re not sleeping with it.
So, the more important question is not how long the Gear Sport lasts, but how fast the charger charges it, and this is where the Gear Sport stock wireless charger does perform well.
A quick charge of about 20 minutes as you pop in for a shower can easily charge up your unit from 20% to about 55%. If you’ve a little more time to spare, say 30 minutes, it’ll pop right up to about 70% or so. A full charge from near 2% to 100% takes you about 1.5 hours or so.
Of course, there are all sorts of ways you can conserve your device’s power. Turning down the brightness, not connecting the smartwatch to your phone 24/7, listening to your music sparingly instead of all the time, turning off the GPS and WiFi functionality are but some of the ways.
If all that fails, the Gear Sport like its predecessors, comes equipped with a power-saving mode, which turns off the functions of all the features save the clock which tells time in black and white.
But like I’ve said, if you’re a power user, it should still last you just short of two days’ usage before having to charge it up again.
Performance wise, I’ve no complaints about the Gear Sport. Every feature works well including the GPS, the offline music playing, the fitness and step tracking, and the water resistance during swimming.
Next page: It’s all about form and function
Features and functionality
As a device, the Gear Sport performs well as both a fitness tracker and smartwatch. The fitness portion of the Gear Sport has all the same bells and whistles as its predecessors, the Gear S2/S3. You can easily track steps walked, heart rate, sleep patterns, easily record the number of cups of coffee and/or water consumed to name a few.
The Gear Sport also automatically tracks your activity. Say for example, you’re walking at a faster than normal rate for 10 minutes, it will assume that you’re doing a kind of light exercise.
Should you want to be more purposeful in recording your workout, you can select a host of tracking activities such as running, walking, elliptical training, cycling, treadmill, exercise bike and even set exercises like star jumps, squats, pilates, yoga, crunches.
The Gear Sport does track calorie count directly from the watch but I feel this feature isn’t exactly accurate so it’s best to not rely too much on it if you’re the type who’s counting calories.
The heart rate monitor is fairly accurate to within three to five beats of manual measurements. This however is only true when you’re not running or sprinting very fast as your quick hand movements will skew the heart rate monitor. All wrist-based monitors suffer from this so that’s not a biggie.
As for the smartwatch portion of the Gear Sport, what’s useful that was missing from the Gear S2 is a GPS. This enables you to track your runs or cycleing and allows you to easily go for your activities without your smartphone in tow and get the info synced when you return home. Do note that if you want to run with the Gear Sport, you’ll need Bluetooth-enabled wireless earbuds or headphones.
Another useful feature is the music playing feature of the Gear Sport. You can easily transfer your songs over to your smartwatch as there is up to 4GB of storage on board. The Gear Sport has an added feature of letting you store offline music specifically from the Spotify app, assuming you’re a premium account user. This is something new which most other smartwatches don’t have.
As for sleep monitoring, I find that it’s adequate to get a general feel of how you’ve rested for the night and should not be used as a true indicator of how well you’ve slept. Remember all these features aren’t designed to be medically accurate and are just for leisure purposes.
The resting heart rate feature is another good feature to track as that generally tells you how fit you are. Again, fair warning: This shouldn’t be used as a medical indicator but it could spot trends that perhaps you’re not aware of should your heartbeat be higher than normal.
The Gear Sport runs on Samsung’s proprietary operating system called Tizen and like I noted in my review of the Samsung GearFit2 Pro, many reviewers point to the fact that there aren’t as many apps as there are on Android Wear devices.
While this may be so, I don’t think this issue is as big as people make it out to be as most of the popular apps are already on the Samsung Galaxy Store. The lack of apps, IMHO, is offset by the fact that Tizen is a very efficient and stable operating system, as far as the Gear Sport is concerned. I had very little issues – no crashes, hanging software cycles, connectivity issues – with the Gear Sport.
However, I do feel that Samsung didn’t have to include apps, which aren’t really useful for a smartwatch such as a news reader app, mapping app or even a Microsoft PowerPoint clicker to advance slides forward.
Finally, I think a big plus going for the Gear Sport is the ability to swim with it, something that’s not been available to other Samsung smartwatches. Though not an avid swimmer, I appreciated the fact that I could do so should I want to.
However, it must be said that the SpeedoON app, which tracks my swims in my tests wasn’t as accurate as it could have been. The app is said to be able to track lengths of swims, laps, swim durations and of course heartbeat while swimming.
While these features all look good on paper, the results are anything but. Heart rates aren’t accurate due to the rigorous movements of my arms and laps weren’t measuring as they should, even when I’ve set the right default parameters for swimming such as the lap length.
Wireless and cashless payment
Although not a new feature as it was first introduced in the Gear S3, the Gear Sport comes with Samsung payment options. But unlike the Gear S3, which supports both NFC and MST (magnetic secure payments), the Gear Sport only supports the former. What this means is that you can only use your watch to pay merchants whose POS (point of sale) terminals support NFC.
To do so, you first need to set up your payments feature by linking your credit card to your watch and Samsung Gear Sport app on your phone. Steps to do so are quite straightforward and are the same as how you would set up with the Gear S3. In Malaysia though, there are only a few credit cards and fewer debit cards supported. More information on setup procedures and supported cards can be found here.
To use the Samsung Pay feature on your Gear Sport, long press the top button on your watch (at the 2 o’clock position), enter your four-digit PIN number, and then you’re ready to go.
In practice, quite a few merchants I tried supported NFC, which is basically where you see the Visa Wave signage.
I did however find that some merchants would not accept your payment should the credit card tied your Samsung Pay be a MasterCard and not a Visa. This is probably due to the fact that the merchant is an exclusive Visa partner rather than a technical issue.
Overall, the experience is quite pleasant but after a while, paying with your watch is really more of a fad than a useful feature.
So, the big question is, should you buy one? If you’ve already owned the Gear S3, then the answer is an unequivocal ‘no,’ as the gains are only incremental at best. If you’re a Gear S2 owner, then the answer would be ‘yes,’ as the Gear Sport does bring a lot more features to you. Besides that, the Gear S2 was introduced in 2016 and it’s about time to upgrade should you want to.
The question is really for those who aren’t on the smartwatch bandwagon yet or those who own another smartwatch – should you? Let me say that as a general rule of thumb, smartwatches or what is known as wearable electronics continue to remain niche and would only benefit people who are looking at specific features.
Are there more capable fitness trackers out there? The answer would be ‘yes.’ Are there better smartwatches out there that support much more apps? The answer is ‘yes.’ Where I feel the Gear Sport shines is in bringing the balance of features and functionality together.
The Gear Sport balances the package nicely and would not be suited to real athletes, who will benefit better with say, a brand like Garmin. Those wishing a whole lot of apps and prefer Android Wear are probably better off with LG, Huawei or something else. Ditto for Apple fanboys.
To me the Gear Sport shines as a capable tracker, a great looking watch, a reliable, stable and affordable smartwatch.
If you hurry, the Gear Sport retails for RM1,299 inclusive of GST. And if you purchase from the Samsung via Lazada or in-store options, it before the end of the year, you’ll have a chance to receive two complimentary Gear straps and a limited edition watch collectors’ box while stocks last.
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