Samsung Gear Sport review: One for the fitness fanatics
Samsung's latest smartwatch is geared towards fitness fanatics and especially swimmers, although its app selection lacks real muscle.
- Great rotating bezel
- Water resistance
- Smaller than the Gear S3
- Good battery life
- Weak library of third party apps
- S Voice assistant is hit and miss, mostly miss
- Samsung Pay support is NFC only
Smartwatches are no longer a new and curiosity-driven category, which means that any new smartwatch is likely to build on what its predecessors have already done. That's undeniably the case with the Samsung Gear Sport, a smartwatch that may as well be the love child of the already existing Samsung Gear S3 and Samsung Gear S2 watches.
Samsung's design language for its smartwatches hasn't changed markedly with the Gear Sport. Indeed, it's downright familiar, because this is (more or less) the innards of the impressive Gear S3 put into a body that's mostly taken from the design of its own predecessor, the Samsung Gear S2.
I liked the Gear S3 a lot, but I couldn't deny the fact that on my own somewhat thin wrists, its larger body and screen did look a little bit odd. Your own tastes and preferences may, of course, vary because if there's one matter that's likely to be divisive when it comes to watches, smart or not, it's the design.
The Gear Sport uses a simple but solid round body metal design with a 1.2 inch AMOLED display ringed with a selection wheel. There are two selection buttons on the right-hand side, one of which by default takes you to your apps list, while the other works as a back button.
Between the two buttons, Samsung has a tiny microphone for the inbuilt S-Voice assistant. The touchscreen itself also acts as an interactive element, as you'd expect, and on the rear of the watch body is an optical heart rate sensor.
Installation of the Samsung Gear Sport will vary a little depending on the smartphone you intend to pair it with. While it's both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth ready, there's no ability to add an eSIM (a la the Apple Watch Series 3) to the Gear Sport, so a paired phone is a must. If you're already in the Samsung camp you're likely to have the Gear app (and its associated tertiary apps, such as the keyboard) already installed.
If you're installing on a different Android brand, or an iOS phone, you're going to have to install quite a few apps to get the Gear Sport up and running.
The Gear app itself makes installation mostly painless, although it's not quite as fancy as the Apple Watch and its glowy photographable pairing pattern. Once you're paired, though, you're ready to go, and Samsung's app allows you to pair multiple Gear watches and gadgets to the one device through the App.
The Samsung Gear Sport runs on Samsung's own Tizen operating system, and given its rather mild specifications, it's clear that it's making the most of its performance as a result. That's great in terms of basic response because between the rotating dial, buttons and touchscreen it's rarely slow or sluggish when you're checking notifications, choosing music tracks or changing watch faces on the go.
However, it's also the Gear Sport's biggest pitfall, because it does limit the number and quality of available apps that you can install to make it a truly smart watch. There are some heavy hitters on board, notably Spotify, and you can even use Spotify's offline feature to load music tracks directly onto the Gear Sport before you exercise.
However, compared to the range of compatible apps for Android Wear and especially Apple watchOS platforms, Tizen struggles to just keep up. It's a pity, too, because the basics of smartwatch operation work really well on the Gear Sport in pretty much every other aspect.
As you'd expect, fitness is the key selling point for the Gear Sport, via Samsung's own Samsung Health Platform. Again, app selection lets the platform down, because unless you're in a crowd of Samsung Health users you're not likely to get the same competitive benefits as more popular third-party services.
Still, the Gear Sport manages well with most fitness activities, including water-based activities with inbuilt swim tracking and a water resistance claim of up to 50 metres. I can't say I've dived that deep with the Gear Sport, but certainly for short swims it comes through very well.
Samsung Pay is also supported, although apparently only for NFC and not magnetic stripe style readers. That's a problem you're unlikely to hit in Australia, frankly, because NFC is all-pervasive here, but if you do travel a lot and plan on making purchases with the Gear Sport, they might not go through according to overseas reports.
Battery life is also quite solid. The Gear Sport only has a 300mAh battery on board, but I've yet to have it conk out on me within a single day. Samsung does provide very aggressive battery saving measures if you do forget to charge the Gear Sport, pushing the screen back to a simple monochrome, and this works well if all you're fussed about are basic notifications and timekeeping.
One curious quirk with the Gear Sport is that it uses Samsung's older S Voice platform, rather than its newer Bixby digital assistant, as found on the Galaxy S8 or Galaxy Note 8 handsets. S Voice should work in theory, but I found it broadly unreliable in testing for even picking up simple commands such as requests to send messages or initiate calls. When a smartwatch pushes me towards Bixby as a better alternative, something's pretty badly wrong.
I'm very torn with regards to the Samsung Gear Sport. On the one hand (or wrist, in this case), I like the smaller form factor, and the rotating bezel is hands-down much easier to use than Apple's digital crown or the hit-and-miss touchscreen-only approaches of some competing smartwatches. At the basics, and for fitness purposes, the Gear Sport is fine, verging on great as long as you're happy with Samsung's Health app.
Still, the Gear Sport feels rather like Samsung heading off Fitbit at the pass, given the latter's recent push into more smartwatch-centric spaces for its own fitness tracking products. If that's what you're after in a smartwatch and you're already in the Samsung ecosystem, it's a fine enough smartwatch for that purpose, but far from your only choice.
While its outer bezel does rotate for selection purposes, it's hardly what you could genuinely call revolutionary, but simply an evolution of the existing Smartwatch space. If what you're after is a genuinely new smartwatch with some level of "killer app" this isn't likely to satisfy you, but then nobody's yet cracked a smartwatch with much beyond notifications just yet anyway.
Smartwatches launched with a lot of hype back in the early days of the Apple Watch with brands such as Pebble, Motorola and others offering up options for wrist-based computing.
However, in recent times it's a category that has slowed markedly. If you wanted to keep things on-brand with Samsung, the larger Gear S3 is still available for purchase. On the Android Wear space in terms of current devices, there are options such as the Huawei Watch 2. If you're more on the fitness side of the fence, consider Fitbit's Iconic.
If you're an iPhone user, you could naturally also consider the Apple Watch, but that's a platform that will only work with Apple's own phones, so Android users need not apply.
Samsung Gear Sport: What the other reviewers say
|Gizmodo||"It feels like Samsung and the new Gear Sport could be inching its way towards a critical mass."||N/A|
|The Verge||"Samsung’s latest smartwatch is good at the basics, but lacks excitement."||6.5/10|
|PC Mag||"The Samsung Gear Sport is a Tizen-based smartwatch with a fitness focus that gives Android Wear a run for its money."||N/A|
|Engadget||"A true jack-of-all-trades in the health-centric smartwatch world."||N/A|
Pricing and availability
The Samsung Gear Sport sells in Australia for $449 outright in either black or blue finishes.
Samsung Gear Sport from Samsung
Buy the new Samsung Gear Sport with inbuilt sport and health tracking features, plus notifications and exceptional style.View details
- Product Name
- Samsung Gear Sport
- 42.9 x 44.6 x 11.6mm
- 67g with strap
- 1.2" 360 x 360 Super AMOLED