The Gear Sport is Samsung’s first smartwatch able to track swimming, but it’s not quite the multisport wearable we’d hoped for
- Excellent display
- Offline Spotify playback
- Not many third-party apps
- No support for external heart rate sensors
Last year’s Gear S3 was an outstanding smartwatch and we were particularly impressed by its whopping five-day battery life. This year Samsung hasn’t replaced it or improved it; instead, the new Gear Sport slots into Samsung’s smartwatch line-up just below the S3. This means it costs a bit less but crucially also makes a few compromises in terms of features.
It’s not all bad news, though. The Gear Sport is Samsung’s first smartwatch that can track your swims, recording lap time, stroke type and even heart rate. So could it be that Samsung has finally succeeded in creating a watch that resembles a traditional timepiece but also caters to the keenest of fitness fans?
Samsung Gear Sport review: What you need to know
Samsung’s Gear Sport smartwatch runs Tizen OS. It has a super-sharp 1.2” 360 x 360 AMOLED display, 4GB of internal storage and built-in NFC so you can buy things using Samsung Pay. It has GPS for tracking your workouts and an optical heart rate sensor for keeping tabs on your heart rate throughout the day and during exercise. It’s also Samsung’s first proper smartwatch that’s rated as fully waterproof – to a depth of 50m – so you can use it to track swims.
Samsung Gear Sport review: Price and competition
At £300, the Gear Sport costs £50 less than the Gear S3, but it’s also £100 more expensive than its full-featured fitness tracker sibling, the Gear Fit2 Pro. Garmin’s Vivoactive 3 is another sporty smartwatch costing £300 and you can pick up Fitbit’s Ionic, which is rather lacking in features, at the same price point. Meanwhile, iPhone owners would do well to consider the Apple Watch Series 3 instead. The Wi-Fi only version is only £30 more expensive than the Gear Sport and is, in our opinion, the very best smartwatch on the market.
Samsung Gear Sport review: Design
The Samsung Gear Sport is an attractive albeit slightly generic looking smartwatch.
When unboxing the black version (it’s also available in bright blue) my first impression was that it was rather smart; a timepiece I’d feel equally comfortable wearing to the gym and to work. However, its smooth stainless steel casing does lack the character you can find on the more rugged Gear S3 Frontier.
Thankfully, all thoughts of the watch’s slightly plain design were banished as soon as I turned it on. Like the Gear S3, the Gear Sport’s has a stunning 360 x 360 AMOLED screen and its slightly smaller 1.2in diameter gives it a higher pixel density as well.
Like the Gear S2 and Gear S3 before it, the Gear Sport has a rotating magnetic bezel to help you navigate the Tizen interface and I found that it worked very well; it’s certainly a nice alternative to swiping left and right on the touchscreen as it keeps the screen clear of clumsy digits. My only criticism is that, after a few days use, the bezel started to feel a bit loose and imprecise.
On the positive side, though, the Gear Sport is both smaller and lighter than the Gear S3, measuring 11.6mm and weighing 50g. That’s a good thing if you have small wrists, but the changes aren’t huge (it’s only 1.3mm thinner and 7g lighter), so there’s no guarantee you won’t still find it a little chunky.
The more compact design also means the battery has seen a 27% cut in capacity to 300mAh (it’s 380mAh in the S3), although the watch does still take standard 20mm pins and straps, so if you don’t get on with the supplied rubber strap (it’s supplied with two different sizes) you can easily swap it out.
Samsung Gear Sport review: Features
GPS is a fundamental feature for anyone who takes their fitness seriously and, in my experience, the Gear Sport’s worked well in rural areas, picking up a signal in less than a minute and tracking distances accurately.
Unfortunately, its performance was not so impressive in more built-up locations. The first time I used the Gear Sport in central London I was unable to get a GPS fix at all and eventually abandoned the idea of tracking my three-mile bike ride.
Just like the Gear S3, the Sport has an optical heart rate monitor on its underside and this worked well for tracking my heart rate throughout the day but varied by as much as 10 bpm compared to my Garmin chest strap when running. This sort of complaint isn’t uncommon for a wrist-based heart rate sensor so it isn’t disappointing in itself. What is a bit of a let-down, especially considering the watch’s Sport branding, I that there’s no option to pair the watch with an external heart rate monitor; it’s a standard feature on other multisport watches from Garmin, Polar and TomTom.
In terms of other features, the Gear Sport is almost every bit as packed as the Gear S3. There’s an altimeter/barometer, which keeps track of how many flights of stairs you’ve climbed. There’s NFC, enabling you to make purchases via Samsung Pay, Bluetooth v4.2 for pairing your headphones and phone and 4GB of internal storage so you can leave your phone behind and play music from your watch when running. The watch also has full Wi-Fi connectivity, which allows you to receive notifications on the watch even when you’re out of range of the phone.
The Gear Sport is also the first Samsung smartwatch that’s rated to 5 ATM or 50m of waterproofing, so you can track your swims and even leave it on in the shower. And like Samsung’s other fitness trackers and smartwatches it uses wireless charging. One drawback to this is that charging can feel a bit sluggish. A key feature that hasn’t been carried over from the Gear S3, though, is its loudspeaker, which enabled you to make phone calls directly from your wrist, providing you were within Bluetooth range of your phone or connected to a Wi-Fi network.
Samsung Gear Sport review: Fitness/S Health
The Gear Sport automatically tracks all your activity including runs and bike rides, which is great if you’re forgetful or just don’t want to waste your last bit of battery life turning on GPS. Just walk, run or cycle for ten minutes or more and it’ll log it for you. Even dynamic sports such as dancing, football and tennis can be picked up by its automatic workout detection. When you want to have more precise insights into a workout you can manually track any activity by selecting the appropriate option and tapping Start. For running and cycling, the watch shows your speed/pace, distance, heart rate and calories onscreen, so you know how hard you’re pushing it. I’d definitely recommend setting the watch to ‘always on’ if you’re a keen runner or cyclist, though, because lifting your wrist every time you want to turn on the display quickly becomes tedious.
For swimming, you can use the built-in Swimming function or download the dedicated Speedo On app, which lets you set custom pool lengths and has workout programmes where you choose how many lengths you want to swim in advance. The new Water Lock mode also ensures that the activity doesn’t pause when water touches the screen.
Reviewing your general activity levels with the Gear Sport is very simple. Just twist the magnetic bezel and the Tizen interface jumps between a series of widgets to display important info including your steps taken, calories burned, floors climbed, and heart rate for the day. Tapping a widget then expands it so that you can see your activity levels for the past week, and beyond. It’s equally straightforward to launch the ‘Activity log’ from your wrist, checking important details from your manual workouts such as distance covered, time elapsed and time spent in different heart rate zones. If you find it too fiddly scrolling on a smaller screen, all this info is also synced to the Samsung Health app on your smartphone, where it’s much easier to digest. You can also see insights into your sleep quality here, which is also automatically tracked by the Gear Sport when you leave it on your wrist at night. If you’re familiar with the app through owning a Samsung phone, then you’ll already know how to use it, but it’s also available for non-Samsung device through the Google Play Store and Apple App Store.
Samsung Gear Sport review: Communication and apps
Although it already exists in the Samsung S3 and Gear Fit2 Pro, one of my favourite features of the Gear Sport is that it lets you install Spotify. Providing you have a Premium subscription, this lets you store offline playlists and albums on the watch, which is a fantastic boon for those who like to listen to music while they run. You’ll need a pair of Bluetooth headphones but that’s a small price to pay for not having to lug your phone around while you exercise.
Elsewhere, the Gear Sport is similar to most other current Samsung wearables. The notifications system works well and you can scroll through messages easily by rotating the bezel. There are also handy widgets to display the weather, upcoming events in your calendar and a remote for your phone’s music app. When you receive a WhatsApp message or SMS, you can respond directly from the watch using canned responses, emojis and even a tiny onscreen keyboard. I didn’t use the latter very often because I found it quicker to take my phone out of my pocket but the other options are handy when you want to send a quick response.
My main criticism of the Tizen operating system is that the apps feel a bit too detached from the widgets, so I didn’t find myself using them very often. As mentioned in previous reviews, the number of third-party apps available on Tizen is also much more limited than on Android Wear and WatchOS but keen golfers appear to be well catered and there’s an enormous range of watch faces available to personalise your timepiece.
Samsung Gear Sport review: Verdict
All in all the Samsung Gear Sport is a solid smartwatch. It has a fantastic screen and it’s packed with most of the features we loved about the Samsung Gear S3. It even builds on this with full waterproofing and the option to track your swims. However battery life isn’t as good and it’s also not quite the multisport watch its name suggests – it can be slow to get a GPS fix and lacks the option to pair with any kind of external sensors.
The important question, then, is who should buy this device? Unfortunately, the answer is I don’t really know. Samsung GearFit2 Pro is an outstanding fitness tracker that comes with practically all the features you can find here, and it’s £100 cheaper. Meanwhile, the Gear S3 has dropped in price since its release last year and can actually now be picked up for less than the Gear Sport.
My advice would therefore be to buy the Gear Fit2 Pro if you want a brilliant Samsung fitness tracker that does it all. If you’re not fussed about swimming with your smartwatch and want something that looks more sophisticated then go for the older but still excellent Gear S3.