It's been a week that's turned the smartwatch game on its head – and Samsung had to bring something good to the party.
The smartwatch category is growing, and the forecasts point towards steady growth for the next few years. But fitness and wellness has clearly emerged as the key reason to jump into smartwatches – and the appearance of the Fitbit Ionic and Apple's strong play has the potential to freeze out Samsung.
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Enter the Samsung Gear Sport. A rationalising of last year's big, brash and bulky Gear S3 (which took aim at the Tag Heuer) the Gear Sport had a much clearer play – and when you add up the headline changes, Samsung has a powerful beast on its hand.
Waterproof to 50 metres, able to sync Spotify tracks offline, tie-ins with Speedo, Endomondo and MyFitnessPal and a host of customisation options including a great leather/rubber combo strap that will survive the gym, the Samsung Gear Sport has the weapons to go toe-to-toe with Fitbit for fitness fans.
So let's dive in a little deeper.
Samsung Gear Sport: Build and features
The watch itself is somewhat of a return to the Gear S2, which is a favourite around these parts. The rotating bezel is an ever-present, and is a great way to control apps and menus, just like before. Premium grade aluminium has gone, but the Gear Sport now boasts military standard MIL STD 810G dust and water resistance, which means it can be taken into the pool or sea.
Essential reading: Samsung Gear Fit2 Pro review
There's also a heart rate monitor, which has been redesigned to protrude from the case for a tighter fit. That's exactly the opposite design tweak that Fitbit has made on its Ionic smartwatch, so it's anyone's guess whether it makes a difference. However, heart rate is part of the swim tracking, so Samsung must be confident in the accuracy of its tech.
In terms of raw specs, there's a powerful screen, as you'd expect from a Samsung device. Bright and vibrant visuals are provided from a 360 x 360, 302ppi 1.2-inch Super AMOLED display, which doesn't disgrace itself in comparison to the punchy Apple Watch Retina or Fitbit Ionic.
Elsewhere, there's GPS on-board for outdoor workouts and 4GB of storage, which now has a purpose thanks to offline syncing of Spotify playlists, with up to 500 songs being able to be stored on the device and listened to via a pair of headphones.
The Samsung Gear Sport still uses a standard 20mm strap, and from launch there's set to be 23 options. Silicone comes as standard, with options to upgrade to leather, NATO-style fabric and a neat hybrid leather with rubber finish.
The battery is a standard 300mAh affair, so we're not expecting miracles with battery life, which should remain at a couple of days of basic use.
Samsung Gear Sport: Sports tracking
For our money the swimming features are the big takeaway here, and could be a winning experience.
Where Samsung has been guilty in the past of adding tech features which aren't necessarily backed up by the software to make them worthwhile, its tie-in with Speedo is a real star of the show. The Samsung Gear Sport will track lengths, strokes (with detection of the key recognised Olympic strokes) and calculate SWOLF to gauge efficiency. You can program in the size of the pool you're using before a session and analyse the performance of each length and stroke type. If it works – and this has been the downfall of other swim-friendly devices – it could be a best-in-class swimming tracker.
But Samsung has been busy developing other aspects of its fitness ecosystem. Many of them are welcome additions, but others smack of poorly thought out gimmicks.
One such feature is the calorie tracking. You can now add calories consumed on the wrist manually, using the rotating bezel. It will then subtract the calories you burn from that total figure and tell you – somewhere near the end of the day – whether you have a surplus or deficit. From our experience of food tracking, this is in prime gimmick stage. Tracking calories is a nightmare, and its best use is to make people aware of their intake. We're skeptical of this one.
There is a neat workout mode with Note 8 smartphones, where you'll find 50 workouts. Start these on the phone and you can follow them from your watch, skipping or pausing as required. What's more, you can beam your smartphone to a Samsung TV using Samsung Connect (everyone has a Sammy watch, phone and TV, right? Thought so) and your heart rate will display on the screen, as they all work in perfect harmony.
But away from these slightly gimmicky fitness features, there are some nice tie-ins.
The Under Armour suite of apps, announced earlier this year, make an appearance here so there are good third party running and workout ecosystems available, if you don't fancy getting locked into Samsung Health. There's Endomondo, MyFitnessPal and MapMyRun which is a decent selection, and all the apps are available on the watch.
Samsung Gear Sport: Early verdict
So what's the early verdict on the Samsung Gear Sport? Well, Samsung has built on an existing winning formula (the Gear S2) and added features which provide genuine reasons to buy.
The Spotify offline syncing is a real reason to watch this device with interest, when it arrives in October – as is the Speedo-based swim tracking, which has the potential to be a gold standard in the pool.
We're obviously going to be testing the Samsung Gear Sport keenly, so come back for our full review.