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[Review] Samsung Gear Sport – Sporty smartwatch supremo

[Review] Samsung Gear Sport – Sporty smartwatch supremo

Samsung’s Gear S3 Frontier and Classic last year were impressive smartwatches as they were not only IP68 water resistant, they also looked like actual timepieces. Samsung’s latest incarnation of their Gear series smartwatches dubbed the Gear Sport however ups the ante in more ways than one as it sports (pun, not intended) even better waterproofing, enhanced fitness tracking and quite a bit more in the bargain.

What’s new with the Gear Sport?

The Gear Sport inherits design aspects from last year’s Gear S3 Frontier and Classic while adding some welcome extras. It eschews the chunky, masculine design of the Frontier along with its larger rotateable bezel and scales it down a notch with a slimmer, classier looking bezel with slightly different knurling on the sides. The finish comes in either a metallic shade of blue or a more contemporary shade of gunmetal black which our test unit came in.

The older Gear S3 Frontier (top) with the near Gear Sport (bottom)

The older Gear S3 Frontier (top) with the near Gear Sport (bottom)

The Gear Sport’s display is also scaled down slightly from both watches; it’s slightly smaller 1.2-inch, 360 x 360 round Super AMOLED display is just 0.1-inches smaller than the Gear S3 Classic’s display though it still retains the same crisp resolution as its predecessors.

The Gear Sport has similar but slightly smaller knurled buttons like the Gear S3 Frontier

The Gear Sport has similar but slightly smaller knurled buttons like the Gear S3 Frontier

Instead of the rounded metal navigation buttons on the Classic, the Gear Sport instead has the squarish looking, sturdier, knurled buttons of the Frontier. In practical terms, it’s a smaller, lighter and slimmer watch all around though it doesn’t sacrifice performance as the Gear Sport actually has significantly enhanced water resistance with the ability to continue working in up to 5ATM of freshwater.

That works out to about 50 meters or so of water which is quite an impressive feat without having to batten the watch down or having to bolt on a clunky casing. In practical terms, you can take this for a swim without having to take it off.

By default, it comes with a silicone strap that is textured on the underside to offer better traction while a small metal notch allows for easy removal of the strap without the need for tools. The Gear Sport’s watch strap lugs are based on the universal 20mm width standard, which means you can replace them with another third party strap.

Unfortunately, the Gear S3 Frontier and Classic have slightly larger 22mm lugs which means they are incompatible though there’s still a wealth of available 20mm straps that you can swap out to. Out of the box, you get a pair of large sized straps along with one sized for smaller wrists on top of the obligatory charger dock to go with the Gear Sport.

The underside of the Gear Sport is nondescript save for its heart rate sensor and smaller circumference compared to the S3 Frontier and Classic. Combined with its ability to change watch faces at will, the Gear Sport makes for a very fashion versatile offering that you can customise to suit almost any occasion. The Gear Sport’s relatively gender neutral design wears well for work and leisure scenarios.


Samsung Gear Sport Hardware


In terms of hardware, the Gear Sport matches the prior Gear S3 Frontier and S3 Classic bar subtle improvements in firmware. It has a similar 1GHz dual-core processor, 768MB of RAM and 4GB of non-expandable storage along with the aforementioned similarly crisp, if slightly smaller 1.2-inch 360 x 360 pixel round Super AMOLED display.

Under the hood, the watch also runs their in-house Tizen OS which has its own proprietary app store that allows for you to download different watch faces and install a growing selection of apps that include Spotify, a web browser and even a few games too.

There’s been an improvement in terms of the apps available since we last field tested it with the Gear S3 Frontier last year with quite a diverse selection to choose from. Not all apps are free though and quite a few of them, including some watch faces, require you to fork out cash to own them.

Connectivity options with the watch include Wifi 802.11 b/g/n and Bluetooth 4.2 for pairing up to a phone. It also supports Samsung Pay via NFC for cashless payments though it’s biggest hat trick is significantly enhanced fitness tracking. On top of the usual running, walking and cycling, it’s also able to track some unorthodox exercises including swimming, pilates and even yoga too.

Gear Sport Performance

Getting it up and running was a doddle as was pairing it up with a Galaxy Note8 though it plays just fine with other Android phones and even iOS kit as well though you need to install the Samsung Gear app for it to fully interact with a phone and to upload files and apps.

On paper, the watch has about 1.5GB of usable storage which means you should be able to upload a decent chunk of a music tracklist and a ton of apps. Once paired with the Note8, the Gear Sport handily delivered notifications via a helpful vibration sensor on your wrist while also tracking steps taken, your heart rate, calories burned and quite a few other fitness metrics.

You’re able to select what notifications pop up on a per-app level, which is helpful since some apps are prone to constantly buzz you with updates.

Apps popped open swiftly and the display was vibrant and crisp even under direct sunlight. While you have the option to leave the display always-on via the settings, it is a more prudent measure to set the display to only turn on when you flick your wrist to extend battery life. Navigating the various menus and apps on the watch was achieved via the back and confirmation buttons as well as the rotating bezel. You can also opt to get about by swiping the touchscreen too if you’re feeling up to the task.

In its primary task of serving up notifications and fitness tracking, the Gear Sport did not disappoint. Activity tracking was both automatic and intuitive too and it managed to track a spot of swimming, running and even cycling without manual prompting after ten or so minutes of each activity. It also exhorts you to greater heights of fitness and helpfully prods you if you’ve been idle too long. Heart rate tracking is also quite accurate along with its built-in GPS though it occasionally flubbed it in congested urban environments.

On the music playback front, the watch is able to run tunes off built-in storage or via the Spotify app. The Sport unfortunately lacks integrated speakers so you’ll need to rely on a paired phone or a Bluetooth headset to listen to music or to take calls; an integrated mike pick-up still means you can use S Voice for verbal inquiries though it will only respond visually onscreen.

Unless you have a Spotify Premium account, you are unable to store Spotify tunes offline and are relegated to only being able to control playback off your phone via the watch. Having a premium account means you can download a full Spotify playlist and leave your phone at home while going on a run.

The watch even has a means to browse the web via another downloaded app though it’s hardly the ideal means to do so as you have to resort to a T9 keypad and a tiny screen to get about. While the nature of its design means it is hardly suited for gaming, the watch does have quite a few interesting games that take advantage of its rotating bezel like Sea Wolf that has you sinking enemy ships by rotating the bezel to aim your torpedoes. Web browsing and gaming are tangential but still pleasant bonuses.

In its main task as a fitness tracking wearable and smartwatch, the Gear Sport was delightfully responsive and intuitively easy to use on account of Tizen in tandem with its rotating bezel. Most important of all is that it was comfortable to wear for extended durations of time. The provided straps proved comfortable and helped to wick away sweat somewhat and even over the course of a month did not end up grotty or pongy on account of the silicone material used in its construction.


Gear Sport Battery Life, Price and Conclusion


The Gear Sport with normal use and a minimum of gaming was able to work just shy of three days with the display set to turn on with a wrist flick. If you leave the watch display set to always-on mode you can eke out a good two days or so before it needs a juicing. Overall endurance is on par with the Gear S3 series watches.

Recharging the watch is via docking it back in its charging cradle. Charging takes a couple of hours but care needs to be taken not to lose the charging cradle; the watch cannot be charged without the dock unless you buy a replacement.

In terms of overall performance, what you have is a lighter, slimmer and more compact smartwatch compared to the Gear S3 series watches. The rotating bezel and Samsung’s excellent Tizen OS makes getting about a wonderfully intuitive affair and keeps it and the Gear S3 series smartwatches as one of the best wearables in the business.

Where it outdoes its predecessors is its inclusion of an impressive 5ATM water resistance and better activity tracking. Samsung has also retained the customisability of the watch with interchangeable 20mm lugs so you can swap out the existing straps for your own; its plethora of watch faces means you can potentially have a Gear Sport tweaked to your exact tastes.

The biggest quibble though is the omission of a built-in speaker which the Gear S3 series watches still retain though it’s a minor inconvenience at best as most users will likely have wireless headphones to pair with the Gear Sport.

It’s not exactly cheap at RM1,299 but it’s still RM100 cheaper than its predecessors the Gear S3 series watches when they  debuted last year and what you’re paying for is a solidly built smartwatch that works with both iOS and Android phones alike. If you’re aiming for a smartwatch that’s swim-proof, comfortable, customisable and with good fitness tracking functionality you can’t go wrong the Gear Sport.

What we liked  50 metres water resistance, slick design, user interface and controls are still one of the best in the business, superb AMOLED display
What we didn’t Needs more storage, no built-in speaker
We say Design and functionality improvements over its predecessors make the Samsung Gear Sport a slick acquisition for those seeking a smartwatch with enhanced sports tracking functionality in one sleek,waterproof package.

Price RM1,299
Display 1.2-inch 360×360 Super AMOLED w/ Gorilla Glass 3
Processor 1.0GHz dual core
Storage 768MB RAM + 4GB storage
OS Tizen 3.0
Connectivity Bluetooth 4.2, Wifi 802.11 b/g/n, NFC
Battery 300mAh
Size/Weight 42.9 x 44.6 x 11.6 mm / 67g
*Review unit courtesy of Samsung Malaysia

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