Activity-tracking wristbands tend to promise a lot and deliver not quite as much, but that hasn't stopped wearable makers from trying. Some of them are starting to squeeze more sensors into the same wristband form factor, hoping that the added capabilities will be The Thing that keeps people wearing the band.
Samsung is the latest company to take this approach, with the announcement of its new Samsung Gear Fit 2 today. The activity tracker is the follow up to the original Samsung Gear Fit, released in 2014. The new wristband has an updated design, built-in GPS, and the ability to automatically recognize certain activities, an increasingly common feature in fitness bands and watches.
Samsung has crammed GPS and heart rate sensors into a sub-$200 wristband
The first noticeable thing about the new Gear Fit 2 is its size. It's a more flexible band than the original Gear Fit, which felt unforgiving on the wrist, but it's also bigger. This is partly to accommodate a larger — Samsung notes it's twice as wide as the prior model — 1.5-inch, super AMOLED display, which was designed with maximum visibility in mind. All of the data is displayed vertically on your wrist, which means you don't have to turn your wrist to view a horizontal display.
In addition to tracking workout distances using the GPS sensors, the Gear Fit 2 tracks the now-standard assortment of personal health metrics: steps, sleep, various activities, and heart rate. It includes a daily timeline view of your daily activities, and will show entire maps of running or cycling routes after you've finished your activity, because again, that big display. And it will show a variety of notifications from your smartphone.
Samsung is also the second tech company in recent days that has partnered with Spotify to create a dedicated Spotify app for its new wearable gadget. (Pebble was the other.) So there are three options for music listening through the new wristband. You can store up to 4GB of music locally on the device, use the wristband as a Bluetooth remote control for other music apps on the phone, or play Spotify from your wrist — although you'll still need a phone in tow for that, at least for now.
Its expected battery life is better than you might expect for a wristband with a large display and GPS. Samsung says it expects the band to last three to four days with typical usage, and up to five days long in standby mode.
Gear Fit 2 has a dedicated Spotify app
The Gear Fit 2 costs $179 and will ship before the end of the year. That's $20 less than the price of the original Gear Fit, which retailed for $199, and around the same price as the Microsoft Band 2, another activity-tracking wristband with built-in GPS. It's also significantly less than the price of the GPS-equipped Fitbit Surge, which costs $250. I have to give Samsung credit for cramming as many capabilities as it could into a sub-$200 wristband.
However, the Gear Fit 2 has one drawback that those other aforementioned bands don't have: it only works with Android smartphones (4.4 or higher), whereas Fitbits, Microsoft Band, and even Garmin devices work with a variety of mobile platforms as well as desktop software.
Samsung does say that the Gear Fit 2 can be used independently of a mobile phone, so if you did have an iOS device and you still, for whatever reason, really wanted to wear the Gear Fit 2, you could. But I can't see how the limitations would be worth it, considering you wouldn't get "smart" notifications from your phone, and you'd only be able to look at your workout data directly on the wristband.
So Samsung is pulling an Apple, by introducing a wearable that's meant to have broad appeal but is limited to one platform (for now). It's an approach that has worked moderately well for Apple so far; by some estimates the company may have sold between 10 and 12 million smartwatches in its first year, and Apple is ranked third on IDC's list of top wearables vendors for the first quarter of 2016. But Samsung is fifth on that same list, claiming just a 3.6 percent share of the worldwide wearables market, and that sliver is mostly comprised of Samsung's smartwatches, not fitness bands.
Samsung is obviously wagering that the new Gear Fit 2 might be tech-sexy enough to help the company grow its overall share in the wearables market. But I have to offer a stock conclusion for now: until we have the chance to test it for an extended period of time, we won't know for sure.
Photos by Vjeran Pavic