Saturday, February 28, 2015

Reviewing the Samsung Gear S as a fitness smartwatch

The Samsung Gear S is a novel smartwatch that also has a built-in cellular radio so that you can use it like a smartphone to make calls and get online. Most smartwatches today are companion devices that keep you connected as long as you're paired with your phone via Bluetooth. The Gear S allows you to stay connected via its cellular radio or Wi-Fi so you can keep your phone at home and still receive calls and notifications.

The Gear S is really more like a smartphone strapped to your wrist. It has a large touch display, a speaker, and a built-in microphone. It's best to pair it with a Bluetooth headset if you plan to make calls, but it will work as a speakerphone on your wrist.

For fitness enthusiasts who want to exercise without their phones, the Gear S provides the ability to stay connected with friends/family while keeping your phone at home or in the car if you're out running, walking, or cycling. The Gear S has a built-in GPS and heart rate monitor.

Biggest limitation of the Gear S: You'll need to have a compatible Samsung Galaxy smartphone to set up and use the Gear S. The Gear S doesn't pair and sync with other Android smartphones and it doesn't work with iPhones. The Gear S runs Samsung's proprietary Tizen operating system, not Google's Android Wear.

The main fitness apps include:

  • Samsung S Health - monitor your physical activity and track your exercise. Currently, it tracks Walking, Running, Cycling, or Hiking. It would be nice to have the ability to add other exercises. Uses the built-in GPS and heart rate monitor on the Gear S, so you can keep your phone at home and go out and exercise. 
  • Nike+ Running - this is a native app that runs on the Gear S and uses the built-in GPS for running outdoors. Unfortunately, it doesn't use the built-in heart rate monitor on the Gear S, but I hope that future versions will enable this feature. Syncs with your Nike+ running profile. Uses the built-in accelerometer to track your running when you're indoors on a treadmill, so you don't need to use a footpod or stride sensor to track your pace and distance. This native app allows you to keep your phone at home or in the car when you go for a run, so it's probably one of the most useful fitness apps for the Gear S.
  • MapMyRun, Endomondo, and Runtastic - these are familiar fitness apps for the Gear S, but they are companion apps and require you to stay connected with your phone while you run these apps. Your phone also needs to be running the same apps. The Gear S becomes an extension of your smartphone screen to your wrist. So, it's a great feature if you want to keep your phone in a waist pack or pocket as you run or exercise. I'm hoping that future versions of these apps will allow you to keep your phone at home, but right now they are just companion apps. 
I'm sure we'll see more fitness apps developed for the Tizen platform since Samsung has developed a number of different smartwatches for fitness enthusiasts. I'm also hoping that Samsung S Health will eventually sync with Google Fit and other fitness platforms like MyFitnessPal.

The Gear S is water resistant (IP 67) but you can't swim with it. With 4 GB of internal memory, you can store several hours of music, but you can also stream music via the Milk music app powered by Slacker. 

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