Hands on Samsung’s Gear Fit: The Most Beautiful Smartwatch is Intentionally Crippled

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Samsung Gear FitAs part of Samsung’s Unpacked event last night here in Barcelona, the company unveiled an expected third smartwatch – fourth for the company, but third so far this year. The first two, Samsung’s Gear 2 and Gear Neo (dropping the Galaxy branding) switched to the Tizen operating system from Android. That Tizen switch was a surprise to the Tizen group, too, mind you – a Tizen rep told me that they found out about the Tizen-powered smartwatches by reading blogs after the Samsung event.

The Gear Fit features a unique piece of technology: it’s the first shipping consumer product that features a curved OLED display, one of Samsung’s SuperAMOLED panels. The 1.84-inch screen features a resolution of 432×128, which is still 245 pixels per inch. There’s touch, of course, so you swipe left and right from screen to screen.

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It’s a stunning device, too. The display is vibrant, with rich colors and deep, deep blacks. Thanks to the curvature of the screen, the Fit slips neatly onto your arm, and the button-esque strap is super quick to take on and off. You won’t be doing that all too much though, since, like the Galaxy S5, the Gear Fit features IP67 water and dust resistance.

The Fit is also quite comfortable – again, part of this is thanks to the curved design; Samsung has improved over the Galaxy Gear in so many ways it isn’t even funny.

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With it’s name, you might expect that the Gear Fit is being targeted toward the health conscious consumer, and you’d be right. Turn it over, and there’s a built in heartrate monitor; perhaps a better idea here than it is on the back of the Galaxy S5. Thanks to the built-in accelerometer and gyroscope, you can also use the Gear Fit as a both a pedometer and sleep tracker.

So, I’ve certainly lavished the Fit with enough praise – where’d they all go wrong?

Firstly, the Gear Fit runs neither Tizen nor Android. You won’t be making apps for this little guy. That’s one area where the Pebble and the Gear 2/Neo will have a huge, huge advantage.

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Mostly, though, it’s Samsung’s stubborn insistence on restricting compatibility to a select few Galaxy smartphones (and in the case of the Fit, a couple of extra tablets). Samsung says it’s because of special features in the Fit that take advantage of custom software on their devices. Features like voice communication, or tapping on a notification on the watch and having it pop up on your phone.

Given that the previously mentioned Pebble manages to work with an iPhone, and Samsung could just deliver an app to ensure compatibilty with other Android devices, this is clearly not just about maintaining support for a couple of mid-tier features at best. iOS 7 explicitly supports notifications on Bluetooth devices, and it feels like Samsung is making a mistake by not opening it up for the iPhone or Android at large.

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Fortunately, some aspects of the device, such as the step counter and heartrate monitor, work just fine with no phone attached.

Samsung says that you can expect up to 4 days of battery life with the Gear Fit when it launches in a couple of months (pricing has yet to be revealed). We’re not sure quite yet just how well this will work as an actual watch, but I’m bullish – I set the screen timeout to ten seconds, waited for it to go dark, and then shot it as if I were checking the time, and it popped back up.

I hope that sort of functionality is on purpose.

Either way, I’m still going to be tempted by the Gear Fit when it launches, because it feels like you’re wearing a bit of the future. I’m willing to pay for that.

Samsung Galaxy S5Samsung Galaxy S5

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