You have to credit Samsung for its chutzpah. The company’s tried every way it can think of to make its smartwatches happen, refining its line of Gear products year after year. Still, not even the latest Gear S3—one of the best smartwatches on the market—was enough to put Samsung in the conversation with Apple on the smartwatch side, or Fitbit on the fitness side.
Now, Samsung’s hoping to take on both Fitbit and Apple by introducing the only device you ever need on your wrist. Ahead of the IFA trade show, the company announced the Gear Sport, a durable smartwatch that’s just as powerful as your average fitness tracker and way better looking. Samsung also announced a new version of its ugly Gear Fit fitness band, and an upgraded pair of its Gear IconX wireless earbuds. The buds might be worth a look, since they can track your workouts, store music, and chart your workout progress without the aid of your phone. Still, of the three, the Gear Sport has the best chance to really matter.
For starters, the Gear Sport looks a whole lot better than the other options on the market, including the hideous new Fitbit Ionic. Samsung gave it a round display and a slightly squared-off bezel, creating a rugged, Casio G-Shock kind of vibe. It’s compatible with any 20mm watch band, so you can dress it up or down as you please—and it’ll go four days between charges. You can tap on the 1.2-inch display to take calls, chat with Bixby, or control your smart-home devices. It also tracks workouts, plays music, and lets you go to Starbucks without your phone. At 11.6mm thick, it’s still a hefty watch, but not unreasonably so—a Rolex Daytona measures 11.2mm. It’s lighter, smaller, and slicker than the Gear S3, which was already among the best-looking smartwatches you could buy.
It’s not just a watch, though. The Gear Sport is a supercharged fitness device with improved heart-rate monitoring, automated activity tracking, and a family of apps to seamlessly store all your data and serve up recommendations, thanks to a partnership with Under Armour. It can go into the pool without breaking, and track your swimming in the process with the Speedo app. Samsung also worked with Spotify to allow you to download playlists to the watch (at least until you fill the 4 gig capacity), which gives it a big edge over the Apple Watch. It’s not nearly the fitness beast Fitbit launched, which tracks your breathing and oxygen consumption and all sorts of other crazy things, but Samsung’s offering a lot of the same features in a much more attractive package.
If we’re talking Gear Sport versus Apple Watch, the divide is simple: The Apple Watch works on Apple devices, and the Gear Sport works on Android. Sure, the Gear Sport technically supports iOS, just like the Gear S3. But you can’t do much of anything with a Gear Sport and an iPhone. (Which is fine! Buy an Apple Watch, ya goober.) For Androiders, the Gear Sport fills in nicely.
The Gear Sport’s wildcard, as always, lies within its Tizen operating system. It doesn’t have as many apps as Android Wear or Apple’s WatchOS, and using a Gear Sport means swapping Google Assistant for Bixby, which definitely qualifies as a downgrade. Still, Tizen has become dramatically more usable over the years, and at least holds its own when it comes to fitness and notifications. It’s even better if you use other Samsung devices, but works fine across the Android universe.
As of now, three different smartwatches line the top of the market. The Apple Watch is winning, and the Fitbit Ionic hopes it can win over people who care more about fitness than style. Samsung’s betting that a lot of Android users are looking for something that looks like a watch and works like a Fitbit. That’s what it made.