If we can take one thing away from 2017, it’s that not enough people are buying a smartwatch to make a fashion statement. This year, we’ve seen smartwatch makers get out of the game altogether (Motorola) or turn from the runway to the track (Huawei). Even the new Apple Watch is rumored to be more health-focused, although we doubt the form will change much (not that the Apple Watch was ever the most fashionable of wearables).
While Samsung has managed to fare better than most, their Gear S line of smartwatches still hasn’t been as successful as the company would like. So, it’s not too surprising that Samsung has also decided to reverse course. Just announced at IFA 2017, their new smartwatch for 2017 is the Gear Sport, rather than a direct follow-up to the Gear S3. The Sport is a bit thinner and a bit smaller than the S3 at 42.9 mm x 44.6 mm x 11.6 mm, going for a sleek look instead of the more design-heavy, upscale look of the S3. The case holds a 1.2″ AMOLED display, so it’ll definitely be clear.
As best we can tell, the big difference is that the Gear Sport will not have LTE connectivity, a speaker, or a mic, which is probably why it’s thinner. It’ll still be useful without a phone for workouts, though — it’s fully stocked with fitness tracking sensors, a heart rate sensor, and its own GPS chip, so any kind of workout can be fully tracked, including running and cycling routes. It’ll work for swimming, too — the Sport can survive submerged in up to 165 feet of water. Whatever kind of workout you’re doing, the Sport should be able to detect it and track it automatically.
As before, Samsung is using their own Tizen OS instead of Android Wear. This means that there will be way fewer third party apps available, but Tizen isn’t a total wasteland when it comes to fitness. They’ve partnered with Under Armour to bring all of their fitness apps to the Gear Sport, and they’ve done the same with Spotify for music. The Gear Sport is actually the first wearable with support for Spotify offline. Still, this is showing the weakness of Tizen — if you’re already invested in a different fitness tracking app, it’s really hard to justify buying a smartwatch that will lock you out of that app.
The Gear Sport will still function as a regular smartwatch, too. It’ll push notifications to your wrist, and it’ll have a few Samsung-specific features if you’ve really bought in to their ecosystem. The watch can be used to control Samsung smart home devices using Samsung Connect. There’s both NFC and MST connectivity for Samsung Pay, too — MST allows for contactless payments with magnetic stripe terminals, a feature that is still unique to Samsung as far as we know. The watch can even serve as a remote control for the Gear VR headset — we have to give Samsung credit for making the sum of their products greater than the parts. The point is that the Gear Sport is best used with a Samsung phone, but it’ll still work with iOS and other Android devices, too.
Samsung is also introducing the Gear Fit2 Pro and a new version of their IconX true wireless earbuds. The Gear Fit2 Pro is a refresh of the Gear Fit2, adding better heart rate tracking and the same water resistance found on the Gear Sport. It still has the same basic look — a wide band with a 1.5″ AMOLED display and a sport band. At this point, the Fit2 Pro is just a cheaper alternative to the Gear Sport for anyone who wants a wearable for fitness tracking and nothing else.
The refreshed IconX true wireless earbuds were badly needed — we reviewed the first generation model, and they were not great. The buds suffered from lower than advertised battery life and severe connectivity issues, outweighing otherwise strong design work and good touch controls. This year, Samsung is promising better battery life, but we’ll see. They’re saying we should get five hours of streaming music playback and six hours for music stored on the buds’ 4 GB of storage, but we have to figure that battery life will be shorter if use of the fitness features, like the heart rate sensor, is factored in. Using the on-bud mics, Samsung says the IconX can be used to interact with the Bixby voice assistant introduced on the Samsung Galaxy S8, too. Sounds good, but we’d need to test them out for ourselves to see if Samsung has gotten the connectivity issues sorted out.
Samsung hasn’t mentioned pricing and availability for the Gear Sport or the new IconX just yet. The Gear Fit2 Pro will be available for preorder starting tomorrow for $200 and will arrive in stores on September 15.
Check out more of our IFA 2017 coverage right here!