Samsung challenges Apple Watch with its new Gear Sport smartwatch

Rob Pegoraro
Contributing Editor
Samsung’s Gear Sport promises smartwatch and fitness capabilities without having to keep your phone with you all the time.

BERLIN — Samsung today introduced three new fitness-minded wearable gadgets at the IFA trade show here. The company hopes the devices, a watch, a fitness tracker and a pair of earbuds, will get you spend even more of your time with Samsung’s latest smartphones — but if you leave yours at home for the next run, each of these three can continue tracking your activity and playing the workout soundtrack of your choice.

The Gear Sport Watch, Gear Fit2 Pro band and IconX wireless earbuds also represent Samsung’s idea of what will stop people from thinking about whatever Apple (AAPL) introduces alongside the iPhone 8, which is expected to happen on Sept. 12.  

Gear Sport

The Gear Sport is a moderately chunky watch, at 0.46-inch thick, done up in dark plastic that makes it look a better fit for the trail than the symphony. With water resistance up to 50 meters — the same as the Apple Watch and Fitbit’s Ionic — Samsung says it’s also set for the pool.

The Sport — pricing and availability details won’t come until fall — connects to Android and iOS phones to display selected notifications on its 1.2-in. AMOLED display but offers substantial independent capabilities without your handset nearby.

It offers 4 GB of storage, though a display unit available at Samsung’s event showed just 2.6 of those four gigs free, and built-in GPS, so it can track runs and bike rides in fine detail without a phone’s help. • Like the Gear S3, the Gear Sport also includes NFC wireless capabilities to allow for Samsung Pay transactions. You can use the watch as a remote control for Samsung’s GearVR virtual-reality headset.

Samsung’s Gear Sport is a more fitness-centric version of the Gear S3.

Samsung has expanded this heart-rate-monitor-equipped device’s app menu with new exercise-tracking options from Under Armour (UA) and Speedo. You’ll be able to scroll through your software choices using the spinning-bezel control Samsung introduced in 2015 on the Gear S2, though the prototypes I used weren’t working.

Samsung isn’t talking about battery life, but a peek at the Settings app on two of those models revealed “default” battery-life estimates of about 31 and 35 hours. Their “power saving” run times, in which the screen switches to grayscale and only displays basic notifications, showed up as 89 and 100 hours.

Like many smartwatches, the Sport’s screen automatically shuts off, requiring a tap or a flick of the wrist to check the time.

The Gear Sport runs on Samsung’s own Tizen software instead of the Google (GOOG, GOOGL) software in its first smartwatches.

Gear Fit2 Pro

The Fit2 Pro fitness tracker keeps most of the Gear Sport’s activity-tracking capabilities, as well as its water resistance, heart rate tracker and 4 GB of storage, but lacks the watch’s app choices.

The apps available on the Fit2’s curved 1.5-inch AMOLED screen were much simpler and focused far more on what you do, eat and drink — I saw apps to record water and app intake, but not one’s booze consumption. It also connects to iOS and Android phones via Bluetooth to receive basic notifications.

The Fit2 goes on sale Sept. 15 for $200 at Amazon (AMZN), Best Buy (BBY), B&H, Macy’s (M) and Samsung’s own site. Samsung doesn’t list a battery life for the band, but a Samsung rep said to expect about four days.

IconX

Samsung gets accused often, and often unfairly, of copying what Apple does, so I won’t be surprised to see people calling these upgraded versions of the company’s existing IconX earbuds “Samsung’s AirPods.” And much like the wireless earphones Apple introduced when it rolled out the headphone-jack-deprived iPhone 7, these come in a compact case that doubles as a charging dock.

But unlike AirPods, the IconX comes with 4 GB of storage per earbud. They can also track your run times and distances using a built-in accelerometer. You can invoke a running-coach routine that speaks updates about your pace by tapping them.

Samsung’s IconX can store onboard music and interface with the company’s Bixby voice assistant.

Samsung says their batteries are good for 5 hours when a pair of IconXes (IconXen?) are paired with a phone via Bluetooth, 6 hours in standalone mode, and 4 hours when used as a hands-free kit — all major upgrades over the company’s existing IconX headphones Its charging case comes with a USB-C port.

They will work with Android and iOS phones; with newer Samsung phones, you can also use them to converse with Samsung’s Bixby personal assistant.

It’s unclear, however, if IconX earbuds will come with the same streamlined setup Apple offers with AirPods. And we can only guess if they will beat the $179 price of Apple’s wireless earbuds, since a price and a ship date remain unannounced.

Disclosure: IFA’s organizers are covering most of my travel expenses and those of a group of U.S. journalists and analysts.

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Email Rob at rob@robpegoraro.com; follow him on Twitter at @robpegoraro.

 

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