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Samsung Gear 2 Neo and Fit review: Improved wearable tech with sleek designs

Samsung greatly improved upon their Galaxy Gear with these two new wearable products. However, sleek designs and solid functionality still doesn't mean overwhelming popularity for this evolving area of the mobile world.
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1 of 52 Matthew Miller/ZDNET

Gear Fit and Gear 2 Neo retail packages

Samsung updated their Galaxy Gear smartwatch lineup this year with the Gear 2, Gear 2 Neo, and Gear Fit. I have been using the Gear 2 Neo and Gear Fit for the past couple of weeks, including a week of walking around Disneyland, and am impressed by the updates Samsung made with these devices.

I was not personally interested in testing the Gear 2 because I find the camera integration unnecessary and wanted to test a lighter watch. It is priced $100 more than the Gear 2 Neo and I could never justify this premium to add a camera. A Samsung Galaxy S5 was used as the base phone for my testing, remember that you need a compatible Samsung smartphone in order to use these Gear devices. Given that the Samsung Gear Fit has the more unique form factor, let's take a look at it first.

Samsung Gear Fit

Hardware: When Samsung announced these Gear devices, I was immediately intrigued by the photos of the Gear Fit. Now that I have been using one in person I am impressed by the cool design and innovative curved display. You wouldn't believe how many comments I received from people at Disneyland who saw the Gear Fit on my wrist. The form factor is optimized for a wearable device and with portrait screen orientation it works well.

The Gear Fit has a long, relative to the device, 1.84 inch display that is just about 1/2 inch wide. The resolution is 128 x 432 pixels. The display looks fantastic with vivid colors thanks to its Super AMOLED technology. There is one button on the right side, assuming you wear the Gear Fit on your left wrist, used to turn the display on and off with all device control taking place via touch on the display. The display is very responsive and information can be shown in portrait or landscape orientation.

At first data only appeared parallel to your wrist, landscape, but Samsung updated the Gear Fit just after release to support portrait orientation, perpendicular to your wrist. I prefer the portrait orientation for most aspects, but text doesn't always flow well with such a narrow display. The time, date, and other glanceable information is more natural to view in this portrait orientation.

On the back of the Gear Fit you will find the heart rate sensor in the center with gold contacts positioned at one end. A small clip is included in the package that you snap into place on the Gear Fit to facilitate charging. A standard microUSB cable connects to the clip to charge up the Gear Fit. With regular pedometer use I was able to use the Gear Fit for just over two days before charging it up again. Short battery life is one reason I don't plan to purchase a Gear Fit, despite the cool design and comprehensive functionality.

The Gear Fit is very light at just 27 grams and is secured to your wrist via two small posts that fit into holes on the band. This securing mechanism is the same as seen on the Garmin Vivofit, Fitbit Force, and other activity trackers. I barely even noticed the Gear Fit on my wrist and found it extremely comfortable.

Software: The Galaxy Gear runs Android, the Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo run Tizen, and the Gear Fit runs a Samsung proprietary OS. It appears and functions similar to the Tizen-powered Gear 2 Neo and I given the functionality and purpose for the device I don't think it really matters what OS it is running.

You can scroll up or down through five "panels" that wrap around so you never get to the "end". The main home panel, along with other panels, can be customized on your Samsung device using the Gear Fit Manager. I have the test unit setup with the time, date, and weather. Other options include events, pedometer, and dual clock layouts.

Other apps and utilities you can add to the panels include media controller, pedometer, heart rate, notifications, timer, stopwatch, sleep, exercise, and find my device. You can drag and drop the order of the layout in the Gear Fit Manager on your Galaxy phone so that your most used utilities are quicker to access. Unlike the Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo, you cannot add additional apps to the Gear Fit since it runs a Samsung OS and has limited functionality.

While you can enable exercise and have the Gear Fit track your dedicated exercise sessions, there is no included GPS receiver so the type of data being captured is limited and the Gear Fit cannot replace your Garmin or TomTom running watch.

I read some reviewer complaints about the Gear Fit being a passive device that requires you to turn on the pedometer, but after I turned it on I never turned it off and haven't found that to be an issue. With it always enabled, the Gear Fit works like other activity trackers and seems to capture fairly accurate step counts.

Like the heart rate monitor on the S5, you need to remain fairly still and capture your heart rate. You really need to be able to capture your heart rate while in the middle of exercising to make it useful so I am not sure what to do with my resting heart rate data.

You can setup notifications for most of the apps you have installed on your Android device with the most common being phone calls, text messages, and email. The Gear Fit Manager is much more functional than the older Gear Manager for the Galaxy Gear and I think people will be pleased with the ability to enable more notifications than they could ever handle.

Sleep is an interesting utility that captures your movement while sleeping and while the data on the Gear Fit itself doesn't tell you much (how active you were), you can sync to S Health after downloading and installing the Sleep utility and see more details of your sleep data. You need to manually start and stop sleep tracking, but it just takes a couple seconds to do so.

The Find My Device utility helps you find your Samsung phone, as long as it is connected via Bluetooth and in range of your Gear Fit. It can be useful if you misplace your phone and also works the other way from your Samsung phone to find a lost, and connected, Gear Fit.

Data syncs to your Samsung device via the S Health app that still needs work. The latest Samsung devices can also function as pedometer, but at this time the data is duplicated in S Health and not consolidated between connected devices. You can easily toggle between which data set you want to view in S Health, but I would like to see Samsung merge the data and determine when it is duplicated via timestamps or something.

S Health still confuses me a bit since it now shows connected apps, such as Runkeeper, but it doesn't seem to integrate this data. I don't mind that it is a Samsung only service as many of these activity trackers have proprietary systems for managing and using the data collected with their devices. However, I need to understand S Health more and trust that Samsung won't update it and end up wiping out all the data I collected.

Settings provide you with options for double pressing the power key, auto lock, wake-up gesture, call-reject message, and more. You cannot initiate calls with the Gear Fit, but you can reject them and have text messages sent out from your phone.

Usage and experiences: I enjoyed using the Gear Fit and found that it provides a good balance between a smartwatch and an activity tracker. It would be great to see a battery life of a week, but given all the notifications that can be setup and the gorgeous display I suppose that is currently beyond the technology we have available to us.

Samsung did a great job with making it dustproof and water resistant while also keeping the weight down so I didn't even notice it was on my wrist. I liked triaging calls quickly and easily from the Gear Fit and found the pedometer to be quite useful.

I still want to see more work on S Health and need to spend even more time with it figuring out its limitations and what it can actually provide. If I can get Runkeeper integration to work and use that for my actual running activities then I may end up with a Gear Fit and S5. However, with the Gear 2 Neo at the same price providing more capability it is more likely I will pick up one of those instead.

Pricing and availability: The Gear Fit is available now for $199.99 from Samsung or carrier stores, which isn't a bad deal when you consider it is a handsome watch and activity tracker. Battery life isn't as good as I would like for an activity tracker, but it serves as a functional smartwatch too.

The Gear Fit is currently only available in black, but I have seen images of it in orange so that color may eventually be available for purchase.

Pros, Cons, and Contributor Rating:

Pros and Cons

To summarize my experiences with the Samsung Gear Fit, here are my pros and cons.

Pros Cons
Amazing, vivid Super AMOLED display Limited battery life of about 3 days
Lightweight and comfortable design Required charging dongle that could easily get lost
Dust and water resistant Heart rate monitor that requires limited movement
Excellent balance between activity tracking and smartwatch functionality Limited to just Samsung phones

Contributor's rating: 7.5 out of 10

 

Continue to the next image to read the Gear 2 Neo review

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Gear Fit and Gear 2 Neo with charging dongles attached

Samsung Gear 2 Neo

Hardware: The Gear 2 Neo looks very similar to last years Galaxy Gear smartwatch, but has a much improved band design and lighter form factor. I have been pining for a replacement to my MOTOACTV and the Gear 2 Neo gets close, except for the important GPS receiver part.

The only difference between the Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo is the 2 megapixel camera that I never found essential on the Galaxy Gear. For the $100 in savings and lighter weight (55 grams vs 68 grams) I would pick the Gear 2 Neo every time.

The Gear 2 Neo has a 1.63 inch 320x320 Super AMOLED display that looks fantastic. It is powered by a 1 GHz dual core processor with 512MB of RAM and 4GB internal memory. The device flew between screen taps and swipes and performed very well for the couple weeks I used it.

The display curves at the top and bottom as it transitions into the edges and around to the removable strap. You no longer need to use Samsung's strap since there is no longer antennas, mics, or the camera (in the Gear 2 only) in the strap.

Below the display is a hardware button, similar to what you find on the Galaxy S5 itself. I like having the button here that lets me easily turn on the display and use the Gear 2 Neo. Above the display you will find an IR port so you can actually use the watch to control your TV via the WatchOn utility. While definitely not essential, it is pretty slick.

Like the Gear Fit, there is a heart rate monitor on the back of the Gear 2 Neo in the upper left corner. Above the heart rate sensor you will see the five gold contacts where the dongle snaps on to charge up the device. The strap is adjustable and quite comfortable.

These devices have integrated Bluetooth 4.0 radios for connectivity to Samsung phones. The Gear 2 Neo also has an integrated mic and speaker. You can record voice memos, accept and make calls, and control the device via S Voice.

Software: The Gear 2 Neo is powered by the Tizen OS, but functions much like the Gear Fit. The look and feel is similar, with the Gear 2 Neo supporting many more apps and functions. You tap and swipe on the display with a swipe down from the top taking you back.

You can scroll right and left through "panels" that wrap around so you never get to the "end". The main home panel, along with other panels, can be customized on your Samsung device using the Gear Manager. I have the test unit setup with the time, date, and shortcuts to notifications, pedometer, and sleep since these are the three functions I used the most. It is amazingly convenient to have these shortcuts right on the home screen. Other options include events, pedometer, and weather clock layouts. You can even get away from all the geeky functions and enable some pretty cool style clocks.

Other apps and utilities you can add to the panels include phone dialer, media controller, music player, S Voice, pedometer, heart rate, notifications, timer, stopwatch, sleep, exercise, WatchON remote, weather, find my device, and more. There is a Samsung Apps store to install even more apps and plenty of storage for you to enjoy customizing this smartwatch.

Unlike the Gear Fit where you drag and drop apps on your phone, with the Gear 2 Neo you drag and drop the order of the app layout on the Gear 2 Neo itself. This includes creating app folders.

You can setup notifications for most of the apps you have installed on your Android device with the most common being phone calls, text messages, and email. The Gear Fit Manager is much more functional than the older Gear Manager for the Galaxy Gear and I think people will be pleased with the ability to enable more notifications than they could ever handle.

Sleep is an interesting utility that captures your movement while sleeping and while the data on the Gear Fit itself doesn't tell you much (how active you were), you can sync to S Health after downloading and installing the Sleep utility and see more details of your sleep data. You need to manually start and stop sleep tracking, but it just takes a couple seconds to do so.

The Find My Device utility helps you find your Samsung phone, as long as it is connected via Bluetooth and in range of your Gear 2 Neo. Unlike the Gear Fit, you can also use the Gear Manager to find your missing Gear 2 Neo from your Samsung phone since it has an integrated speaker.

Settings provide you with options for double pressing the power key, auto lock, wake-up gesture, call-reject message and voice control setting, and more. You can also choose to install apps from unknown sources in case apps are developed outside the Samsung Apps store and you want to test them out on your Gear 2 Neo.

Usage and experiences: The Gear 2 Neo improves on the Galaxy Gear with the exception of much longer battery life. It is reasonable priced, much more comfortable and light, has excellent notification support, and feels like it has come out of beta.

My MOTOACTV is an excellent fitness device, but has very poor battery life and limited smartwatch functionality. The Gear 2 Neo gives me better battery life, ability to listen to music via Bluetooth, add voice notes as I run and think of things, and is much more comfortable. If it had an integrated GPS receiver then I could get rid of the MOTOACTV.

Some things are actually more convenient to control from the Gear 2 Neo than a phone and I found the device served as an excellent companion device. Call, email, and text triage helped make my life more efficient and I may end up with a Gear 2 Neo soon.

Pricing and availability: The Gear 2 Neo is also available now for $199.99 from Samsung and carrier stores, which is a good price for an attractive and functional smartwatch.

The Gear 2 Neo is currently available in mocha gray, wild orange, and charcoal black. If I go with a Samsung S5, then the Gear 2 Neo is something I will seriously consider purchasing and it may even end up being the device that pushes me to the S5 over other Android options.

Pros, Cons, and Contributor Rating:

Pros and Cons

To summarize my experiences with the Samsung Gear 2 Neo, here are my pros and cons.

Pros Cons
Amazing, vivid Super AMOLED display Limited battery life of about 3 days
Useful apps to improve smartphone efficiency Required charging dongle that could easily get lost
Lightweight and comfortable design Limited to just Samsung phones
Support for large number of notifications  
Reasonable price for extensive functionality  
High level of dust and water resistance  

Contributor's rating: 9 out of 10

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Gear Fit and Gear 2 Neo with charging dongles removed

Which one would I purchase?

The main requirement to even consider one of these devices is that you need a compatible Samsung device in hand. I have been testing a Galaxy S5 for a month and the more I use the Gear 2 Neo, the more likely I am to pick up a Galaxy S5 for myself.

I found both devices to be useful, but I feel they are also focused on different customers. The Gear Fit is targeted to those who want an activity tracker and watch in one with the watch having limited smartwatch capability. The Gear 2 Neo does everything the Gear Fit does with the addition of voice integration (calls, S Voice, voice notes), music player, and much more along with a larger display to view more details.

For the same price, I would purchase the Gear 2 Neo over the Gear Fit. The Gear 2 Neo feels like a refined product while the Gear Fit seems to be in the beta stage. Samsung did a great job with both of these new wearable products, but it is going to be tough to compete with new Android Wear devices coming later this summer.

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Back of Gear Fit and Gear 2 Neo

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Gear Fit and Gear 2 Neo in hand

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Gear Fit main home screen

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Second panel showing three available utilities

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Another three utilities

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Fitness related apps on the Gear Fit

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Pedometer in action on the Gear Fit

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Heart rate monitor on the Gear Fit

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Notifications area on the Gear Fit

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Reading a notification on the Gear Fit

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Accessing status and settings on the Gear Fit

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More settings on the Gear Fit

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And even more settings

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Choosing a wallpaper on the Gear Fit

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Gear 2 Neo home screen with shortcuts selected

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Gear 2 Neo pedometer in action

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Gear 2 Neo app panel

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Gear 2 Neo phone dialer

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Gear 2 Neo app panel that isn't full

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More Gear 2 Neo apps

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And still more Gear 2 Neo apps

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And still more Gear 2 Neo apps

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Gear 2 Neo remote control app

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Gear 2 Neo weather app

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Gear 2 Neo weather forecast

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Gear 2 Neo volume and brightness

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Gear 2 Neo fitness apps

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Gear 2 Neo heart rate monitor in action

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Gear 2 Neo media controller

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Gear 2 Neo settings

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Gear 2 Neo more settings

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Even more Gear 2 Neo settings

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Gear Fit Manager initial startup

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Gear Fit Manager main display

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Gear Fit Manager notification settings

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Customizing and choosing Gear Fit Manager notification settings

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Gear Fit wallpaper setup

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Gear Fit home screen layout

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Managing placement of Gear Fit apps

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Gear Fit notifications settings

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More Gear Fit notification settings

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Gear Fit settings

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Gear Fit app manager

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Gear 2 Neo Manager

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Gear 2 Neo wallpaper

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Gear 2 Neo home panel layout options

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Gear 2 Neo Samsung Apps storefront

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Find your Gear 2 Neo

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Gear 2 Neo settings

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