Update: Samsung's Gear Sport now has some new competition from the Samsung Galaxy Watch, but it's also cheaper than it once was. We've updated this review to reflect both those things.
Samsung’s Gear Sport appears to have two clear goals: be slimmer than the previous year’s Gear S3 model, and bring in swimming support.
In the difficult smartwatch market, so few upgrades seem a bit dangerous - but then again, given the Gear S3 was a decent watch it might not be the worst idea.
Samsung’s been offering some market-leading capabilities with its digital timepieces for a while, so is the Gear Sport the perfect fusion?
Dimensions: 42.9 x 44.6 x 11.6 mm
OS: Tizen 3
Screen size: 1.2-inch
Resolution: 360 x 360
Screen type: Super AMOLED
Processor: Exynos 3520 dual
IP rating: 50m waterproof
Samsung Gear Sport price and release date
The Samsung Gear Sport launched at a pricey $299 / £299 / AU$499. However, it has since dropped in price and can now be found from around $220 / £220 / AU$320.
While it was once a bit of luxury those price cuts make it rather more affordable, undercutting the Apple Watch 3 by a bit and the Apple Watch 4 by a lot. That also of course makes it a fair bit cheaper than the newer Samsung Galaxy Watch.
In fact, while still far from entry-level, it is one of the cheaper Samsung Gear watches on the market now, as the Gear S3 is slowly being discontinued and is curiously rising in price. You can still buy the Gear S2, but that's a little archaic now.
The Samsung Gear Sport was released on October 27 2017, or November 1 if you’re currently residing in Australia.
Design and screen
Given the key focus of the Samsung Gear Sport is all about making a more compact device, it’s bizarrely heavier than the models from last year - we’re not talking massive differences, but it’s nearly 10 grams and you can feel that on the wrist especially.
However, overall it’s a smaller device, coming in with the more compact dimensions of 44.6 x 42.9 x 11.6 mm - it looks far more like a normal watch than previous gears before it, which maintaining the same rugged sensibilities that we like to see for watches of this cost.
It’s very well-made as well - you know when you pick it up that you’re getting a timepiece that’s costing a little more, and with luxury being a key differentiator with watches compared to other gadgets, this is important.
The bezel and metal body have very little unwanted movement, and it doesn’t feel too tight against the wrist. Of course, that depends on the strap, and at 20mm you'll be able to switch these out for a wider range of 'generic' bands from other shops.
Given the name hints heavily at fitness the rubber band that comes in the box is just fine, but you do have options.
It’s a real pain to get the strap through the holding loops at times - especially annoying when you need to get going for a workout - so you’ll need a little more care there.
The 1.2-inch Super AMOLED screen is as clear and vibrant as you’d expect from Samsung - it can err on the darker side by default (as you’d expect given the South Korean brand is trying to save battery) but if you crank up the brightness it’s easily legible at all times.
It’s annoying that it’s a bit smaller than previous years - 1.2-inch vs 1.3-inch - as we want as much to look at as possible on a smartwatch, but if that’s the price of a more compact device, we can understand.
Circular designs don’t show as much as a squarer display, but offer a better aesthetic on the wrist (and Apple has pretty much owned the square design, so anything similar would be seen as a copy).
The Samsung Gear Sport is well-machined with a strong shell, clear screen and robust glass on top. That slimmer design does come at the cost of battery size (and we’re not sure where the extra weight has come from) but overall this is a premium smartwatch… which you’d hope for the price.
Spotify and apps
One of the reasons to buy the Samsung Gear Sport is that it’s the first (though no longer only) ‘Spotify Watch’ - and it’s an incredibly smart move from the South Korean brand.
The ability to sync offline tracks from Spotify means, suddenly, this is a watch you actively want to take out on runs. Add in a pair of Bluetooth headphones and sync some music from the streaming platform, and you’re completely kitted out and phone free on a long run.
Setting up the service is as fiddly as can be - you’ll need to type in a password using an old-school T9 keyboard (those old enough to remember the early days of texting will know what that means) and peck out your username and password.
However, once in the user interface is pretty slick and usable - the playlists are where you expect them to be, and a tap will download them for offline use.
Skipping through tracks is a little bit fiddly on the smaller screen - although you can use the rotating bezel - and it’s a nightmare to alter the volume.
It’s one of those systems where you can do it, but it’s not easy - it’s nowhere near as simple a system as the one Apple's brought with Music on its Watch, where everything flows and is right at your fingertips when needed.
Also, we constantly found the Gear Sport telling us that Spotify was ‘playing’ despite having no sound output… it seemed to take a little chunk of battery life, and mess up our playlist playback.
The other apps are pretty rudimentary on the Samsung Gear Sport, with only a real handful of choices for your delectation. As mentioned, Swim.com is there, but there's no Strava app, no Nike Plus, and many other titles we felt like were missing from the platform - although Under Armour Record is there, if you're embedded in that platform.
This isn't necessarily a massive problem - we're seeing that it's more important that the basics are covered with a smartwatch, such as integrated workouts, nice alerts and more relevant notifications.
It's nice that you can reply to a WhatsApp message, for instance, without needing to open the app, but otherwise if you're looking to augment the capabilities of the Gear Sport you're not going to find a lot here other than some third-party apps that you'll be unwilling to take a chance on.
For instance: one of the best features of the Apple Watch is the breathing exercise app, helping you calm through the day or get to sleep more easily. However, while you can download something similar in function for the Gear Sport, it's siloed within an app and doesn't offer you notifications.
And the functionality is rudimentary at best - it's an indictment on how the app store is understocked, and isn't going to get any better as long as Samsung doesn't have a massive user base to create for.