Tech Guide

Samsung's new Gear Sport is a great and classy fitness tracker, but the Apple Watch is still a better buy

Key Points
  • The Samsung Gear Sport smartwatch is one of the best you can buy.
  • It tracks all sorts of fitness activities and serves as a good smartphone companion.
  • I still prefer the Apple Watch for most tasks, and think that's the best option for iPhone owners.
CNBC Review: Samsung Gear Sport
CNBC Review: Samsung Gear Sport

The Gear Sport is Samsung's newest smartwatch, and it's really good, though iPhone users should still get an Apple Watch instead.

The Gear Sport follows Samsung's Gear S3, a smartwatch that launched last year and didn't have as much of a focus on fitness. The Gear Sport is slightly smaller — a good thing since the Gear S3 was pretty bulky — and has a lot to offer.

What can it do?

Looks good at work or in the gym
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The Samsung Gear Sport can do much of what the larger Samsung Gear S3 can do (it lacks some mobile payment functionality), but in a smaller package.

Samsung's idea was to sell a wearable that can do everything that high-end fitness trackers are capable of, in addition to serving as a full-fledged smartwatch.

There's a heart monitor on the back
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You can automatically track runs and other workouts, keep a constant eye on steps-taken and calories burned and get frequent reads of your heart rate throughout the day.

All of this worked well — it seemed to track my steps accurately. It didn't do so while driving as some fitness bands do, and the heart rate usually matched what I saw on my Apple Watch. Bonus: It offered at least two days of battery life in my tests, which isn't as good as the Fitbit but is on a par with the Apple Watch and good enough for me.

It's really good looking

The Gear Sport is really nice looking, particularly in blue
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The Gear Sport is surprisingly good looking. I asked for a blue review unit and I love the dark almost black-raspberry hue of the hardware. It also came with a blue polyurethane band that was comfortable.

It's comfortable to wear and not as thick as other Gear models
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I don't think it looks as premium as an Apple Watch, which costs just $29 more, but my wife even remarked that it looked really nice. That's pretty rare. It's also water-resistant so you can jump in the pool and swim with it, or take it out for a jog in the rain.

If you want to swap out bands, you can easily do so using any standard 20 mm band, since Samsung uses regular lugs on the sides of the watch. This allows you to customize the watch to your liking without having to buy new bands directly from Samsung, which is pretty nice.

The user interface is great

There are apps, just not nearly as many as there are for the Apple Watch
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The watch is powered by Samsung's Tizen operating system. It's quick and smooth and can be navigated by using one of two buttons on the side of the watch or by twisting and turning the watch's bezel. I love the UI, which has been used on earlier Samsung smartwatches. Samsung's built-in S Voice assistant is still crummy and not as reliable as Siri, so don't plan to ask it too many questions.

With just the tap of a button and a twist of the bezel, you'll dive right into the watch's apps. Here you'll be able to place and receive phone calls (through your phone), check text messages, view the weather, see the news from Flipboard, view locally stored photos and more. There aren't a lot of high-quality apps in Samsung's app store, however, and third-party watch faces can be hit or miss.

It'll track all sorts of workouts

It can track all sorts of workouts and even coach
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The Gear Sport supports Spotify — that's something the Apple Watch doesn't do — so you can quickly fire up a playlist and jump in to any number of workouts that are preloaded on the phone.

I'd been working on "Baby steps to 5K" during my review, which is slowly getting me in shape to run a 5K, but other trackable workouts include walking, cycling, hiking, swimming, elliptical, exercise bike, step machine, treadmill, lunges, crunches, squats, jumping jacks, Pilates, yoga, rowing machine and "other." In other words, the watch can track almost anything you'll find yourself doing.

All of your stats are stored in the Samsung Health app on your smartphone. You can see how well you ate (if you're logging calories there,) how far you walked, your recent workouts and more.

You should consider the Apple Watch

I still prefer the Apple Watch to the Gear Sport
Todd Haselton | CNBC

The Gear Sport is really good as a fitness tracker, but lacks the app selection of the Apple Watch and a bit of the premium aesthetic.

I still prefer Apple Watch because it has more apps, has the more reliable Siri voice assistant and does pretty much everything the Gear Sport can do, just a bit better.

If you're an Android user, I'd pick up the Gear Sport. If you're on an iPhone, I still think the Apple Watch is a better bet, even at a $30 premium.