Samsung gears up again

Gear Fit

BitDepth#932 for April 15

Gear Fit
The Samsung Gear Fit connects to a compatible Galaxy phone to transmit health information and web notifications. Photograph by Mark Lyndersay.

So I’ve been wearing a watch.

It’s been 40 years since I last closed the strap for a timepiece around my wrist, and it isn’t exactly accurate to call this device a watch.

The Samsung Gear Fit does tell the time, but that’s only where it starts as a lifestyle monitoring device.

The Gear Fit is one of Samsung’s second generation release of smartwatches, a category of hardware it entered last year with the Gear, a device that met with a lukewarm reception.

The challenge with all wearable tech is creating devices that customers will be comfortable using. Google’s Glass tries hard to be a pair of really nerdy spectacles, and the Gear series bundles their capabilities into the form factor of a traditional watch.

The original Gear was a bit clunky, though hardly the least attractive piece of wristwear ever made, and offered an impressive range of functions.

The Gear Fit narrows those capabilities even as it slims down the device itself, replacing the watchface of the original Gear with a sleek curved ellipsoid shape that hugs the wrist quite nicely.

It feels less like a watch than a piece of jewelry, albeit one that lights up to show you the time, the weather, notifications from your phone and a range of exercise monitoring and health logging capabilities.

As a piece of technology, it seems almost perfectly designed for a young, hip, exercise obssessed and social media immersed customer and there’s no shortage of those to be found in T&T.

The catch will be getting those folks to wear a watch; a device that’s largely fallen out of vogue among the younger set.

The Gear Fit has two things going for it. It looks great, and will prompt many positive comments among folks for whom such things are a make or break proposition, and you can keep tabs on your e-mail, Facebook and phone calls with a quick glance at your wrist.

If smartwatches catch on, the casual look at your watch is likely to become socially deprecated after it becomes generally known that you aren’t just checking the time, you’re ignoring polite company to see who’s messaged you on Facebook.

Until then, though, early smartwatch adopters will get away with all manner of social atrocities, even in serious meetings.

There’s something seriously addictive, even on the keyhole of the Gear Fit’s screen, to quickly scrolling through e-mails and social media messages (just a few lines are shown) and responding to calls with canned text messages.

There’s a lot that Samsung has done right with these second geneneration Gear devices, but there’s still more they need to do to make a fitness focused smartwatch a viable choice.

Out of the box, there seems to be no way to use the Gear Fit as a standalone device. On Tuesday last week, the software to connect to it wasn’t available for phones earlier than the S5, so I sourced an online .apk file for the software to get it running.

Samsung need not frown on this bit of unsupported hackery though, because the software became available on Friday for the S4 and I’m now running the official version.

After all these decades, having a watch on my wrist felt odd, but only for a short while.

After a week though, I still check the time quite rarely, but have begun to develop a habit of sifting through social media notifications and e-mail updates on the device.