Samsung S5 & Gear 2 Review
We’re usually reviewing activity trackers that are designed for just that one purpose. They are often wrist worn devices, with basic displays, that track steps, sleep and have companion apps for tracking food too.
These companion apps are usually on our mobile phones, and are required for syncing too. Since your mobile phone is pretty much with you 24/7, couldn’t we just use the sensors in them to do the step and sleep tracking too? Well, now you can.
The Samsung S5 is the latest hero product from the Samsung family of phones, and it packs some great digital health features. The Gear 2 smartwatch is the perfect companion for the phone too, and often comes with it as standard, so we’re reviewing the 2 devices together, specifically looking at the health side of things.
WHAT IS TRACKED?
Both the S5 and Gear 2 track exactly the same data, so why you would need both is a little confusing – at least in terms of health tracking (because we don’t really care that you can answer the phone from the watch, what does that have to do with health?!)
They track steps, sleep and heart rate – although the heart rate is a manual process, but rather quite simple, unlike what we have seen with the Withings Pulse O2. To get your heart rate, you either hold your finger over the sensor on the back of the S5, or you tap a button on the Gear 2 and the sensor takes the heart rate from the position it is sitting on your wrist – all rather simple.
Accuracy on the phone was fine. It tracked very similarly to the Withings Pulse O2 and Jawbone UP24 which we were reviewing around the same time. However the Gear 2 showed much less steps. Grants, this was sometimes because it was worn less than the phone – remembering to charge your phone is easy, but the habit for charging your watch every day is yet to grow on me. But even when using both at the same time, the Gear 2 measured less, and according to the other devices I was using, this was incorrect.
Both the S5 and the Gear 2 use the S-Fit app on the Samsung S5 phone. This is a hub for all things health related and is supposed to integrate with other activity trackers too, although we couldn’t find any partner apps – perhaps they are yet to come. The app is rather basic and does not live up to the gold standard set by the likes of Jawbone and Misfit Wearables.
Also, you would have thought the data from the Gear 2 and the S5 would have matched, because they both sync to the hub. You would expect then that the hub would remove any duplicates, and then add missing data to the respective devices. The fact that the Gear 2 then displayed fewer steps shows it wasn’t receiving the data from the phone. This is basic stuff that just isn’t being delivered and will really confuse users – and harm their mission to be more active.
Although the review is of the 2 devices combined, we will break out the user experience between them first, then discuss the combined experience, as it is when combined that they seem to fall down.
The S5 is a phone, so the user experience is very much what you would expect from a phone. You need to charge it daily, no surprise there, and as a top-end Android device, you can be confident it all works smoothly and perfectly well. To unlock the phone you use a finger print sensor too, which is a nice touch, but it is not integrated into the heart rate monitor, which we thought was missing a trick.
So the main user experience here is how the data is tracked and how it is displayed. Well, apart from the heart rate, which is manual, although rather easy to record, the steps and sleep is all automatic, with no need to input anything. That’s great and just what we want. It makes perfect sense for your phone to do this, as you have your phone with you 24/7, even in bed for some people!
A smartwatch is something new for most people, and getting used to the controls can take a little time. What was most frustrating was the need to charge the device nearly daily (it was more like every 1.5 days) – although granted, when not used at all during the day, it lasted longer (around 3 days) – but who won’t be using it for other apps, calls, messaging etc.
The fitness app was located at the back of the menu so was tricky to find and the iconography didn’t match the phone’s, so that was also confusing – and even more confusing when the data did not match the phone. You start to suspect that the watch and phone are not really working together. Which brings us to…
If using the 2 devices because of the digital health aspects, don’t both with the Gear 2. It is less accurate and really does not communicate with the phone well. This seems like a major flaw that could have been easily fixed – however the fitness aspect of the phone is just one tiny feature – a smartphone is about much more. This brings argument to why specific devices, such as the Jawbone UP24 or Withings Pulse O2 are still worth buying, even if a phone can do the same – because a phone is just not a bespoke, let alone a smartwatch (well, at least the Gear 2).
The Samsung S5 is £529 (although often cheaper on Amazon), a normal price for such a high end phone. As a phone, it is worth it, and if you’re planning to buy a phone and activity tracker, then do consider buying the S5 just on its own, it is likely to be enough for your tracking needs, and will save you the cost of an activity tracker.
The Gear 2 is a pricey £299 (again, often cheaper on Amazon) although whether or not that is high or low in the smartwatch market is largely unknown – there are so few decent smartwatches out there. But, considering the features, especially the poor quality health features, it is certainly not worth it. You are better off with just the phone, which has everything the watch does, or with an activity monitor, which will only set you back around £100 or less.
From a digital health angle, you are left wanting from both devices. Certainly we were not impressed at all with the Gear 2, and while we had high hopes for the S5, since tracking on your phone just makes sense, it is clear that activity trackers still have their place – they are specifically designed to do just one thing, and they do it well. The S5 is trying to be a jack of all trades, and it certainly does not master activity tracking. Still, as a phone – it is marvellous!