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Samsung challenges Fitbit with GPS enabled fitness tracker

Published:Sunday | June 12, 2016 | 12:00 AM
In this May 23, 2016 photo, a Fit2 sits on a wireless charger during a demonstration, in New York.

Just in time for summer, Samsung is unveiling a new fitness tracker that aims to undercut gadgets from market leader Fitbit.

Beyond offering all-day step-counting and automatic sleep tracking, the US$180 Gear Fit2 comes with GPS sensors for more accurate measuring of distance and pacing for runners and cyclists.

GPS is typically limited to higher-end devices such as the Fitbit Surge and the Microsoft Band 2, both of which go for US$250. The Fit2 is also cheaper than the new US$200 Fitbit Blaze, which doesn't have GPS.

The main drawback: The Fit2 won't sync with iPhones as Fitbits do.

While Samsung is the world's fifth-largest maker of wearable devices, according to technology market research firm IDC, most of those are Gear smartwatches, where fitness is an afterthought.

By contrast, fitness is front and centre with the Fit2. Yet it will also have some smartwatch capabilities, including the ability to reply to messages from the device. Rival trackers at most tend to show you the messages; replies are typically limited to smartwatches such as Apple Watch and Samsung's Gear S2.

Later this year, Samsung will release its US$200 Gear IconX earbuds that in addition to playing music, will track exercise and heart rate. They're designed as a stand-alone tracker rather than a companion to the Fit2.

Under Armour's upcoming heart-rate-tracking headphones are expected to cost US$250. Samsung's IconX goes further with built-in sensors to measure distance and pacing, though with less accuracy than GPS devices. There's no screen, so you get audio readouts every mile or whatever interval you set.

Samsung is trying to tap growing interest in health and fitness as sales of smartphones slow down.

In the first three months of this year, Fitbit shipped 4.8 million devices, or 25 per cent more than a year earlier. That accounts for about a quarter of all wearable devices worldwide. Samsung, by contrast, shipped about 700,000, an increase of less than five per cent, according to IDC. Samsung's devices require an Android phone, while Fitbits work with iPhones and Windows phones as well.

Both the Fit2 and the IconX will let you leave your phone at home. You can download hundreds of songs for phone-free workouts, but you can't tap Spotify and other online services without the phone. The phone needs to run at least KitKat, the 2013 version of Android. For the IconX, music syncing might not work with non-Samsung phones. A PC would be needed in such cases.

- AP