Introduction and design
The Gear 2 is a device that nobody thought would appear… at least not this soon after the first version. It’s something of a climbdown for Samsung to relaunch a product so soon, but rather than call it embarrassing I’d much rather applaud Samsung for the feat.
Admittedly those that bought the first, expensive, model won’t be happy there’s a new one out already – but then again, it’s a very nascent market and there won’t be too many users out there.
The Gear 2 has a big change or two compared to the original: firstly, it’s now running Samsung’s jointly-developed Tizen OS rather than Android, and it’s moved the camera into the body of the watch, rather than forcing it onto the strap.
The overall look is much-refined and there’s a bevy of new technology to make this worth a look if you dismissed the first Gear.
This means that you can now change straps on your Galaxy Gear, which is one of the main disadvantages we noted in the original. It’s also now imbued with an infra-red blaster, meaning you can control your TV and set top box from the comfort of your own wrist.
You will need a compatible Samsung device in order to use the Gear 2, of which there are currently 18, including the new Galaxy S5.
While it’s managed to bring in some key specs and improve the design somewhat, the Gear 2 is still a rather expensive smartwatch, coming in at £250 ($295, AU$350). That’s close to the cost the original emerged at, and it suffered thanks to that price tag.
The reason is simple: while the Gear 2 is a cool thing to have (Samsung doesn’t want it being known as an accessory, rather a standalone device) it still struggles to have a real use case, which is why dropping that much money can be a hard sell to consumers still getting to grips with spending so much on a smartphone.
To alleviate that reason for purchase, Samsung has decided to add in some fitness ability with the Gear 2 in the shape of a refined pedometer and a heart rate monitor, as well as exercise tracking so you can run, walk, hike or cycle.
The battery life is improved massively, the Gear 2 can splash around in water and dust thanks to being IP67 rated and comes in a range of nicer colours (rose gold and silver) and is generally a much better device – but is it worth the still-high price tag Samsung is commanding, especially when the Gear 2 Neo (the same smartwatch made out of inferior materials and dropping the camera) is so much cheaper?
The design of the Gear 2 is very similar to the first iteration of Samsung’s smartwatches, but still manages to come with its own sense of unique style.
It’s hard to explain, but the fact the strap is now a separate piece to the main body of the watch has forced Samsung to refine the design of things like the camera and the home button.
In fact, the latter part is probably one of the best bits of the reshaped Gear 2, with the home button now on the front of the phone rather than being a small plastic protrusion on the side of the watch.
This is important if you’ve got even a modicum of arm hair, as tapping the button would usually lead to pulling out a few stray follicles, meaning you’re left with a Pavlovian hate of using your expensive new watch.
With the metallic button on the front, with a pleasant amount of travel, the experience is the same as far as the UI goes (long press to turn off or activate outdoor mode) and you can assign many options to the double tap action.
This means it’s easy to access elements like notifications with the Gear 2 in sleep mode, and is a swift action too.
The Gear 2 isn’t a small device, coming in at 36.9 x 58.4x 10.0 mm, but it doesn’t feel cumbersome on the wrist. It’s overt, that’s for sure, and those that prefer a smaller and daintier timepiece won’t feel like this is a great fashion accessory, but if you’re looking to get your hands on a smartwatch it’s not over the top.
The Sony Smartwatch 2 and the Pebble Steel are both better devices in terms of size, but Samsung’s mixture of industrial design and more refined elements (like the camera and IR blaster integration) still brings an element of premium quality to proceedings.
The screen, a 1.63-inch OLED affair, is excellent too. It’s not great if you’re trying to do anything with high res images, such as pictures or similar, but it’s fine for any snaps you’ve taken using the Gear 2.
The contrast ratio of the OLED screen means if you’re doing something like timing your food, checking out how many steps you’ve taken or just flicking through music, looks really nice and is a pleasant experience on something you’ve spent so much money on.
Design-wise I’m a real fan of what Samsung has done with the Gear 2 – it’s hard to fault the industrial design that won plaudits in its last iteration from jewellers. The screw holes might have disappeared, which is something of a shame given than added to its premium industrial design, but it’s still got a very sleek look to it.
Being able to change the straps will be a real boon to some users, but I quite like the straps that match. I’m not a massive fan of the Rose Gold colour that I had on test, but it still drew some admiring glances from others.
Key features and battery life
As I mentioned in the introduction, the main thing that a smartwatch needs, above specs and a good look, is something that actually makes it worth buying.
No matter the cost it’s going to take a lot to make someone to part with cash for a smartwatch if it ends being a fancy bracelet, so Samsung needs to come up with the goods and create something that does more than show you your texts on a wrist.
The IR (infra red) blaster sits neatly on the Gear 2 next to the camera above the main watch face and, unlike the Gear 2 Neo, is much harder to notice thanks to being packaged in well.
The premise is simple: set up your TV or set top box on the remote app, a few tests to make sure the brand is recognised and functioning properly, and you’re able to control the basics from your watch.
It’s a very intuitive system, and one that harks back to the days when that kid in school was lucky enough to get the remote control watch.
The Gear 2 is that to the magnitude of awesome (this is the 11-year-old me talking here) as you’ve instantly got a wealth of brands ready to use – I tried both mainstream and lesser-known manufacturers and they all worked first time, which was impressive.
The range of the blaster is good too, allowing me to control a TV from 15 feet away without much of a problem (although I did have to point the watch a little towards the screen) which is more than powerful enough. And you’ll never have to wonder if the batteries are going in this remote.
The functionality is a little limited – for instance, I was asked to test the menu button as part of the setup, but no such option was present on the actual remote – but if you just want to change channel and the volume, which most of us do, it’s pretty nifty.
The angle of pressing it isn’t the most natural, having to curve one’s arm to operate, but it’s hardly the worst thing in the world.
The Samsung Gear 2 comes with a similar internal storage capacity to the original Gear, offering 4GB to play with. Simply clip on the less obtrusive charging dock and you’ll be able to connect up the Gear to a computer for dragging and dropping files across.
You can send the music over through the Gear Manager as well – it’s annoyingly buried in the Notifications menu as an option, but it’s a neat way of doing things rather than always having to connect up to a laptop.
The music player itself is attractive and simple: you can shuttle through songs with a tap or swipe, and if you’ve got album art attached it will show behind the interface – a nice touch when screen estate is limited.
The volume controls are a nuisance, as you have to tap a tiny icon (a common theme here) and then tap a couple of small zones to make the Gear 2 play music louder or more softly. I don’t know the solution without a dedicated hardware key, but perhaps sliding up and down the screen would be a more obvious way of doing this.
As you might imagine the music is pumped out using Bluetooth connectivity, and it works very well, even with two connections running at the same time (the other being the phone). It would be nice to control the Gear music from the phone as well, but that’s getting picky.
One other note: when listening to tunes a small music icon appears on the home screen of the Gear 2, which takes you straight to the app. It would be nice to have this for other apps as well, such as the exercise or WatchOn remote, as there were multiple times when I was exasperatedly searching through the app menu to find them.
But it’s a strong music player, and Samsung has used its music chops to good effect here.
Samsung is going all out with the battery life on the Gear 2, stating that the innards are now capable of supporting 2-3 days’ use in general terms, but if you only use the thing for the time you’ll manage up to six.
I’m guessing the latter is only if you’re not connected to the phone, as unless you do NOTHING with the Gear 2 will you approach that long, but there’s definitely a huge improvement in battery life from before.
The first Galaxy Gear could run for around a day and a half at maximum, which was oddly longer than Samsung stated. And that’s kind of the case here, with three days easily possible with general use on the Gear 2.
That basically means getting notifications and playing around a little bit with the exercise and pedometer functions – but if you start getting snap-happy and listening to Bluetooth-streamed music then things start to get a little dicey on the battery.
I managed to drop around 5% of the battery life in 30 mins of music, and forced me to reach for the charger just to be safe before a run.
Without being able to run the usual battery of run down tests it’s hard to give an exact number for how long it takes to exhaust the power unit, but anecdotally (for now – we’re working on a better way to empirically test the smartwatch) you can definitely get over two days’ use from the Gear 2.
Whether that’s enough is subjective – unless I don’t need the charger for a week, in the same way as the Pebble, I don’t really find it that helpful, but others probably will.
With the Gear 2, the clear step forward is fitness – namely, the ability to track your daily steps (something we saw in the first version) and actually add in exercise as well.
I used it primarily as a running model – I’m not even sure HOW to hike, let along go out on a dedicated ramble – and I did find there were some advantages to the running watches I’m used to testing.
For one, without GPS it’s a lot faster to get going. The heart rate monitor, which I’m about to come onto, is the only thing that takes any time, asking you to stay still and quiet before beginning your run.
The pedometer seems pretty accurate at working out your stride rate, but only at slowing down and speeding up constantly. However, combined with the heart rate monitor (and knowing all my vital information, such as height, weight and workout frequency) it still struggled to adequately work out how many calories had been burnt in a specific session.
And like any running watch that’s shorn of GPS it’s not going to be anywhere near as accurate as one that can follow where you’re going – and that’s the case with the Gear 2.
It’s really inaccurate compared to that GPS tracking, and also with a peer: I tested the Gear 2 with the Gear 2 Neo and Adidas’ SmartRun watch, which packs satellite location tracking.
The Gear 2 and Neo offered a 100 step difference, couldn’t agree on the average speed and said I’d travelled 8.02km and 7.85km respectively on an 8.6km run.
Another run with the Gear 2 vs the SmartRun showed a disparity of 0.7km over a 30 min run – that’s a lot for the novice runner, who will be craving any meter extra achievement.
It’s hard to estimate how far off it is in terms of a percentage, as even GPS has variations for trees and buildings, but if you’re a serious runner then this definitely isn’t the watch for you – but then again, you probably knew that.
The only issue is that if you’re a novice fitness enthusiast, which is the market this is aiming for, then you need to have confidence in the gamification. But the pedometer isn’t accurate, your stride rate and speed isn’t correct and while the heart rate monitor is accurate compared to other such optical sensors, it’s just not robust enough as a package for anyone that’s thinking of moving to this integrated watch from a dedicated running platform.
At least it’s consistent in its inaccuracy, so you’ll probably be able to see the improvement you need, but it’s infuriating that Samsung can’t get this right.
What’s more irritating is that the cycling and hiking sections do use GPS from the phone to give info. I understand Samsung’s thinking, that people would rather not have a phone on them when sprinting around, but the option would be great.
I’ve asked time and again for those brands with a watch and an app to allow them to run as a second screen, and Samsung clearly can do this, but with running refuses to allow it.
That said, it’s awful on the watch. Cycling showed me going along at a rate of around 50mph most of the time, which sadly I wasn’t (the commute would have flown by) but at the end showed an average speed of 11mph.
This was combined with an apparent max speed of 4.5mph… I’m all for defying physics with my cycling ability, but I don’t think I did that on this occasion.
An update brought in Coaching for running, which adds in something utterly perplexing: a Training Effect, shown as TE. You’re asked to run to a certain speed, which will lead to a score. 1.9 is easy, 2.5 is moderate, 3.5 is improving.
There’s nothing above that, and anyone that’s completed a 5k run without stopping will find that level far too low. I get that some people will find that a challenge, but given the Gear 2 can offer a TE of over 5 quite easily it’s annoying you can’t get coaching to get you there.
There’s also still a glitch in the fitness matrix with the syncing between the Gear 2 and the Galaxy device you’ll need to operate it properly. If you’ve done an exercise session, or just thrown your step count throughout the day to your phone, it won’t register them properly.,
It will take the exercise and log it, but you’ll be left with too few steps even though you’ll probably have taken enough. It’s frustrating, especially given you’re most disposed to keep trying such a thing when you first get your hands on a step tracker.
The fitness experience is rather limited too: sure, it can tell you how far you’ve gone, and give you feedback through the connected Bluetooth headphones (a nice touch) but it doesn’t pack any dedicated exercise plans.
This means you’ll be idly running and guessing at how far and fast you should be doing each day. It’s not ideal, simply because I’d have expected to be given some structure to get fitter, such is Samsung’s efforts to improve in this area.
The post-run feedback is minimal too, compared to wealth of data the likes of Endomondo or Runkeeper will offer. I can’t wait for these to become more integrated with the Gear 2 as they are with Sony’s Smartwatch 2 or Pebble.
Then again, it does open up a world of data that wasn’t there before, and the South Korean brand told me that it would be working harder with the likes of Endomondo to deliver a dedicated fitness experience on the Gear 2 and its smart brethren.
On top of that other app developers can get their hands on the functionality as well, meaning there’s every chance this will improve in the future.
So I’ll give the fitness ability of the Gear a cautious thumbs up, as it does open things up for more people in terms of getting off the sofa and onto the streets – but it needs a huge amount of refinement.
Heart rate monitor
The heart rate monitor on the Gear 2 is a simple, but cool, affair, and one that follows a growing trend in wearable devices at the moment. You’ll see on the back a small LED opening, and that emits a cool light that penetrates the skin and finds your pulse.
It’s all the more impressive when you consider that the wrist is one of the ‘busier’ parts of the body, so finding any kind of pulse there is a good result. It’s the same thing seen on the Galaxy S5, under the camera, but is more reliable than the sensor on the smartphone, which often won’t register a pulse.
The outcome isn’t as accurate as I’ve seen on other devices, but we’re talking a few BPM here and there. It’s certainly nothing to worry about if you’re just trying to see how much fitter you’re getting, as it will show the rough improvement, and if you’re looking for more granular data there are plenty of dedicated fitness wearables out there to do the same thing.
Interface and performance
The interface of the Samsung Gear 2 is a tricky thing to design, I reckon. You’ve got a 1.63-inch screen to play with, and limited buttons – so how do you make it intuitive?
Well, no brand has quite found the solution yet, but Samsung has made a decent fist of it. I won’t be happy until I don’t have to make it painfully obvious that I’m using a smartwatch by cradling my arm around to get a level surface to swipe on, but that will hopefully come as the platform develops.
The main method of interaction is simple: swipe left and right, and down to get back to the menu above. Depending on where you are in the watch this can be easier said than done, as often I’d find that I was tapping the wrong area if I wasn’t deliberate enough in my swipes.
But generally it worked really well, and the materials used in the glass on the Gear 2 make it a pleasant experience to swipe upon.
A double tap with two fingers on the screen will show you the battery life and connection settings, but that’s not obvious from the outset – it’s only because I remembered the action from the Galaxy Gear that I found it.
While I don’t really care much about the camera I do miss being able to swipe down from the top of the screen to start the snapper. This action is now redundant, and should be used for something.
I still think there’s a lot more to do when it comes to making the Gear 2 a more intuitive device for getting through the system – I quickly lost count of the times that I had forgotten which screen I had left the exercise app, or pedometer, or music player and needed to get to them quickly, meaning I was left swiping through reams of apps.
The annoying thing is most of these are repeated in the actual Apps icon, leading to an identical layout and menu that features more apps and doesn’t have a homescreen.
What happened to the larger icons of before? Or just two per screen? This worked better in my opinion, rather than these tiny 4-icon grids.
You can customise the order of the apps and screens on the Gear 2 more easily than before through long-pressing, but in reality it’s a droning list of the same white icons – Samsung needs to find a smarter way of delving through and finding the apps you want.
One way of doing this is using the clock with the shortcuts underneath, which you can customise as you see fit. This is a neat way of doing it (providing you’re not enamoured with one of the other cool themes for the clock face) and the range of stuff you can have there means you can have the shortcuts you need quickly.
Samsung’s been a little more clever with this iteration of the Gear range too, as the ‘lift to wake’ option, where you simply raise your arm with the same action you might to check the time on a standard wristwatch and the screen will fire up.
It didn’t turn on as much in the cinema as the original Gear did, but it wasn’t bulletproof. And with the ability to customise the wallpaper the screen is a LOT brighter when it activates now, and will annoy fellow darkness-dwellers.
Samsung would do well to have a quick toggle to deactivate this mode: it’s one of the most useful actions on the watch in day to day life, but there are times when you want it turned off for a short period – it’s the same as having a ringtone switched on, so why not offer the option?
The screen brightness on the Gear 2 is excellent as well – even in bright sunlight, it’s perfectly visible, and once again I salute Samsung’s efforts into making OLED a credible alternative to LCD in these places.
You can even long-press the power button and tap the display into Outdoor Mode, which will raise the brightness to a legible level (ranging from 1-6, but only for five minutes before it drops to 4 to make sure you don’t blitz the battery.
Notifications on the watch are obviously one of the most important things on offer here, meaning you can get information when you receive a text, a call or a calendat reminder.
On top of that you can access other third party notifications, so if it appears in the notification bar of your phone you can see it on the watch.
The excellent part of this is that, if enabled, you can make it so that tapping the notification then picking up the phone will activate whatever app automatically. So be it seeing a picture message, going straight into eBay to stop that sonofagun outbidding you or opening up Real Racing 3, it’s a fluid and simple way of doing things.
One thing that irritates the life out of me on the Gear 2 is the notifications app. You head in there, and a small bar at the top shows that you can unmark or delete the notifications.
However, just as you’re about to tap, it disappears and the list moves up, so I often tapped the wrong area, and when you learn it, and have to wait, it doesn’t make things easier.
The call quality is better though, should you want to take a call on your watch. You don’t seem to need to hold it as close to your face, compared to the first Gear, which means when driving you can continue a call much more easily.
Plus you don’t have to pretend you’re holding a phone to your ear to make sure you can hear what they’re saying too.
The overall speed of the Gear 2 is good too, with very little in the way of slowdown. I can’t run the same benchmarks I usually do, but it’s got a dual-core 1GHz Exynos CPU and can run both very efficiently, thanks to the Tizen OS under the hood.
There’s a little lag between transitions, but it’s mostly stable so I can easily live with that.
The camera on the Gear 2 is a 2MP affair, and while has been slightly improved over that in the Galaxy Gear, its inclusion doesn’t make a lot of sense still.
If you must put a camera on a smartwatch though, this is a better way to do it. Putting the module in the body of the watch is a good idea, rather than in the strap, although I’m still a bit disappointed that it can’t be accessed by swiping downwards from the top of the screen.
In terms of what the camera can do, it’s a fair amount. You can shoot in 16:9, 1:1 or 4:3 ratio, which is a cool trick to have, as well as using normal or macro focusing mode.
The latter actually worked pretty well, and this is the kind of shot I was more up for taking with such a weird option for photography.
The voice recognition, which allows you to activate the shutter using your larynx, is a weird but functional option. If you don’t want to tap the screen you can say ‘Cheese’, ‘Smile’, ‘Shoot’ or ‘Capture’ and it will almost every time take a snap.
This is usually used for the dreaded selfie or taking a timed picture, but I can’t see why you’d do either here as it’s not set up to enable either. Maybe the engineers were just bored… but in that case, they could have joined the fitness team and tried to sort out the pedometer.
The Gear Manager is one of the most important parts of the Samsung Gear 2, bringing with it the most functionality that you’ll need to keep your watch ticking over.
It’s much improved on the Galaxy S5 compared to the first iteration of the software from 2013, although oddly if you do connect a Galaxy Gear the app will revert to the older version.
This is likely to do with needing to work with two different watch operating systems (Android vs the newer Tizen) and explains why the Gear Fit can’t be controlled by this app as well.
It’s all very clear and bright now, rather than the darker theme from before, and allows you to do a great many things with your watch. One of the best things is being able to take a picture from your gallery and have it show as the wallpaper on the Gear 2, which adds a real level of customisability.
The other key area is being able to decide which notifications can be shown on the Gear 2 – one of the most crucial updates to the original Gear.
This means that rather than the apps Samsung decides you can see information on, you can choose to have anything that would show in the notifications bar on your phone display on the watch.
So if you’re one of those that needs to know when something has completed building on a game you’re playing, or a video has downloaded, these notifications come through to the wrist.
And if you tag Smart Relay when you open the info and then pick up your phone, it will unlock and launch straight into the app. It’s a really neat trick and one that shows Samsung is thinking about its audience here.
The Gear Manager app also makes it easier to back up your watch to the phone, which turns out is a really pivotal feature. The smaller file that commands the Gear 2 to look just like you’re used to was something I used constantly as whenever I restarted the Galaxy S5 I had to factory reset the watch.
It was hugely frustrating, and clearly a big glitch, but at least it only took a few seconds to install the backup file and have the watch back the way it was. This obviously depends on how much data you’re storing on the Gear 2, but it can be a really swift action.
The Gear Manager in general is a strong piece of software, as long as you spend the time getting to grips with it. It’s not intuitive.
For instance, it took me a long time of just generally tapping everything I could find to note that in the Apps section, you can tag a settings icon next to music to send tunes to the watch. That seems like a pretty big function, so why is it so hidden away?
Similarly I had to open the General Notifications tab to find all the third party app alerts I could have – if I didn’t know it was there already there was a chance I never would have found it.
Samsung can feel proud of making a portal that’s great for controlling a device with such a small screen, and it was pivotal that it did.
However, I feel that it could be improved in terms of stability as well as general use, as it’s a little too convoluted right now.
There’s not a lot out there in terms of the smartwatch market, which is why Samsung is putting so much effort into becoming a leader before Apple joins the fray.
But can the higher price stand up to the competition, however limited it might be?
I’ve not included the likes of the Neptune smartwatch, as it’s not widely available enough at the time of writing. The Pebble Steel is in the same boat, but it’s a little more accessible and is one of the more famous of the wrist technologies.
Sony Smartwatch 2
Sony probably grunts grumpily whenever it’s mentioned in the same breath as Samsung in the smartwatch arena as it’s been playing here for a long time.
Whether you consider the MBW 200 as its first true smartwatch, allowing you to see notifications from your phone via Bluetooth through a tiny OLED screen, or the LiveView device which promised so much and delivered so little, there’s no doubt the brand has been active for a number of years with wrist-based wearables.
When comparing the Gear 2 with the Smartwatch 2, a few obvious differences stand out, and one of the biggest is the fact that Sony’s option is compatible with a wider range of Android devices, compared to Samsung which has limited the Gear to its own family.
The Sony option has a longer-lasting battery of around 4 days, although doesn’t pack the same Bluetooth LE standard as seen on the Gear range – however, this does allow an even wider range of connectivity with phones running Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich and above.
It’s a thinner device too, at 42 x 41 x 9mm, and its styling are on a par with those seen on the Gear 2 – it’s almost got a designer label look about it. It’s also a nearly 40% cheaper than the Gear 2, making it an attractive choice.
The Pebble range might be a little under the radar for some prospective buyers, but it’s garnering some decent attention among the wearables community.
A project that began as a Kickstarter campaign has now led to two iterations of the cheaper smartwatch, and while it’s only available to buy in US dollars ($229, although it can be shipped worldwide) the Pebble Steel is a really neat device.
It’s compatible with both iOS and Android, has a metal frame and interchangeable bands and uses an LCD display without a backlight to give a week’s use on one charge (it does pack a backlight too when you need it, making it more akin to E-ink than the LCD you’d find in your TV).
It too it waterproof and offers all the usual elements you’d associate with a smartwatch in terms of notifications. It’s a lot less polished than those from Sony and Samsung, but it’s also got a really vibrant developer community playing with it.
You can have a Super Mario character that hits a coin box to let you know the time. Tell me that’s not awesome.
Samsung Gear Neo
They often say your worst enemy is the one closest to you… or something. But in creating the Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo, Samsung has set up two nemeses in the smartwatch world.
Well, I can’t really see how the Gear 2 could win, unless you’ve got someone with too much money, a penchant for metal things and a desperation to take pictures like a spy from their wrist… but with a shutter sound.
The Gear 2 Neo is lighter, just as fast and waterproof and a third cheaper than its metallic brethren, and given the specs are almost identical I can’t see a reason to recommend the Gear 2 over this altogether more palatable option.
Samsung Galaxy Gear
There’s not a lot of reason to consider the original Galaxy Gear over the newer version, seeing as it’s still actually more expensive in some places and likely to be phased out.
It does have some unique styling thanks to the faux screws on the front, and the display is identical to the newer model, but it’s light years behind in terms of functionality.
The wallpaper can’t be changed, the band is locked in and the battery life is considerably poorer. In short, don’t get it over the Gear 2 or Gear 2 Neo – unless you’re desperate to own a piece of Samsung history.
Samsung is making some clear statements with its launch of the Gear 2: firstly, it made a mistake with the Galaxy Gear. There’s no way a brand of Samsung’s size would launch a wearable in September 2013 and then launch another in February the next year without realising it needed to do something.
It’s a great move and one that should be admired, in my opinion. Apart from the early adopters being left in the cold a little (although they could be moved onto the Tizen OS too) the new devices are a much, much better attempt at making the smartwatch more relevant.
Are there compromises made that I can’t tolerate at times? Of course – but it’s worth remembering that the smartwatch arena is one that’s still highly nascent.
The design of any gadget these days needs to really create an emotional connection, and I would have argued that was one of the strongest elements of the first Gear.
With the Gear 2 that message has been pushed on even further, with Samsung’s decision to move the home button and integrating the camera into the main body of the watch a really nice one.
This is particularly useful as it allows the use of personal watch straps – while I’m willing to bet most will stay with the out of box option (they do look nice and, you know, match) the option is what matters most to people.
Look at the amount of people that buy a phone because it has a microSD slot, and then don’t put anything in there. With such a bevy of technology on offer, future choice is very important.
The speed and battery life of the new Gear 2 is excellent as well, especially when compared to the first model. Where before I would have to charge every day and a bit, I can easily get around three days’ usage with the new Gear range.
The WatchOn remote is a nice addition, if not one that I’m not going to use a huge amount – it’s another cool-to-have feature rather than one I’d recommend the Gear 2 for.
And then there’s the fitness stuff on the market as well – and the Gear 2 is designed to cater for that. As you’ll see, I’m far from convinced about the fitness prowess of the new Gear, but I think in the months to come this will become a real boon.
The price. It’s still to expensive and when you’ve got the Gear 2 Neo on the shelves as well, there’s very little reason I can see to recommend the standard Gear 2.
The only good thing is the design, where a metal shell looks more premium than the plastic chassis of the Neo.
But that’s it – in every other way the two are identical. Oh, apart from the camera, but I really don’t see the point in that for a watch. I’d much rather save a third on the retail price and have a lighter and less obtrusive smartwatch on my wrist.
The fact it factory resets every time I turn off the phone is a gruesome piece of software glitchery, and one I expect will be righted very soon.
And there’s the user interface, which is too convoluted in my opinion. I liked the large icons of a single icon for each homescreen, where now there’s a grid of four.
I understand that there a lot, lot more apps on the phone now, but it should be my choice. I’d much rather have them all listed in the apps tray and then choose the ones I’ll use regularly to ‘make big’.
The Gear 2 is a big step forward for Samsung, and revisiting the smartwatch game a few months later made me realise that I do really long for a wrist-based accompaniment to my smartphone.
However, I do think Samsung would benefit from making the compatibility universal, and dropping the price of the Gear 2. I know some will say that the Neo is just that, but the metal frame would be awesome if it didn’t pack the pointless camera.
Overall I’m going to say it’s very hard to recommend the Gear 2 to anybody as a) only a certain section of the watch-buying public will have a Samsung phone, and even fewer will have the cash to afford the Gear 2.
A less obtrusive charging dock is nice to see and a more refined design is a strong move from a brand readying its battle lines with whatever Apple makes later this year when it launches the iWatch, but it’s just too expensive.
Were the Neo not on the market I would have been inclined to raise the review score of the Gear 2, as it is a well-packaged choice that adds something to the smartphone experience.
But I think price is still king, and Samsung is still offering the Gear 2 for too high a cost. Give it time though and with a bit more finesse and some software upgrades, Samsung could have a hit on its hands.
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