I want to start with a confession, I have never been a fan of smart watches. I never understood the need as some had features that weren’t useful, tasks that were done easier on a phone or lacked essential features.
The Samsung Gear S is said to be the most advanced smart watch and for me that’s certainly deserving of a ihabstech review!
Before we jump into my experience of the Gear S for a few weeks, here are some technical specs:
The Samsung Gear S is quite a sizable device with dimensions of 39.9 x 58.1 x 12.5mm with a 2.0″ curved AMOLED display, with a resolution of 360×480 – quite a good screen for a watch. On the inside, the Gear S supports a dual core processor clocked at 1.0 GHz, 512MB of RAM and 4GB of internal storage, which, if you think about it, is as much as some entry level smartphones! The watch runs on a 300mAh battery displaying a Trizen based wearable operating system and has a nano SIM card slot (more on that later) and supports a wide range of network frequencies; 2G, 3G, Wifi, Bluetooth and USB 2.0. Monitoring you and your life being one of the main purposes of the smart watch, it comes built in with an array of sensors: accelerometer, gyroscope, compass, heart rate reader, ambient light and UV Ray sensor and a barometer.
I wondered whether the Samsung Gear S was water proof and surprisingly that piece of information was hard to find! Turns out, the device is not water proof, but water resistant. No Gear S in the shower then..
In the box
This is where I fell in love with Samsung. Aside from the general booklets, wall charger, SIM card tray ejector tool and plastics, the device came with a rather thoughtful accessory.
It came with a charging dock that needs to be attached to the watch in order to charge it but what’s cool is that the dock itself has a 350mAh battery built in, which means the watch can be charged on the move (however, not whilst being worn) without a power outlet – just like a phone’s portable battery pack!
It’s a watch. It is worn on your wrist. How does it do that? By a rubber strap that is adjustable via a metal clip mechanism. Some people have complained about it not fitting perfectly or getting sweaty under the strap, but I found none of that. The device itself can be separated from the strap (around the screen) to be used with other straps or cases. At 67g, it isn’t a heavy smart watch and you hardly notice you’re wearing it in a few days. The white strap does get dirty within a few days of use.
The device has one button; the home button which acts as a return/on and off button and all other movements are via swipes – more on that under the OS. Beside the home button sits the UV and light sensors.
The heart rate sensor is on the back, along with the Nano-Sim card slot and dock connector.
The smart watch as a watch
It is essential that the Samsung Gear S can be an actual watch. People buy a smart watch but end up struggling with basic things like telling the time. The same continues here because the Gear S has three display modes:
– One where touching the screen/pressing the home button awakens the screen
– One where raising your wrist will awaken the screen (didn’t always work for me)
– One where the screen is always on (watch face displays as screen saver, till screen is touched/home button pressed)
It is pretty simple how they’ve set up the Gear S, which utilizes touch screen swiping to the maximum!
The default screen is the watch and by swiping:
Down – it displays the quick settings panel to adjust audio, brightness and the do not disturb feature (where all notifications go unannounced)
Up – it displays the app tray where all the applications are accessible. Built-in, third party applications and settings are viewed here along with a multitask manager too.
Right – it displays your notifications from your phone or Gear S
Left – it displays your customizable home pages
The OS is packed with built in features especially S Health related, with tools to measure your sleep, heart rate, steps taken in a day to full on exercise tracking. Additionally, the Nike+ app comes built in and can sync with your Nike+ gear.
As an end user, I think S Health needs to take a step down to the general consumer level in one aspect; it can collect good data, but most of us do not know how to interpret it! Last night, it stated I got 7 and a half hours of sleep and 87% of inactivity. Is that good? Is that bad?
I remember when the S4/Note3 had a smiley face that would change depending on the temperature in the thermometer app. Perhaps more friendly results would help people understand and use S Health more.
The OS has several other built in apps like a music player, weather app, sync’d calendar, GPS, alarms, contacts and more but the best part is, by syncing with your smartphone, you get access to a Gear S store, where you have a selection of hundreds of apps and many watch dials – some are actually pretty cool with useful displays of battery, notifications, steps, etc. The smartphone app is also where you can configure most of the Gear S’ settings.
The Gear S as a stand-alone device
The watch is a great device on its own, as it can handle the basic tasks of your phone with ease; a sim card can be popped in and you can make calls, get 3G data, receive and respond to SMS’ and email via the watch (keeping in mind you can do the same when connected to your phone via Bluetooth)
I personally do not see the need to have the Gear S as a stand alone device. If you’re in a scenario where you’re to leave your phone behind, the Gear S would be a good temporary solution to stay connected.. except for the fact that it uses a nano sim which most devices do not use, especially not my Note 4. I do not see what the device can do with the sim card in it, that it could not do with the sim card left in the phone, paired by bluetooth.
My thoughts on the Samsung Gear S
I like it! Between it’s cool side and it’s lacking side, it does not seem to have anything wrong with it, but just needs more!
The cool side of the Gear S
If you’re living in today’s world, you check your phone every few minutes even if the notification lights aren’t blinking, and this eliminates that. In fact, I have noticed better battery life on my phone because I stopped checking it so often.
When your phone is ringing in your bag or pocket, you can easily see who is calling and even answer/reject the call.
Want to monitor things like UV rays, your sleep, your activity and your overall well being? This handles that.
Want to have a device that can provide you a few essential tools while away from your phone? This handles that.
Need to leave your phone behind but still need to be connected? This will handle that.
Need a cool piece of technology? This does that brilliantly.
The lacking side
Although, full of features as it is, there are a few things that bugged me on the Gear S. First of all is it’s notifications management; if you receive a notification, it appears on the screen. It can be read, in some cases replied to and cleared, which clears it on the phone as well. New notifications have a number next to them to show how many are pending. Now if you view the message, email or tweet on your phone, it will not clear the notification on your watch but it removes the number beside it – indicating the notification has been read. I really wish it cleared it off, because to me, what is the point of seeing a read notification! Or at least provide it as an option.
Another issue I’ve had also relates to the backwards notification stream. When the phone rings, the watch rings which is great, similarly, end or mute the call via the watch and everything goes silent, BUT mute the call on your phone and the watch will continue to ring! I wish the phone would send more data back to the watch.
An important thing that I felt it needed was the ability to control the phone. An app, tool or toggle where I could adjust the phone’s volume and essential settings would have been an epic tool to have.
Overall, I loved the Samsung Gear S as a tool, piece of technology and a gadget. I believe there is more that could be done and i’m sure, will be done in the future – I cannot wait!