Samsung does things their own way. Sometimes it works and other times it doesn’t and about a year ago, I tested out the Samsung Gear S, an updated version of their first smartwatch. It ended up being a bag of mixed feelings, but I actually enjoyed it.
This time around, I got the opportunity to experience the new Samsung Gear S2 for about two weeks to give their smartwatch division one more shot.
The smartwatch industry has gone viral over the past few years and almost every smartphone brand has one. This makes Samsung’s job of taking marketshare extremely hard.
The Gear S2 is quite a smaller sized watch than most of its competitors but does things in a different way, as they do, to keep it different and unique.
To start things off, the tested watch is the Gear S2 classic and has the dimensions of 39.9 x 43.6 x 11.4 mm. The standard Gear S2 is slightly bigger at 42.3 x 49.8 x 11.4 mm. The main difference between the two is that the classic has removable leather straps along with a rotating bezel while the standard version has a rubber strap, also removable but with a clip rather than a traditional pin. It weighs a light 42 g which feels like a regular watch on one’s wrist.
The Tizen OS is displayed on a 1.2 inch circular AMOLED screen with a resolution of 360×360 which carries 302ppi. Sitting behind the display is a Exynos 3250 processor, 512 mb of ram and has a storage capacity of 4 gb. Connectivity is handled via bluetooth, wifi and nfc.
It has a 250 mAh internal rechargeable battery to power the display and the internal sensors; Acc, Gyro, HRM, Barometer and Ambient light sensors.
There is a 3g version of the smartwatch, which adds gps, and has a 300 mAh battery and a MSM8x26 processor.
To remain a watch, the Gear S2 is IP68 water resistant.
Let’s talk hardware
These devices are called smartwatches, so the key element is that they have to look like a watch. Kudos Samsung, it finally looks like a watch!
The watch face is a polished metal frame with a metal rotating bezel. The straps on the classic version is a regular leather strap which can be changed with any regular strap you may have or can purchase with the width of 20 mm, which is a bit rare.
The bezel is very important here but I will discuss this when we talk about software.
The overall build and quality is fantastic but after quite a bit of use, the strap started to wear down a little, and would imagine it wouldn’t last too long. Prepare to buy some additional straps.
There are two physical buttons on the right hand side of the watch face, one at the 2 oclock position which functions as a back button and one at 4 oclock position which functions as a home button. At the 3 oclock position is a microphone.
There is no speaker on the watch, which means they removed loud-speaker calling functionality and audio playback. Not much of a loss as smartwatches aren’t actually usable for those things.
Bluetooth can be used to listen to music when paired directly to the watch.
Sitting right on the back is the heart rate sensor, which is useful for activity tracking and it connects directly with S-Health or other compatible apps.
There is a lovely addition to the Gear S2, the accompanying straps come with an ejector tool and it allows easy strap switching.
A common issue with a digital screen is of course, how usable it is during sunlight. I would say that the Gear S2 is fairly usable in the sun, but not under direct sunlight. It was a bit of a struggle under direct sunlight and would have to revert to covering the screen to see.
With regular use, after the sun is down, the display is fantastic! It may not have a crisper display as on other smartwatches with a higher ppi, but definitely not a concern as the AMOLED display is a beauty.
The watch is beautiful to look at and with the right combination of colour, it could be used in all settings, from the gym to a formal dinner party. There are a lot of after-market straps available now from leather, plastic to metal.
The Gear S2 is capable of roughly a day and a half of battery life, although there were times where I would get roughly 24 hours. Charging it daily is pretty much essential.
Fortunately, the device comes with a lovely wireless charger, which has a magnet to hold the watch in place. It isn’t a very strong magnet but gets the job done. Speaking of getting the job done, the watch charges itself in about 2 hours.
Before we move on to the software, there is one more point worth making. The watch is extremely full of features, settings and options, but the key feature is the one where the screen comes on when you move the watch to look at it. Previously a bit buggy, but works quite efficiently on the Gear S2. I would rarely turn the watch to see it, and it wouldn’t show me the watch face.
Let’s talk software
Usability is one thing Samsung pulled off well on the Tizen powered Gear S2. You can use the device in multiple ways to suit your needs.
You can swipe down to bring a “notification drop-down” like Android, swipe left and right to go through different screens or the more pleasant, rotating the bezel.
This is the most enjoyable way to use the watch and other brands have a lot to learn from this.
The main screen (as displayed above) are customizable – think of them as your Android home screen where you can select which apps you want displayed for easy access. These are accessed by rotating or swiping to the right.
Rotating or swiping the selection to the 12 oclock position will reveal the watch face, while rotating or swiping to the 11 oclock position and beyond shows you the different notifications you have from your phone. This was actually very practical!
A big part of the experience of using a watch, or a smartwatch is the dial itself. After all, it is what you will mainly be seeing. Samsung have a lot of built in faces to suit anyone’s needs from professional to cartoonish.
You can also download additional watch faces from the Samsung Gear store, which offers a lot of options from free to paid faces.
Pressing the home button will also bring up all the apps on the Gear S2, which allows you to browse through tens of apps that are connected to your phone, from messages, alarms, s health, phone and many more, which additional apps available on the Samsung Gear store.
Although there is a large number of apps, there are many common ones missing. This is mainly due to the fact that developers focus on Android Wear mainly instead of developing for Tizen.
There are vital apps which could truly benefit the Gear S2 but are missing, for example evernote, a note taking app that I use frequently.
While there are a few drops, there are a few cool things. You have three ways to send messages, or reply to emails; pre-defined saved messages, emojis and a T9 keyboard back from the 90s! It may be tiny to use, but if you want to send custom short messages without taking out your phone, its great.
Only issue with that is, there is no using this while on the move due to its tiny on screen size and mini text display. The dictionary is definitely Samsung, and is very smart in identifying the words you actually intend on typing.
If you’re on a long journey and your battery is low, you can always opt to adjust the automatic screen settings or set the device into power saving mode, which is similar to how it is on galaxy devices.
Let’s talk Android App
You can adjust and customize everything right on the watch, but to set the watch up and connect it to your phone, you will need to download the Samsung Gear app.
The good part is, Samsung has made this app available for all Android devices.
The app allows you to fully set up the watch’s faces, notifications, app layout, general settings, find the gear if misplaced or even send content to the gear (Images and music).
There is also a store that allows you to download additional content for your Gear S2.
There are several categories available with a few cool featured applications, but the overall store is hardly satisfying as there were a lot of applications available on the Apple Watch and on Android Wear, which would have changed the experience all together.
Samsung have done a great job with the Gear S2. The watch is light, beautifully designed and built, smart and has a lot of features that make it a functional addition to your tech gear.
To answer the question I started this review with, no, we do not need smart watches yet.
The Gear S2 is great for looking at your notifications instead of on the phone directly, gives you access to some of your phone’s content and allows you to set up basic things without having to touch the phone, which actually saves battery life on your phone.
But with limited functionality, apps and adding one more device to charge at the end of your day, I do not think that smartwatches have reached their true potential yet. An awesome update from Samsung and I cannot wait to see what they come up with next!
Samsung Gear S3 Wishlist
- 3+ Day battery life
- Android wear for the biggest database of smartwatch apps
- Specialty Samsung apps for maximum usability with your phone
- Ability to control settings on your phone
- A higher resolution screen
- A larger or multiple watch sizes