Review: The Samsung Gear S2 smartwatch

Samsung dials up smartwatch scene with Gear S2

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Review: The Samsung Gear S2 smartwatch Samsung began with the design, and then took it from there.
By  David Ndichu Published  March 14, 2016

It’s been a while since the last Samsung watch, the Gear 2. Since then, it seems Samsung has been busy in its smartwatch workshop, with the end result being what could be the most attractive smartwatch today, at least by initial appearance.

Build

If you are familiar with the Apple Watch, you will immediately notice the Samsung Gear S2’s more traditional circular profile as opposed to the square shape of the aforementioned Apple apparatus. You could say I’m a bit old-fashioned, so circular faces have more appeal than square ones. But that’s just me.

The Samsung Gear S2 comes in two editions, the standard Gear S2 and the Gear S2 Classic which has the look of a more traditional watch, leather strap and all. For this review, I had the standard Gear S2, with the white TPU strap.

You will also not fail to notice a ring around the face of the Gear S2. Instead of a crown of other smartwatches, Samsung has adopted the rotating bezel to navigate through the apps. The bezel turns with a click, apparently mechanical, with each rotation representing a different interface. Rotating the dial clockwise scrolls through information cards, displaying features such as steps taken, calendar, weather, music controls and shortcuts to other functions, such as apps and favourite contacts. Tap on these individual apps, and more information is displayed about them. From a design perspective, the bezel is the clincher with the S2.

On the side are two buttons, the Home & Back buttons, providing more options to navigate through the apps.

The screen is apparently sAMOLED, as in “super” AMOLED. As opposed to mere AMOLED, this one reflects one-fifth as much sunlight, Samsung says. They may have a point: the colours look bright and saturated even in direct sunlight. The screen is protected by Gorilla Glass which should help protect the watch from inevitable scratches and general damage.

You can customise the watch faces. To switch, press down on current face and the scroll through the options, and you can add your own template. Samsung encourages you to switch at different faces depending on the time of day. The Classic for that important client meeting, switched to the more playful “Neon” for after work drinks. For the frequent flyer, or for those who wish they were, feel free to go with the “World Clock” facade. My go-to face is the “Modern Utility”- Don’t ask why-it just speaks to me.

The bands you can personalise as well, by swapping out the existing strap for a new one through clicking on the tab on the back where the watch meets the strap. Plenty of options here, from Bohemian to camo. Further, Samsung has partnered with Alessandro Mendini to offer an additional range of watch faces and watch bands. I don’t know who this Mendini guy is, so I’ll pass.

Features

Gear S2 runs Tizen, Samsung’s home-grown OS, not Android Wear, so its native connection is with Samsung Galaxy devices. However, Samsung has made the Gear S2 compatible with another Android devices, with talk of compatibility with iPhones sometime later in the year. Those familiar with Android Wear will find no problems working with Tizen. Actions are responsive and intuitive.

The Gear S2 connects through Bluetooth, NFC and impressively, Wi-Fi. Via Wi-Fi, you can use the smartwatch when not connected to your phone wherever Wi-Fi is available.

Health tracking is the raison d’être for the existence of smartwatches. If you have forgotten, the modern smartwatch is the fuller version of the tracking smart bands of yesteryears. So track your daily activity levels, heart rate and even water vs. caffeine intake. For that extra kick of motivation, the Gear S2 will send you motivational messages. It will even nudge you when you’ve been dormant too long.

If it’s Samsung, it's going to stand out, in this case literally and figuratively. Your run of the mill Smartwatch will have a flat charger on to which the watch lies on its back, with some protrusions connecting to some slot at the back of the watch. Not with Samsung-its magnetic wireless charging dock actually holds the watch vertically while charging, and with no slot needed to connect through, much like smartphone wireless chargers.

Samsung has partnered with various services, from Nike+ Running to ESPN to bring their apps native to the Gear S2. There’s even one with Volkswagen giving you access to features for your connected vehicle, no matter where you are. One cool thing Samsung has done is turning some of the apps into watch-faces with the S2. So the Nike+ app doubles as a watch as well as tracking your activity.

Like every good tech company today, Samsung offers a mobile payment method with Samsung Pay. With NFC technology, hold your wrist near a compatible reader and voila, you are done paying, just like James Bond. Samsung Pay is only available in a limited number of countries at the moment though, not including GCC countries. 

There’s actually enough memory to store up to 300 songs on the Gear S2, synced seamlessly from your phone, so you can take your playlists go wherever, like your morning run. For this you do not need your phone with you, just tune in using your Bluetooth headphones.

Performance 

Setting up the Gear S2 involves opening the Samsung Gear App on your Android phone, and pairing your Gear S2 via Bluetooth. 

When notifications appear, from emails, to WhatsApp messages to calendar alerts, you can tap to respond, scroll through, or swipe away. You can actually type a message through the onscreen keyboard; I tried it. It's a pain. Don’t even try it.

In terms of battery life, the Gear S2 boasts a 250mAh battery that Samsung claims should last around 2-3 days on a single charge, with the use of Samsung’s built in battery saving mode. This is in fact the case. Unlike the Huawei smartwatch I have in my possession which has to be docked daily, the Gear S2 stores power really well.  

In some ways, the Gear S2 is a downgrade of the previous Gear 2 model, albeit in a positive non-creepy way.

There isn't a camera and you can't make phone calls via speakerphone anymore. It gets back to basics- get notifications; access apps; track your fitness; listen to music stored on internal storage; and respond to messages or call up voice-activated tasks using a built-in microphone.

Past iterations of the Samsung smartwatches only worked with Samsung smartphones, a self-defeating move if ever there was one. The Gear S2 is compatible with any Android phone running 4.4 and higher with over 1.5GB RAM. Samsung has even promised support for iOS in the not-too distant future, a feature which in my opinion should have been available from the get go.

The only limitation with Tizen as an OS is the small number of apps available, as opposed to the much richer Android wear community. Hopefully, more will be coming soon.

Verdict

Samsung was not going to make just “another” smartwatch. The feeling you get with the Gear S2 is that some effort went to try to differentiate itself from the rest of the growing smartwatch markets, with the rotating bezel a key highlight. The Gear S2 is also a clear departure from its Gear 2 predecessor, delivering a more refined tool overall, thanks to growing innovation in the space.

The various version of the Gear S2 average around 1,000 AED. The (premium) smart watch space is still relatively new, so with no historical reference point, is hard to make the call if this cost is justified. You will have to go with your gut feeling on this one.  

A lot of people are not ready to make the jump into the smartwatch bandwagon yet, waiting for the killer smartwatch that will blow the industry right out of the water. Probably not going to happen. Instead, we will most likely see incremental improvements year after year. The Gear S2 is leading the charge so you might as well the plunge and be part of the revolution. 

For: Rotating bezel; Great battery life; sAMOLED display  
Against: Few apps; lack of iOS support
Verdict: Samsung is setting the standard in smart watch design with the Gear S2. It can only go up from here

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