Samsung Gear 2 review: The second coming?
Samsung was one of the first mainstream device makers to jump into the smartwatch segment. It launched the Android-powered Galaxy Gear smartwatch as a companion device with its Galaxy Note 3 flagship phablet.
The watch did not receive much favour among critics, but managed to attract some early adopters of smart watches. Samsung shipped half a million units worldwide, according to a new report by Strategy Analytics.
With the first mover advantage already with it, the South Korean giant has now unleashed its second-generation smartwatch, Gear 2. It looks better, sports a brand new OS and offers wider compatibility. But does the Gear 2 improve on the shortcomings of its predecessor? Was dumping Android for Tizen a sensible decision? We try to find out in our review.
How does it look?
Samsung Gear 2 doesn’t look vastly different from Galaxy Gear. However, the design has evolved and it looks sleeker though still similar to a miniature phone. There are no visible screws at the front and it’s a bit lighter.
Unlike the Galaxy Gear, the camera lens and the microphone are no longer a part of the strap. The camera lens (2MP sensor) is instead placed at the front along with an infrared blaster. This also facilitates changeable straps. Yes, Samsung now allows you to remove the strap that ships with the watch and replace it with the one that you like.
Just below the 1.63-inch Super AMOLED touch-enabled display (32-x320p resolution), you’ll spot a new Home key. The display looks good and accentuates the white text over black background notification UI. Sunlight legibility is not great at lower brightness levels. Though you can switch to outdoor mode or full brightness for better visibility, the mode automatically turns off after 5 minutes to save battery.
Gear 2 is IP 67 certified water and dust-resistant, which is one of the major selling points of the watch.
The watch comes in gold brown and black colours and the bezel retains the brushed metal finish. An optical heart rate sensor and metal contacts for the charging connector are placed at the back. The charging connector is a bit better compared to the Galaxy Gear’s bulky case, but it’s easier to lose it and is an additional item that you have to carry around.
Using the Gear 2
The watch comes with a number of pre-installed apps, including apps for tracking call logs, a dialler and contacts app for making calls (calls are dialled out via the connected phone), a camera app, a dedicated music player, voice recorder, Universal remote control, S Voice, Pedometer, Sleep monitor, Heart rate monitor and fitness apps to track your workout. It also fetters apps for Email, Gallery, Messages, Schedule, Stopwatch, Timer and Weather.
However, the strength of Gear 2 is notifications. After pairing the watch with a compatible phone (the watch supports 17 Samsung phones, a much bigger list compared to the number of phones supported by the Galaxy Gear), you can get notifications from virtually all third party Android phone apps to appear on the smartwatch. We were able to get notifications not just from email and messaging apps like WhatsApp, but also from news apps like The Times Of India or utility apps like Truecaller.
Message and mail notifications offer a good amount of information when they pop up on the screen (Sender’s name and subject or starting line) and tapping on them displays about 25 lines of text from the message. To read further, you’ll need to take out your phone.
A bit of an annoyance is that if you miss tapping on the notification, it’ll disappear and you’ll need to go to the Notifications app to find it. While the Notifications app features the badge(s) for unread notifications, there’s no other way to keep track of these. We’d rather like missed notifications to appear as symbols on the home screen.
Unfortunately, you can’t respond to third-party notifications directly through the watch, but you can send canned replies to text messages or even use S-Voice’s speech to text.
Just like Galaxy gear, the Gear 2 is also capable of making and receiving phone calls through its built-in speaker and microphone. Of course, it’s cumbersome to use it for calls as you need to bring the watch closer to your face but the voice quality is good as the microphone is very sensitive.
Gear 2, unlike Galaxy Gear, features a native Music Player in addition to a media controller. This means you can transfer and store music directly on the watch and pair it with a Bluetooth stereo headset to listen to music, without the need to carry your smartphone along. This is especially useful when you’re working out or running. Of course, you can also control the music on your phone with the watch acting as a Bluetooth remote.
Gear 2 also features Samsung’s WatchON universal remote app which acts as a remote to control multiple appliances and multimedia boxes, in tandem with the watch’s Infrared receiver.
While the watch irons out some of the software problems that plagued its predecessor, it moves a step backward when it comes to third party apps. Major apps including Facebook, Twitter, Path, Flipboard and Foursquare, which were present on Galaxy Gear are missing on Gear 2. There are very few apps on Samsung’s app store if you exclude apps for watch faces.
One area where the Gear 2 excels is battery backup. It lasted a full 3 days with moderate to high usage whereas Galaxy Gear hardly lasted two days.
Health and fitness features
Gear 2 comes with a number of fitness tracking apps. The Exercise app allows you to track Running, Walking, Hiking and Cycling. You can track attributes like duration, distance covered, calories burnt, average speed and maximum speed, among others and set goals based on distance, time and calories. The hiking and cycling trackers need GPS, so you’ll need to pair the phone and carry it with you.
Fitness data can be synced with the phone’s S-Health app. In our use, we found that the running tracker was fairly accurate though sometimes its readings were on the higher side.
Gear 2 can also track your sleep pattern if you’re comfortable going to sleep with the watch strapped to your wrist, and the steps you’ve walked with its built-in Pedometer.
It also features a heart rate monitoring app that uses the watch’s heart rate sensor to measure your heart rate. We found that the monitor’s reading varied with consecutive readings, sometimes by almost 10 beats per minute. At best, you can just estimate your heart rate with the utility and keep a track of it during workouts.
Samsung Gear 2 also comes with a 2MP camera lens that lets you shoot pictures and record 15 second video clips. While the camera lens is now right at the front, you still can’t take selfies.
You’ll need to position your hand carefully before recording as the lens points at a different angle.
The watch makes a sound every time the shutter key is pressed which prevents its use as a spy cam. The quality of images was average but it’s good for taking picture memos. For instance, you can take a shot of the parking slot number lest you miss it when you come back.
So should you buy Samsung’s shiny new smartwatch? At a price of Rs 21,550, we feel Gear 2 is still an expensive proposition and doesn’t offer enough bang for the buck. But with Gear 2, Samsung’s smartwatch has evolved to a large extent.
The focus is now on notifications, which is a major use case for smart watches, for most people. The other key area that it needed to focus upon was health and fitness. While it adds a number of new fitness-based features, the implementation could have been better, especially how the watch talks to the Galaxy smartphone to sync data. Third party apps is also one area where it needs improvement. Samsung needs to work with developers to boost the app ecosystem.
Gear 2 is better than Galaxy Gear in a number of areas, battery life being the most critical one. However, we’d still advise you to wait for the wearables market to evolve.