It’s rarely a surprise when a new Samsung product is launched. Aside from the Galaxy range, the company is constantly refreshing its hardware. The appearance now of the Gear 2 smartwatch a mere year after its Galaxy Gear predecessor raises plenty of questions. What exactly could have been improved upon so soon? And is this an indication that the first Gear was not a success?
With the original Gear, Samsung embraced wearable tech and it has since been the driving force in getting wearables into the mainstream.
Sony and Google have similar products, or are in the process of coming up with them. Google is collaborating with LG and Motorola on wearable devices. And, of course, there is speculation about an Apple iWatch in the pipeline. So has Samsung consolidated its lead as an innovator in wearables with the Gear 2?
[alert type=alert-blue]Design [/alert]
A smartwatch is on show on your wrist at all times, so the design needs to be just right. It must look fashionable, as well as functional.
With the Gear 2, Samsung has taken a health and fitness approach. With a large 1.63-inch face that covers much of your wrist, it’s a bulky beast to take to the gym or out on a run.
Like the original Gear, the body is made of brushed metal, with a plastic strap and metal clasp that’s thinner than the Gear One; this is because it no longer houses the microphone.
There are no electronics in the strap, which can be quickly swapped for a range of different strap colours. A tiny release lever makes changing straps the work of a few seconds.
Our test model had a chocolate-brown strap that matched the gold face. But it’s nice to have the option to replace it.
The addition of a 2-megapixel camera on the watch face seems pointless. Leaving it out might have saved some bulk. Samsung’s smaller Gear Neo looks sleeker, weighs less and has most of the Gear 2’s health and fitness functions anyway.
The Gear 2 is obviously Samsung’s attempt at creating a higher-end equivalent to its other wearables such as the Gear Fit fitness band. The Gear 2 offers more functions but these compromise the design.
It’s no wonder there is so much cynicism about wearable tech when it looks like this. The upcoming Android Wear range by Google, which includes the LG G Watch and Motorola Moto 360, combine classic watch style with smartphone technology. Perhaps Samsung should rev up its development and quickly take it to Gear 3.
[alert type=alert-blue]Performance & software[/alert]
The performance of the Gear 2 is unimpressive. It only runs built-in apps and does not support third-party software. That means no Facebook, Twitter or other app favourites.
The Gear is powered by Samsung’s own Tizen system rather than Android. A 1GHz processor runs everything smoothly.
Emails and other notifications come through at speed and features are quickly navigated by swiping left to right on the screen.
Swiping down takes you back a screen. You rearrange the order of apps by holding them down and dragging them ‘ just like on a smartphone.
The Gear 2 needs to be synched with a compatible Samsung device (see Easy Access box, right), before it can receive emails and texts. The Gear 2’s 1.63-inch screen is too small to let you reply to messages with an on-screen keyboard. But you can open up the message on your connected Samsung device, choose from a preset list of replies or use the S Voice digital voice assistant. The latter is not that accurate, so be prepared to repeat your commands.
Alongside the health and fitness trackers, the built-in apps include a stopwatch, phone dialler, a media controller and access to contacts and call logs. There is also a music player, which allows you to load songs onto your phone library directly, so you can listen to them via headphones. There is 4GB of on-board storage so hundreds of tracks can be crammed in.
[alert type=alert-blue]Health & fitness tracking[/alert]
Samsung has implemented fitness trackers on its other devices. Like the Galaxy S5, the Gear 2 has a heart-rate sensor on its rear.
Recording your heart rate can be a useful addition to your training arsenal. Regard it as a rev counter to inform you of how fast or slow your workout needs to be.
The Gear 2 will automatically track your heart rate, log your runs, walks and cycle rides. Or use the dedicated heart-rate app to check your heart rate whenever you want. It produces accurate results but doesn’t always manage to detect your heart beat. We had to adjust the position of the Gear 2 slightly while having to take multiple measurements. It’s best to strap the Gear 2 tighter around your wrist than you usually would before monitoring a workout, This will ensure skin contact to measure your heart rate. Unfortunately, this only adds to the uncomfortable feel of this bulky device.
The Gear 2 also doubles as a pedometer, which works as well as any fitness band step tracker. But it also has the faults of other fitness trackers, such as occasionally recording false steps. Overall, a few false steps here and there aren’t going to make that much of a difference to the outcome of the tracker though.
The Gear 2 uploads all of your health tracking stats to Samsung’s S Health app, which lets you analyse your performance and count your calories.
The 2-megapixel camera on the Gear 2 is barely a step up from the Gear’s 1.9-megapixel camera, and its weak functionality renders it useless.
Its inclusion is puzzling. It will let you record 720p-resolution videos but it’s best to wear the device loose around your wrist. Fiddling with the strap ‘ tight for heart rate, loose for camera ‘ does become irritating after a while.
It would be unfair to say this is a needless addition to Samsung’s wearables, as it packs a lot of functions. But it’s an expensive product that’s hindered by an impractical design and redundant features.
The Gear 2’s easy synching with Samsung devices and delivery of real-time notifications is great for emails and texts at a glance. And as more app developers write for Tizen OS, it could develop into a powerful smartwatch.
Should you buy one though? We’d urge you to wait and see how rival products ‘ such as the Sony Smartwatch 2, the Pebble and Apple’s mooted smartwatch ‘ shape up.
The design needs a rethink but the Samsung Galaxy Gear 2 provides decent fitness tracking features and a good music player. Trimming down on other functions, however, would have made for a slimmer and sleeker product.