SEC­OND GEAR

Sam­sung Gear 2

HWM (Singapore) - - TEST - by James Lu

Wear­able tech­nol­ogy has been the hot talk­ing point of 2014. Sam­sung was one of the first to jump on the band­wagon with its Galaxy Gear smartwatch last year, but while it had plenty of po­ten­tial, poor bat­tery life, some ques­tion­able de­sign de­ci­sions, lim­ited apps, and a high price point meant that the $488 ac­ces­sory never re­ally caught on. Un­de­terred as al­ways, Sam­sung hopes to bounce back with the Gear 2.

Like the orig­i­nal Gear, the Gear 2 has a brushed metal hous­ing and a plas­tic strap with a metal de­ploy­ment clasp. The Gear 2’s mi­cro­phone and cam­era mod­ules are now thank­fully housed in the watch it­self, so the strap can eas­ily be re­placed with any stan­dard 22mm watch strap. The home but­ton has also wisely been re­lo­cated to below the dis­play, where it’s eas­ier to press. Be­yond the vis­i­ble changes, the Gear 2 is now IP67 rated - up from IP55 on the Galaxy Gear - which makes it dust re­sis­tant and wa­ter­proof to a depth of one me­ter for up to thirty min­utes.

The Gear 2 re­tains the 1.63-inch 320 x 320 Su­per AMOLED dis­play as its pre­de­ces­sor, sharp enough to com­fort­ably read text no­ti­fi­ca­tions and bright enough to viewn di­rect sun­light clear and de­fined. Like the orig­i­nal Gear, the Gear 2 dis­play turns off when not in use. An auto screen-on sen­sor ac­ti­vates when you lift your wrist up to look at the dis­play, but is quite sen­si­tive and seems to turn on with any arm move­ment. There’s also a slight de­lay for the dis­play to turn on, which can be frus­trat­ing when you just want to check the time.

The Gear 2 is com­pat­i­ble with 20 Sam­sung de­vices, which in­cludes most of the smart­phones and tablets Sam­sung has re­leased in the past year. It con­nects via Blue­tooth, but you’ll need to down­load Sam­sung’s Gear Man­ager app.

Sam­sung has switched to their Tizen OS for the Gear 2, but the change won’t be no­tice­able to most users - the UI, and menu lay­outs, in­clud­ing all of the fonts and icons, look ex­actly the same. How­ever, all ex­ist­ing Gear apps won’t work with the Gear 2, thanks to the new Tizen OS. As a lack of apps was one of the ma­jor prob­lems with the Galaxy Gear, it’s un­for­tu­nate that any progress made since then has es­sen­tially been un­done, re­turn­ing the Gear ecosys­tem back to step one.

CON­CLU­SION The Gear 2 is a def­i­nite im­prove­ment from the orig­i­nal, but it still feels too much like an ex­pen­sive toy.

On the plus side, a num­ber of use­ful na­tive apps are in­cluded, such as a me­dia con­troller, sleep tracker, and na­tive mu­sic player. The watch also has a built-in IR blaster, which you can use to con­trol your TV, although don’t ex­pect to do any­thing fancy as this is mainly lim­ited to chang­ing the chan­nel and vol­ume.

The most ex­cit­ing new fea­ture is the Ex­er­cise app, which is ba­si­cally a stripped-down ver­sion of the S Health app found on the Galaxy S5. Tell the app what kind of ex­er­cise you’re do­ing - walk­ing, jog­ging, hik­ing, or bike rid­ing - and it will au­to­mat­i­cally track your heart rate, dis­tance trav­eled and calo­ries burned. In our test­ing, the pe­dome­ter seemed ac­cu­rate enough, but the heart rate mon­i­tor was hit or miss. Any move­ment or even noise of­ten re­sulted in a fail­ure mes­sage, and back to back read­ings can fluc­tu­ate quite wildly, which raises some con­cerns over its ac­cu­racy.

The Galaxy Gear’s cam­era mod­ule was one of the unique fea­tures that set it apart from other smart­watches and the Gear 2 re­mains one of the few on the mar­ket with a built-in cam­era. Un­for­tu­nately, the 2MP mod­ule is just a neg­li­gi­ble im­prove­ment over the 1.9MP shooter from the first Gear and there’s still not very much you can do with it. I found it oc­ca­sion­ally use­ful for tak­ing quick snapshots of things when qual­ity isn’t a con­cern - like re­mem­ber­ing a web­site URL – but other than that, it’s gen­er­ally a bet­ter idea to whip out your smart­phone.

One of the big­gest prob­lems with the orig­i­nal Gear was its hor­ren­dous bat­tery life, es­ti­mated by Sam­sung it­self as “about a day”. Sur­pris­ingly, de­spite the Gear 2 be­ing fit­ted with an even smaller bat­tery, bat­tery life is ac­tu­ally much im­proved and I only had to recharge the watch af­ter about three days - although this is still a bit too of­ten for con­ve­nience.

Over­all, while the Gear 2 is a big im­prove­ment over the orig­i­nal, it just doesn’t do any­thing well enough to jus­tify its $398 price. If Sam­sung could some­how squeeze a smart­phonequal­ity cam­era into the next Gear, it might have a unique killer fea­ture, but right now the cam­era is still a nov­elty. Its ex­er­cise fea­tures are us­able, but the heart rate mon­i­tor doesn’t seem ac­cu­rate enough, and if fit­ness is your top pri­or­ity, you’re prob­a­bly bet­ter off with a lighter, ded­i­cated fit­ness band. If you re­ally have to get one, opt for the all-plas­tic, cam­era-less Gear 2 Neo in­stead, which is es­sen­tially the same, but at a much lower price of $298.

Sam­sung also re­leased the more af­ford­able Gear 2 Neo, which ditches the cam­era mod­ule and metal hous­ing, but is oth­er­wise iden­ti­cal.

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