Samsung Gear 2
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.