The latest smartwatch from Samsung is also its best.
Samsung is no stranger to smartwatches and it shows – the company’s latest model, the Gear S2, is its nicest yet.
The smartwatch comes in two flavours – Gear S2 and Gear S2 Classic – and they only differ in physical specifications.
Gear S2 looks more sporty in a Swatch kind of way with a smooth bezel and plastic straps, and the Classic looks more classy thanks to a grooved bezel and genuine leather straps.
Here’s the main difference between the two – the Gear S2 requires specially made straps as it uses a proprietary locking mechanism while the Classic will work with just about any 20mm aftermarket strap.
As this might pose a problem for Gear S2 buyers, Samsung has thoughtfully included an extra strap with the Gear S2, one large and one small, to fit different wrist sizes.
Also, the Gear S2 comes in dark grey and silver, but the Classic only comes in black.
We will be checking out the Gear S2 for this review, but as the two have the same internals, almost everything you read here also applies to the Classic.
This may not sound like much on paper but the coolest feature of the Gear S2 is the rotating bezel.
If you have used a smartwatch before then you would know that accessing functions on the smartwatch can be tricky unless you were born with tiny, pixel-accurate fingers. This is why the bezel is brilliant – it makes it easy to select functions as you just have to rotate it clockwise or anti-clockwise to flip through the options.
Sure, you could also just flick left or right on the touchscreen, but why would you want to smudge the screen?
The snazziest thing about smartwatches is that you are not stuck with just one face, and the Gear S2 comes with plenty. Most of the faces can be customised further – you could, for instance, change the dials or add other functions like a step counter.
Of all the faces, the radar one gets my vote because it never fails to impress although it displays little info other than the date.
But if it’s info you want then there are faces like ESPN’s that tell you when your favourite team will be playing and its scores. For English Premier League, for instance, it will display your team’s next match along with the win-lose-draw numbers for both teams.
And then there is SocialWatch which will change the background of the smartwatch to the latest photos on your timeline. (This can obviously be a hit or miss affair depending on the kinds of friends you have on social media.)
Messaging in motion
Any notification you can receive on your smartphone, you can receive on your Gear S2, from apps such as Viber, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger.
And you can reply using templated messages (you can create your own) or by typing on the touchscreen. Before you scream murder, Samsung actually has a smart solution for it and it’s surprising that many others have not resorted to it as well – T9 predictive input.
For the young ones who missed the glory days of Nokia which first made it popular – T9 makes it possible to quickly input text by just using nine keys.
As there are fewer keys, it’s so much easier to hit the right ones on the touchscreen without having to hunt and peck. And say what you want about the accuracy of Android or iOS keyboards, including Swype or SwiftKey, but nothing gets close to getting text prediction right like T9.
I had no problems constructing long sentences on the Gear S2.
Powered by Tizen
It’s really important that you know that the Gear S2, like Samsung’s other smartwatches, doesn’t run on Google’s Android Wear. In other words, you will not be able to install any apps made for Android Wear.
This might seem like a misstep but Samsung has good reasons – Android Wear is still in its infancy, rather buggy, and a long way from being perfect. The last thing you want is a crashing smartwatch or one that you would have to troubleshoot.
So Tizen, while unsophisticated, is smooth and responsive – I encountered no errors while using the smartwatch.
Also, there are already quite a number of apps for the Gear S2 from third-party developers for you to tweak the smartwatch.
Sadly, you can’t be Dick Tracy as the Gear S2 doesn’t allow you to receive calls on the smartwatch. Yes, you can “answer” or initiate a call from the watch, but you will have to do the talking on the smartphone.
Frankly, I don’t really miss this feature but it would have been cool to have it.
Freedom from phone
One of the reasons for getting a smartwatch is the need for a faithful fitness buddy. The Gear S2 will track the number of steps you take and even remind you to get off your bottom when it detects you have been idle for too long.
What I like about the Gear S2 is that I no longer have to carry my smartphone when I go for a jog what with the ever increasing crime rate. (Yes, it would still be a pain to lose the smartwatch, but you can render it useless to others by tying it to your Samsung account.)
With a smartwatch, it’s also much easier to check your progress while you are jogging – the Gear S2 displays step count, pace, distance travelled, heart rate (which it monitors continuously) and more.
In terms of battery life, the Gear S2 lasted about two days even with a lot of use, which is not bad at all as most smartwatches struggle to get past one day.
What’s even better is that the charger is wireless and magnetic, so you don’t feel the hassle of charging yet another device.
One can only hope that Samsung is working on a universal charger that charges both the smartphone and smartwatch.
You know Samsung had a good thing the minute it switched from a rectangular to circular design. Rectangular watches are nice but circular ones have a much wider appeal.
Also, unlike some of Samsung’s previous smartwatches, the Gear S2 will work with just about any Android smartphone running on version 4.4 and above. You read that right – you don’t need a Samsung smartphone to get the Gear S2.
There are some things I wish it had, like the ability to answer calls directly on the watch, but that’s probably reserved for upcoming 3G versions of the Gear S2 and Classic, both of which will also pack GPS.
If anything, I wished Samsung made two sizes of the Gear S2 – for someone with big wrists, I would really love a bigger screen and an even bigger battery.
All in all, this is one of the best smartwatches for Android smartphones and don’t give it a miss if you are in the market for one.
Pros: Smart and sleek design; Tizen is fast and smooth; feature-packed; bezel makes it easy to access features and apps; decent battery life and comes with wireless charger.
Cons: Not for Android Wear fans.
Smartwatch for Android
Processor: 1GHz dual-core
Display: 1.2in Super Amoled touchscreen (360 x 360 pixels)
Memory: 512MB RAM, 4GB internal storage
Connectivity: Bluetooth 4.1; WiFi, NFC
Features: Accelerometer, gyroscope, heart rate monitor, ambient light sensor, barometer, water resistant (IP68)
Size: 42.3 x 49.8 x 11.4mm
Rating: 4 stars
Review unit courtesy of Samsung Malaysia Electronics, 1-800-88-9999