The wearable space is exploding. But that goes with out saying. In fact, Gadget Review and Techzulu just wrapped our first wearable event. We had an assortment of exhibitors on hand, including Melon, Muse, and others. Unfortunately, Samsung declined to attend, though that didn’t stop us from showing off their Gear smartwatch in conjunction with two Cadillac vehicles. And while the Gear 2 is no longer the company’s newest and latest smartwatch – the Gear Live, an Android Wear smartwatch goes on sale in a matter of days – it would still seem to be relevant, at least for the moment. So that in mind, this may not be the most exhaustive review
Although I never reviewed the first Gear, the Gear 2 seems to have been afforded a few updates in the aesthetics department. First off, the speaker is no longer in the clasp and is now hidden on the back edge of the watch. Second, the camera (2MP and 720p HD video) has been moved to the bevel of the watch face, making it not only more discreet, but an all together less bulky design that once appeared almost as an after thought. It would also seem that the Gear 2 looks more like a watch than the first iteration, which I suppose is a good thing. And before I forget, next to the camera, in the same bay if you will, is an infrared blaster that can be used to change your TV’s channel, volume, etc.
Also new to the Gear 2 is a button that is on the bevel opposite of the camera. It’s effectively a home button, and can be used to illuminate or turn off the display. Tapping the Home button twice activates a user selected shortcut – I chose to access the settings menu, allowing me to control the volume and display brightness in an instant. That said, the display remains the same from the first Gear, measuring 1.63-inches (320×320 pixels), and I’m very happy to report that the AMOLED display is viewable in direct sunlight, provided of course you’ve got the brightness cranked to max.
The strap, which can be swapped out for other colors, is exceptionally stylish, at least to me. The clasp system is dead simple, and can easily be adjusted for all wrist sizes. I could see how the Gear 2’s some what large face could look a bit awkward on small wrists, but that will be up to the customer to decide what is right for them.
And finally, on the back of the Gear 2 is an infrared heart rate sensor and charging contact. In theory – I say theory because it’s painfully difficult to use – the heart rate sensor is supposed to read your pulse by penetrating the skin on your wrist. But it’s hardly that simple. As for the charging contacts: included is a special micro USB adapter. Lose this and you can’t charge the Gear 2. Why not just build a microUSB directly into the Gear 2? One word: waterproof. It’s IP67 rated, which is great, but it means you can’t have any gaping holes in the device.
At 1.63-inches and at 320×320 pixels the Gear 2’s AMOLED touch display is extremely easy to read day or night. As I already stated, if you have the brightness cranked to 6 it can be viewed in direct sunlight, that is assuming you can combat any glare and fingerprint issues that may arise.
At the lowest setting, 1, the screen is almost unviewable, which almost serves no purpose unless of course you’re trying to save battery. Just before the display auto shuts off, it will reduce the brightness by 50% than completely shut down. That in mind, the 3 or 4 brightness settings seems to be ideal, and the viewing angle is a none issue. So yes, you can view the time, or whatever stats you’d like to see without starring directly at the face, or display of the Gear 2, provided it’s illuminated.
And despite the Gear 2’s some what small screen, it’s surprisingly sensitive and accurate, even if you suffer, as I do, from fat finger syndrome. By no account is above and beyond most smartphones today, but given the relatively low powered nature of the device I would say that it’s impressive.
At 2MP, the Gear 2’s camera is no powerhouse. Sure, in a pinch it could capture an image, but you’ll need a fairly well lit scene since it’s not a low light performer by any account. But there is no disputing its clandestine like quality. Since it’s located on the top bevel the process of snapping a pic looks like nothing more than glancing at the time.
720p video can also be captured, though much like the pictures, the video will be relegated to a 4:3 format. Great for Instagram, but not so much for HD TVs and computer screens.
So is the camera necessary? To a large degree no. Since the Gear 2 is never too far from a smartphone, that camera will be used the majority of the time. But in a pinch, when a celebrity pops up, or the cops stop by, it could prove to be a worthy companion, especially since it’s hardly noticeable. Just note that if Gear 2’s battery is low, for example at 13%, the camera will be inoperable. And, for $100 less, you can get a version of the Gear 2 sans camera. So you’ll need to decide if it’s worth the extra scratch.
Although the Gear 2 is designed to be a companion to Samsung’s Android phones, running their TouchWiz skin of course (it won’t work with Samsung Nexus phones as I was disappointed to find out), it isn’t running the Android operating system. Instead it’s powered by Tizen, a Linux based operating system. But you’ll likely be none the wiser, which is a good thing.
Much like an Android smartphone there are a variety of screens that can be outfitted with up to four apps each. To add an app, just tap, hold and drag to the selected screen, much like your Android device. As more apps are added, which in turn means more screens, a small breadcrumb indicator at the bottom of the display will grow indicating where you are relative to the Home screen.
There are a variety of apps to choose from, all of which can be modified to a certain degree from the Samsung Gear Android app. Apps that often found myself using or looking at were the Pedometer, Sleep, Notifications, Heart Rate and S Voice.
Sleep works much like the Fitbits of the world, detecting your movement and providing feedback about how you slept with respect to time asleep or woken up. The pedometer simply measures steps and if so chosen a goal can be set. The Heart Rate app works in conjunction with the infrared sensor on the back of the Gear 2, and as previously implied works very sporadically, almost so much so it’s useless. S Voice is effectively Sammy’s version of Android’s Voice recognition system, allowing you to perform a variety of actions with your voice, such as initiate a call directly from the Gear 2 – this can be handy when driving. And Notifications tell you what you might have missed or what transpired; a message from GChat or text, emails, etc.
In terms of day to day use the Gear 2’s interface feels a bit too cut and dry; boring. Yet, despite that, navigation is relatively intuitive: swipe down and you return the previous screen. In some instance swiping on a line item, such as missed call, allows you to call that person back (swipe right), or message them (swipe left).
The problem I experienced is that there is a fair bit of overlap between apps in terms of the information being delivered, at least between notifications, messages and email. For instance, notification can house missed calls, emails and Gchat messages. You can also find that info in individual apps. Moreover, when viewing this info, it seems to be cluttered an clumped together in such a way it’s not clear, more than anything confusing and negates the Gear 2’s utility. In short, it feels a bit like information overload.
With a 300mAh battery, the Gear 2 is spec’d to achieve 3-5 days of battery life. With moderate use I was able to achieve on average about 4 days of use. Needless to say, the brighter the screen, the more notifications that you have active, and if you use more of the features (heart rate monitor, sleep function, and pedometer) the shorter the battery life.
By most accounts, 3-5 days seems to be the average for many wearable devices, even including the Fuelband SE and the Martian Notifier. So is it tolerable? Yes, provided you don’t lose the necessary dongle to charge the Gear 2. There really doesn’t seem to be any other resolve for this, with the exception of perhaps wireless charging, which is neither here nor there for this device.
Powering the Samsung Gear 2 is a 1Ghz Dual-core Processor mated to 512mb of RAM. That in mind, it’s actually pretty remarkable how fast the Gear 2 moves from screen to screen, or opens up apps. That isn’t to say it isn’t devoid of some lag, and I’m sure as the next generation of Smartwatches are released the Gear 2 will suddenly become perceivably slow. I’m probably most impressed how easy it is to exit an app by swiping from the top down, which seems rarely, if not never, to work as it should.
And while the Gear 2 is limited to working with only Samsung phones running TouchWiz, it can control playback of apps, such as Spotify and those alike, allowing you to skip or pause a track, as well as increase the handsets volume. There is also a music player with 4GB of storage for those that want to leave their smartphone at home while they workout. Just keep in mind you’ll need a pair of Bluetooth headphones.
S-voice seems to work relatively well. In my short testing, I was able to make a phone call directly from the Gear 2 by activating the feature and speaking the caller’s name. And I did this with little effort, which in my experience is rare, even when using Android’s Voice feature or Siri on the iPhone. And although the infrared blaster, designed for controlling the TV, wasn’t of much use to me – I have Dish which uses RF remotes – it’s a nice touch if you don’t want to search for the remote, though it’s a feature I’d rarely use.
Comfort wise the Gear 2 is just as comfortable as any other watch that I’ve worn. Moreover, the weight of the Gear 2, 68g, is anything but encumbering. Which is to say, not once did my wrist feel beleaguered by the device.
The biggest, and most glaring caveat to the Gear 2 is that it’s limited to just Samsung phones. However, if you’re reading this review you’re likely an owner of just that, a Samsung phone. Just keep in mind that:
A) it won’t work with a Nexus Samsung phone
B) Samsung’s Android Wear Gear Live watch will ship in a matter of days
C) if you switch phones, such an HTC or iPhone, the Gear 2 will almost be useless (you’ll still be able to tell the time).
Those three factors aside, the Gear 2 is all together a decent piece of kit. Samsung definitely has some work to do if they plan to continue to push the Tizen OS, as this UI feels a bit dry, if not clunky when it comes to viewing stats and info at a glance. It would seem that they’ve tried to do what the iPhone did to smartphone, which is make everything an individual app. And while I don’t out right have a better resolve, it does feel a bit forced and lacking in ingenuity.
That all said, the Gear 2 is surprisingly clean and attractive looking, despite the fact that its shape reminds me of a 1980s calculator watch. The heart rate monitor is almost useless (much like the Samsung S5) as is the camera since its performance pales in comparison to that of any smartphone camera. Though, in a pinch, I could see how it could be useful, even if those instances will more than likely be few and far between. And so much so they may never justify the $100 premium over the non-camera version (NEO) of the Gear 2.
You can grab the Gear 2 from Verizon Wireless for $299.
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