September 3, 2015
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Round smartwatches are not too common but with the Gear S2, Samsung is aiming to reinvent the wheel and take us back to a time when round was the norm. Its latest smartwatch is the company’s first attempt at making a round wearable, but has it been successful or has it succumbed to the same challenges that other OEMs have faced?

It’s time to find out in our first look and hands-on with Samsung’s new Gear S2.

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Samsung has always tried to make its wearables different but with the Gear S2, the company is trying to really make an impact in the wearables arena by changing the way we interact and use a smartwatch. The Gear S2 is a round wearable but where others have struggled, predominantly thanks to the use of the square-focused Android Wear OS, Samsung has opted to create an entire experience built around the round device.

The Gear S2 comes in two versions to appeal to different markets; the regular Gear S2 is designed for active use and comes with a silicon band that’s actually quite nice and soft, while the Gear S2 Classic aims to appeal to the traditional quartz-watch lover with a leather strap that’s quite luxurious. To some degree, Samsung is taking inspiration from Apple by including two different band sizes (small and large) so the watch can be worn by people with both, big and small wrists.

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The Gear S2 also comes with two buttons on the right of the watch; the top button lets you go back a step while the bottom button brings you straight back to the homescreen and from the homescreen, can be used to enter the apps drawer. On the back, you’ll find a heart rate monitor and while the watch itself is IP68 rated, this only applies to the watch face itself so if you get the classic version, don’t expect the leather to hold up well under water.

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The real unique thing about the Gear S2’s design is Samsung’s innovative rotating bezel, which is no doubt the best part of this smartwatch. The bezel is used for navigation through the various parts of the interface – such as the watch faces, widgets, notifications, apps – and whenever you turn it, there’s an extremely satisfying click. This makes it not only very useful but also fun to use, and you’ll find yourself fiddling with it when you feel like procrastinating. With Samsung deploying the bezel to great effect, it does make you question why no one has thought of it until now.

On the front, the Gear S2 sports a round 1.2-inch Super AMOLED display with 360×360 pixels resolution that definitely stands out and looks impressive. The resolution is slightly higher than that used by rival devices and combined with the Super AMOLED technology, it certainly provides vibrant colors, deep blacks and great viewing angles.

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Under the hood, the Gear S2 is powered by a dual-core 1GHz processor with 512MB RAM and 4GB internal storage, which should be more than enough for a smooth and seamless experience. It also comes with all of the usual connectivity you’d expect including Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and NFC, with the latter being used for Samsung Pay. The company is also looking to expand the use of NFC in a variety of ways including smart car keys, residential room keys or remotely controlling your home.

The Gear S2 is powered by a 250mAh battery, which Samsung says will deliver 2 to 3 days worth of battery life and this sounds more than reasonable for a smartwatch, especially considering some rival devices can barely last a day. Unlike past Gear devices, the Gear S2 is charged using a magnetic wireless charger that looks eerily similar to the Moto 360 charger and the watch snaps into place, making it quick and easy to dock it when you need to give it some juice.

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Samsung has stuck to its own Tizen OS for the Gear S2 and to good effect; while other round wearables running Android Wear are square displays masquerading in a round body, Samsung has developed an entire interface specifically for its round wearable and it’s certainly impressive.

To the left of the watchface are all your notifications like messages and emails, while to the right side are all of your widgets and the Tizen OS lets you add a widget for almost anything. Some of the widget options include health and fitness, news, weather, social media and even music controls. The watch faces are also customizable using the Stylize option on the watch itself and not only can you change the watch face, you can change the way they look and the information displayed on the face itself.

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Just like any typical OS, Tizen lets you receive notifications (such as emails and text messages) and reply to them from the watch but a key difference is in the reply methods available; like other smartwatches, you can send a predetermined response, enter text through voice input or send an emoji response but Samsung has also added a T9 keyboard to let you send a normal text response. The T9 keyboard uses the company’s predictive texting and for the most part, seems to work rather well (although we’ll test this in the full review).

The Gear S2 also comes with a really handy feature that lets you sync notifications through WiFi even if your watch isn’t directly connected to your phone via Bluetooth. The feature works similarly to Android Wear and as long as your watch is connected to a Wi-Fi network, your notifications will still sync through Samsung’s cloud servers.

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A key part of any smartwatch experience is the ability to install apps to further enhance the feature set and this is something that has hurt the Tizen effort in the past. In order to make the Tizen platform as robust as possible, Samsung has partnered with a range of different companies like Ebay and Groupon for commerce, Twitter and Line for social, and CNN and Bloomberg for news. The list of partners is vast and Samsung says there are going to be around 1000 apps when the Gear S2 launches. If you’re big on fitness, Samsung has their own S Health app and has also partnered with companies like Nike and Lifesum to help you keep track of your goals.

One of the biggest changes with the Gear S2 is one that will impact on the device’s appeal; previous Tizen based Gear watches were only compatible with Samsung Galaxy devices but with the Gear S2, it will now work with any Android smartphone running Android 4.4 KitKat or higher with at least 1.5GB RAM, which covers most current smartphones. This is a big change as it now means Samsung’s Tizen platform finally has the potential to succeed.

Samsung is yet to announce any pricing details for the Gear S2 but we have learned it will be heading our way starting in October. What do you think of Samsung’s Gear S2, which aims to put the art into smartwatch? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

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