Samsung Gear S2 hands-on

by: Lanh NguyenSeptember 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.

  • Marty

    As is always the case, it takes Apple’s lead before any of the others put out anything decent. Samsung hasn’t had a decent watch until now because they didn’t have Apple showing them what and how to do it…motivating them.

    • John

      …..? Tell me what apple showed Samsung.

      • George

        They showed them what not to do lol, apple kept saying their watch was a fashion device and it came out looking like a toy.

      • Marty

        You’ll have to ask Samsung that bit of information. It’s clear that before the Apple Watch, Samsung’s watches weren’t top notch or selling. Now that the Apple Watch is out, Samsung goes back to the drawing board and comes out with something better.

        I guess Apple showed Samsung “what and how to do it”. Before the iPhone…nothing but junk. After the iPhone, they all put out much better products. Before the Apple Watch…nothing but junk. After the Apple Watch, they are at the beginning stages of putting out much better products.

        • Bobby Bryla

          Do you visit Steve Jobs’ grave and weep? Did you know that he is buried in an iCoffin? Too bad you spend your rent and grocery money on Apple’s overpriced hardware for simpletons and those easily parted with their money.

          • Marty

            I’m the ghost of Steve Jobs…GET BACK TO WORK!

        • neonix

          Your logic is so fundamentally flawed, I don’t even want to bother explaining to you how confused you are.

        • One

          One could argue the opposite, that Samsung’s previous designs showed Apple “what not to do” lmao

        • cdm283813

          I’m sorry but the Apple watch is way over engineered. To many ways to interact with the OS and the apps look like a garbled mess on that launch board. This Samsung design is much cleaner and it invites you to use the wheel.

          • Marty

            That’s probably correct, but one thing is obvious is that the Apple Watch is way overpriced. It’s grotesquely overpriced. And I know I don’t want one. But it took Apple’s Watch to motivate Samsung to produce a much better watch.

            And look at the Huawei watch. Before the Apple Watch, the most expensive Android Wear watch was $350. Now Huawei wants to price theirs all the up to near $900.

            Apple leads in more way than one…including pricing. Apple’s example is causing others to command higher prices. Damn Apple!

        • JGaLaXY

          omg I really don’t think EVERYTHING has to do with Apple…in my head they were competing with the Moto 360 which was UNABLE to deliver a full round screen without the black bar, Samsung figured out how to do it with the bigger bezel that rotates…Apple Watch doesn’t even function better than a Pebble watch that has been out forever…their watch sucks, it’s a scam, they haven’t done anything, Samsung is in its own league when it comes to this watch

          • Marty

            Samsung was able to do a full round display on their watches because of using a display border to put the sensors. If you look closely at the display of Samsung’s round watches, you’ll see that there is a small border that doesn’t light up with pixels. That’s likely where the sensors are.

          • JGaLaXY

            oh okay lol

    • Aris Routis

      You sir, are a complete idiot.
      This implementation has nothing to do with the worse flop ever since Apple Lisa (if you even know what that is, if not google it). Samsung has created something that actually makes sense. And no, not everything revolves around Apple.

      • Marty

        But why didn’t Samsung do this before the Apple Watch?? See, Apple is the key. It takes Apple, for better or worse, to motivate all others to do something right.

        I never said the Apple Watch was good or even desirable. But it is motivating the others to put out a better product. That’s what the iPhone accomplished…causing others to produce better products.

        • One

          You got a point. Apple does motivate other manufacturers. Except when it comes to music streaming services.

        • Aris Routis

          Take a moment to ponder on the following… if you can, that is. Companies roll out products then they do get satisfaction reports from their customers and based on them they do roll out new iterations, and so forth. Apple watch is quite irrelevant in this process as , if you would take 10 minutes of your time to compare said products, you’d see they have very few things in common. And if I really wanted to go down the path of your reasoning, I’d have to ask you, is it not Apple that went to make iPhone 6 with big displays, following Samsung that pretty much created the phablet market? I guess it takes Samsung then, to motivate Apple into making a better product, per your reasoning?;)

  • KeyserSoze

    Looks nice enough, but it runs the proprietary OS Tizen, and that’s a deal breaker. I don’t do proprietary just like I don’t do Apple.

    • Marty

      But proprietary isn’t the same as with the previous Samsung watches. With the previous ones, proprietary meant only for Samsung phones. These new ones will work…for the most part, I think…with all Android phones 4.4 and above. They might even become compatible with iPhones.

      • KeyserSoze

        And what about timely OS updates? I’ll wait a couple years and see if Samsung solves this problem.

        • Marty

          Forget about that. You want updates, get an iPhone. Samsung is too stupid to know that reliable and timely updates enhance the brand image.

        • One

          Does Samsung have issues updating Tizen?

          • Marty

            I’ve had a Gear 2 Neo for about 7 months now and have yet to see an update.

        • cdm283813

          Not sure that “timely updates” would be applicable in this case unless you have another device to compare it to. Since this is a new UI with a circle interface I doubt that older Tizen watches would be applicabe.
          It’s not like you have different OEM’S running Tizen on different carriers. And it’s not all Samsung’s fault that their phones are not updated at the same time. Verizon is notorious for coming out last with updates.
          The only true upgrade king is Apple. When iOS 9 hits phones and tablets are updated at the same time. Google can’t even do that.

          • KeyserSoze

            What I mean by “timely updates” is how does it compare to Android Wear? Will Tizen get comparable feature updates as fast as Android Wear? Will it get updates to work with new Android versions on smartphones as fast as Android Wear? Maybe, maybe not, don’t know.

          • Marty

            If my Gear 2 Neo is any indication, fuggetaboutit. No updates for my Gear 2 since I bought it.

  • neonix

    I think this thing looks gorgeous, especially the sporty one. It looks very futuristic and yet still so elegant and classy for a sporty device. I’m digging the rotating bezel and the fact that it’ll be compatible with non-Sammy phones has my interest piqued. I’ll be waiting for the price announcement, though.

  • Pez Smith

    I was going to get the Asus but I think the S2 is much nicer … I think the S2 will be my first Samsung gadget.

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  • gadgetfreaksta

    Nice!

  • onstrike112

    I actually like this (I’m frequently a Samsung hater) but wish that BlackBerry users get some care. I do NOT want an Android phone nor an iPhone, so I guess I’m just left in the cold for support, which is a shame.

    • Kel Fragata

      You do know blackberry is making android powered phones now right?

      • onstrike112

        What difference does that make? My Passport Silver Edition doesn’t run Android, and I wouldn’t want one that did anyways.

        • One

          Hey, you like what you like

  • ante

    can I hawe one for free

  • ante

    can I have one for free pleaseee