Samsung has been in the smartwatch game for a while now, long before the introduction of Android Wear even, though these earlier devices were compatible only with the company’s flagship smartphones of the time. The only exception to this was Samsung’s only Android Wear smartwatch, the Gear Live. The latest wearable from Samsung continues the company’s tradition of pushing Tizen as their primary smartphone OS, though this time the watch adds some firsts for the Tizen-powered Gear family: a circular display, support for nearly all Android devices, and a new form of input that goes beyond just touch.
Does this device manage to stand tall against the growing competition in the wearable space? We find out, in this comprehensive review of the Samsung Gear S2!
There are a couple of iterations of the Samsung Gear S2 available, with the Classic edition featuring a more conventional construction, especially when considering the lugs on the top and bottom that allow for the easy replacement of the watch straps. On the other hand, the original version, which is featured in this review, puts all that aside for a more durable, and decidedly sportier look.
The silicone bands that are used here are actually proprietary and connect to the stainless steel body via some specific connectors. This means that you won’t really be able to change the look of the watch, but rather just the overall size of it, with the inclusion of a different sized set of these straps in the box.
As mentioned, the body of the watch is of a stainless steel construction, and there are a couple of buttons on the right side for going back, going to the home screen, or opening the apps screen, as well as a heart rate sensor on the back of the watch. The most important part about this device however is its bezel, which brings some added functionality to the mix, rather than just being a design element that lines the 1.2-inch display.
The bezel rotates with a very audible and satisfying click, and is the main way for users to interact with the different screens and elements that would otherwise be swiped through. From an aesthetic point of view, the Classic Gear S2 comes with ridges on this rotating bezel that add to its more stylish look and makes it easier to turn as well, but the smooth bezel in this edition doesn’t prove difficult to rotate either.
Overall, the Samsung Gear S feels pretty nice on the wrist, with the body featuring a noticeable, but manageable, amount of weight. While there aren’t different sizes available for this smartwatch, it won’t look out of place on most wrists, and in fact, may even be a little small if you have really large wrists. The round construction keeps the device inconspicuous as well, until the curious stares begin when you start rotating the bezel.
While we might be a little more inclined towards the Classic edition because of its style-forward look, the more neutral aesthetic of this iteration does make it more accessible. It may not be suited for formal wear, but for all other forms of dress, it manages to fit right in. In a long line of odd choices with regards to their smartwatch designs, we do think that the latest Gear smartwatch from Samsung does finally get it right.
The Samsung Gear S2 comes with a 1.2-inch Super AMOLED display with a resolution of 360 x 360. With Samsung’s signature Super AMOLED tech in tow, the expected high saturation is available, and colors do tend to pop on this display, with the Tizen OS user interface looking really good here. Even though there is no auto adjustment to be found, the brightness of this screen is more than enough in most situations without needing to be at the highest levels.
The device does benefit from the AMOLED construction when it comes to aspects like keeping the display always on, with only the hour and minute hands showing up on the display in this case. Samsung did run into some difficulties with the round display however, with any applications and menus that haven’t been adapted to the round shape becoming quite difficult to navigate on.
Under the hood, the Gear S2 comes with a dual-core processor, clocked at 1 GHz, and backed by 512 MB of RAM, which seems to be just enough to keeping the device moving along nicely. Luckily, the bit of stutter that was found during our past experiences with the Tizen OS on previous Samsung smartwatches is no longer to be seen this time around, with all of the menus and elements moving about smoothly, and moving along screens is about as snappy as the click of the rotating bezel would suggest.
It’s important to note that unlike its predecessor, the Samsung Gear S2 does not allow for making voice calls directly from the watch itself, with there being no speakerphone on the device. While voice dictation and voice commands are possible, Samsung’s S Voice doesn’t offer as many options as the other, bigger smartwatch systems.
Connectivity is possible via Bluetooth to a smartphone, or with a dedicated Wi-Fi connection. The great news here is also that the Gear S2 can be used with non-Samsung devices as well, but it does require the installation of a number of Samsung specific applications on thie device in order to make everything work. When not connected to its paired smartphone, the watch can still receive notifications and alerts from it, as long as both devices have connectivity and are signed into the same Samsung account. This is a nice function, made even better by the availability of a 3G edition of the Gear S2 that will remain perpetually connected to the Internet. The version seen in this review is of the Wi-Fi-only variant however.
Bluetooth also gets a boost, as local music files can be stored on the device with its 4 GB of inbuilt storage, and then listened to via any paired Bluetooth headset. If you are already listening to music on your phone, controlling tracks is also very nice when using the rotating bezel.
Moving on to the health aspect of the Samsung Gear S2, S-Health is at the helm, and can keep track of a number of different metrics. For example, how much water or caffeine one is drinking is a homescreen widget. When actually being active, S-Health can act like a coach of sorts by tracking your heart rate during a workout. GPS support is available only with the 3G version of the phone however, so saving one’s actual running route is out of the question with this Wi-Fi only iteration. It also has to be mentioned that the Nike application is the only one that currently works with this current version of Tizen, with other popular apps like RunKeeper not supported as yet.
Finally, in battery, Samsung has done well to include an easy to use magnetic charging dock that gets the watch back to a full charge in about an hour. The 250 mAh capacity of the battery may sound pretty small, but it manages to work quite well under the right circumstances. With the ambient watch face turned off, brightness turned down, and average use when it comes to general tasks, the Gear S2 manages to last for as long as 2 days, which is nice. It is probably best to charge the device every night, but if you do forget, it is possible to get along without too many problems on that second day.
On the software side of things, the Samsung Gear S2 brings Tizen back to the smartwatch game, and that proves to be both a good and bad thing.
Starting with what is good, Tizen is a welcome breath of fresh air from Android Wear, with the rotating bezel actually making it very easy to use. The software does feel far more intuitive than other software suites, even though the back and apps buttons might take some getting used to in terms of where they take you. Tizen also adds in a number of different functions, including the availability of a T9 keyboard to accompany the voice dictation. Granted, typing on such a small screen isn’t a particularly comfortable experience, but is still welcome as an alternative input method in situations where using your voice may not be the best option.
With the rotating bezel, there is a marriage of different forms of input, with users allowed to swipe or roll around the screens, but you’ll still tap the screen to select elements, or swipe up to dismiss any notifications, while using the buttons to to either return to the previous screen or the home screen. The great thing here is that Samsung somehow manages to make this mix and match work very naturally together.
When it comes to notifications, the rotating bezel provides another benefit, allowing for scrolling through text. Notifications are found to the left of the watchface, where they are listed one after the other, and can be expanded when they’re tapped on. From there, the entirety of the e-mail or message can be scrolled through, making it possible to actually read an entire notification on this device, without one’s finger covering the action. A small menu button on the right will lead to the different actions one can take, such as replying or muting the application, for example.
There are some negatives here as well, however. For starters, the number of applications that aren’t readily available for usage on the Gear S2 is glaring, even though Tizen is not a very young operating system by any means. For example, the lack of Google Maps support makes navigation on this smartwatch moot, and anyone that is used to getting reminders and contextual notifications from Google won’t get them here either. Productivity apps like Evernote, third party music streaming controls, and fitness trackers like RunKeeper are other applications that come to mind.
Widgets, found on the right side of the watchface, are also pretty limited, and are mostly relegated to Samsung and S-Heath information. Just one look in the Gear Manager shows this lack of app support, and it might not get too much better, with Android Wear now considered the standard when it comes to Android wearables. Applications that are available, such as Yelp, are great examples of how the rotating bezel can be leveraged, but until more apps do appear, the software experience of the Gear S2 remains quite limited.
Pricing and final thoughts
The Samsung Gear S2 is priced at $299 for the Original edition, with the Classic version setting you back an additional $150, putting them squarely among the typical Android Wear offerings out there.
So there you have it for this in-depth look at the Samsung Gear S2! Whether this smartwatch offers enough to justify its price point is going to be a personal decision, but so far, we’ve had a love/hate relationship with the Gear S2. An accessible, and actually fun design with the rotating bezel keeps us coming back for more, but the lack of essential applications supported in this version of Tizen makes for consistent frustration. Samsung actually gets a lot right with its best smartwatch yet, and in an increasingly saturated market, it will perhaps result in some out of the box thinking from other OEMs as well. When it comes to applications and overall features however, the S2 will likely be a let down, and this is where competing devices may actually have the upper hand.