Samsung Gear S2 review
Samsung's latest smartwatch is easily its best.
Smartwatches are in a bit of a lull at the moment. The initial wow factor has worn off, whether you're a fan of the Apple Watch, Android Wear competitors such as the Motorola Moto 360, LG Watch Urbane, Asus Zenwatch or even the humble Pebble.
Samsung is notable in this field simply because it's issued so many smartwatches over the relatively short period in which smartwatches have even existed. It seems as though every time we turn around, there's a new Samsung smartwatch promising to wow us with new and innovative features.
It's into that market that the latest effort from the South Korean technology giant comes, in the form of the very round Samsung Gear S2, and the slightly classier Samsung Gear S2 Classic. In case you're wondering what makes a brand new smartwatch a "Classic", in Samsung's case it denotes a $100 price difference which pays for a leather band and the inclusion of standard 20mm pin style watch strap. That's an interesting inclusion, as it means that you can add any given watch band to the S2 Classic. The "standard" Gear S2 doesn't get such luxuries, and it's the model we were sent to review.
You Spin Me Right Round
There have been a number of smartwatches with a round face to date, but the Samsung Gear S2 might just be the roundest. The display screen is a 1.2 inch 360x360 pixel Super AMOLED display that can be very bright indeed, although you can dial the brightness down if it's either too garish for your tastes or you just want a little more battery life from it.
Dialing it down is exactly the right term to use with the Samsung Gear S2, because apart from the touchscreen display, the other primary way you interact with the Gear S2 is via the rotating bezel around the display. It's a similar control concept to that on the Apple Watch with its digital crown, only the implementation is considerably better. Where you might fumble with fingers on the tiny digital crown, it's easy and intuitive to just grab the bezel and give a twirl to change display screens or scroll through onscreen information. If you're not a fan of the concept you can still use taps and swipes on the touchscreen, as well as the back and home buttons that rest on the right hand side of the watch.
Samsung makes its OS more appe-tizen
The Gear S2 appears to be an Android Wear smartwatch at first glance, but it's instead running on Samsung's own Tizen OS. In the past, that's relegated Samsung device compatibility to the Galaxy range of Smartwatches in a play that was presumably meant to mimic the ecosystem control that Apple enjoys over everything iOS-based. For the Gear S2, it appears Samsung's had a change of heart. Naturally they'd prefer you paired it to a Galaxy S6 or Galaxy Note 5, but it'll work with (theoretically) any Android 4.4 device with at least 1.5GB of RAM.
There's probably something weird and/or wonderful out there in the wide Android ecosystem that will meet those specifications and still somehow stumble, but Samsung at least provides a compatibility list. We tested with a Sony Xperia Z5 and Google Nexus 6P without any significant issue beyond the need to install multiple Samsung apps in order to set up the Samsung Gear S2.
The Gear S2's operating system focuses on simple operation, so while it does guide you through the basics of selection, rotation and cancellation, both onscreen and through Samsung's Gear app, it quickly becomes second nature to get the Gear S2 to perform to your wishes, whether you're using the included heart rate monitor to track your exercise, checking notifications from any installed Android app on your paired phone or simply using it as a stopwatch. Samsung provides a variety of smartwatch faces with the Gear S2, many of which put the stock Android Wear ones to shame. It still strikes us as a limiting factor being Tizen based, simply because the market penetration and therefore app support is likely to be much lower than that of Android Wear. Samsung has reasons to produce new apps for the Gear S2, but almost nobody else does, and with its history of a new smartwatch model every few months, even that isn't assured. Essentially, as with most technology purchases, you should buy the Gear S2 for what it can do now, not what it might do in the future.
Don't Call Us, We'll Call You. Except We Can't.
One genuinely curious omission from the Gear S2's toolbox is the ability to fully answer phone calls. If you're called while wearing it, you'll get the option to take or dismiss the call, but any audio chores have to be handled at the handset level, not directly into the watch. It still feels a little socially awkward to talk to your watch in most circumstances, but there are times when it's downright handy, and it's been a feature of previous Gear watches, so it's definitely missed here.
The Gear S2 comes with a 250mAh battery that Samsung optimistically states could be good for "Low Usage Time" of up to four days. We'd say that a single day is entirely feasible, and even two if you're only getting a few notifications and don't pair it for things like location specific weather or lots of music control.
Charging is via a magnetic dock that adheres to the Qi charging standard, which raises the prospect of charging the Gear S2 from any given Qi-compatible dock, but obviously not PMA-based chargers. The reality is that the shape and fit of at least the standard Gear S2 doesn't make this all that feasible, because getting it to sit flat enough on any other Qi charger is essentially impossible unless you're willing to remove the band every time you want to charge. Thankfully the supplied charger stand is unobtrusive for overnight charging purposes.
What's The Verdict?
The Gear S2 is easily Samsung's smartest and best smartwatch to date in most respects, but it's still far from being an absolute must-buy prospect. Partially that's down to the missing features, such as easily swappable bands for the basic $499 model of the Gear S2 and the lack of calling features, and partly that's because despite the considerable hype, nobody — including Samsung — has really hit that killer app that makes a smartwatch a must-buy prospect beyond simple notifications.
If you're keen on smartwatches already the Gear S2 is well worth consideration because nobody's done a round selector as well to date, but for any new buyer, there are cheaper options that'll cover the basics just as well.
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