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Samsung Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo review: which should I buy?

We review the Samsung Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo, two of Samsung’s latest trilogy of smartwatches…

Samsung’s Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo are two brand new smartwatches designed to hook up to (a limited selection of) Galaxy smartphones, including the Galaxy S5, keeping you notified of any waiting messages and updates, and even allowing you to answer calls or fiddle with your telly.

Samsung Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo smartwatch reviews: which should I buy?

What’s the difference between the two models? Almost nothing except for the built-in camera, which is found only on the Samsung Gear 2. The Gear 2 Neo completely ditches the camera to trim costs – and since that’s the only major difference between the pair, we decided to review them together.

To further complicate matters, the Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo aren’t the only smartwatches Samsung released this month – there’s also the slim-n-sexy Gear Fit. If you want to see how the three Gears stack up, and which we reckon is best, check out our full Samsung Gear comparison guide.

Samsung Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo: Design

Last year’s Samsung Galaxy Gear was a premium product, but felt a little bit rushed – right down to the ugly screws adorning the face plate and the camera lens which jutted out of the wrist strap. Thankfully the Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo feature a tweaked design, and the result is much smoother.

Samsung Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo smartwatch reviews: which should I buy?

Both smartwatches are still rather chunky, but they wear the weight well. They’re solid without weighing your arm down, and you can change the wrist strap quickly and easily if you fancy rocking a different colour on any given day.

Samsung Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo smartwatch reviews: which should I buy?

In fact, our only issue with the design was the annoying clip-on adapter that you have to slip onto the back in order to charge the watch. It’s one more thing you need to remember to drag around with you on holidays and so on, and if you lose it, you’re stuffed.

Samsung Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo smartwatch reviews: which should I buy?

Samsung Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo: User experience

The most useful feature of the Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo (in our humble opinions) is the notifications, which alert you to waiting messages and anything else requiring your attention. You can preview any texts or emails on the watch and quickly open them on your phone with just a tap, in order to respond.

You can also place and answer calls on both smartwatches, if for some reason you don’t feel like yanking your phone out of your pocket. We’d recommend only doing this in private, as you really do get weird looks talking to your watch out in public (and rightly so). But if you don’t mind looking like a total codpiece, it works well – the mic picked up our voice cleanly and the watch speaker is loud and clear.

It’s actually a pretty handy feature if you leave your phone in another room, and don’t have time to run around searching for it when you get a call. We found the signal stayed strong even between different floors of a house, making it a perfectly feasible solution.

Samsung Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo smartwatch reviews: which should I buy?

Setting up the Samsung Gear 2 is a simple enough experience – just download the Samsung Gear app onto your Galaxy phone and sync the two devices via Bluetooth…

Sadly the Gear 2 user experience isn’t all rainbows and sparkles. One of our major irritations with the watch is that the screen stays blank when the watch is hibernating – you don’t get even a faded view of the time, as you do on the likes of Sony’s Smartwatch 2.

There’s an option to have the watch screen turn on when you raise your wrist, but we found this only worked sporadically when we tried to check the time, and often worked when we didn’t try – reaching for a drink, scratching our nose (and other body parts), etc. The best option for checking the time is therefore hitting the face button; not ideal if your other hand is full of coffee/burger/sherbet.

Samsung Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo: Apps

The Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo also pack the same general apps and features, with the exception of that camera. You get a few pre-installed apps, but can download more through the Gear Manager app – right now the selection is very basic and limited, but hopefully we should see more appearing once developers have had some time with Samsung’s SDK.

Samsung Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo smartwatch reviews: which should I buy?

An accurate representation of how active my life is…

The built-in infrared sensor is used by the WatchON Remote app, which allows you direct control over your TV and set-top-box. Handy stuff if your partner’s hogging the telly for Britain’s Got Talent or some other horrific slush. You get a few other potentially useful tools too, including Voice Memo (self-explanatory) and Music Player, which plays tracks stored on the watch itself, either through the speakers (bus annoyance ho!) or a connected Bluetooth headset.

The Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo are also geared (haha) towards fitness, so you have a pedometer to track your motions (it’s rather generous with its estimates, but gives you a reasonable idea of how far you’ve walked), plus a heart rate monitor. The heart rate monitor works with a sensor on the back of the watch, and provided you’re not jerking your arm around like a mentalist while the sensor measures your pulse, it seems reasonably accurate.

Samsung Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo smartwatch reviews: which should I buy?

Samsung Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo: Camera

So, onto the one major difference between the Gear 2 and the Gear 2 Neo – the built-in 2-megapixel snapper, which can shoot 720p video as well as your bog-standard stills. To Samsung’s credit, it’s pretty easy to use – just tap the screen to take a shot, and nudge the icon in the top left to switch between photo and video modes. You get a handful of basic features including location tagging and voice control – just yell ‘shoot’ and it takes a photo, which gets interesting reactions in public.

Samsung Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo smartwatch reviews: which should I buy?

Your photos automatically download to your phone when the two are connected, which is a nice time-saving touch, and they look okay when viewed back on a small screen, but decidedly grainy on a full-sized monitor. We’d say the camera’s better suited for quick-and-dirty social media uploads than for capturing treasured mementos. Video looks alright too, certainly good enough for YouTube and Facebook. The Gear’s mic picks up immediate voices clearly, although it struggles with subjects more than four feet away.

To be honest, we’re not entirely sure why anyone would want a camera on their watch. Our 12-year-old selves would have thought it the best thing ever, but now, in 2014? Fair enough, you can boot it up in just a second or two to take a quick snap, so it’s marginally faster than whipping your phone out of your pocket. But how often do you see something so spontaneously brilliant that those two or three seconds make all the difference? And wouldn’t you rather just have a better-quality photo?

Samsung Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo: Verdict

So, if you own a compatible Galaxy smartphone, is the Gear 2 or Gear 2 Neo a worthy purchase? And which should you buy?

Samsung Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo smartwatch reviews: which should I buy?

We personally found it a hit-and-miss experience. As a watch it’s a little annoying, since you can’t have the time permanently displaying. But as a mobile accessory it’s got some neat features, and the notification alerts are great if you’re constantly missing calls and messages.

We still don’t see the point in watch cameras, so we reckon go with the Neo to save yourself some cash – but check out our Samsung Gear round-up for a full comparison, including the Samsung Gear Fit.

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