- Attractive design
- Feature rich
- Confusing UI
- Proprietary charger
Samsung Gear S2 Hands-On Review at IFA 2015: We’d seen the press images, been given all the hardware details and Samsung’s IFA showcase gave us the opportunity to go hands-on with the new Gear S2 smartwatch.
You have to hand it to Samsung, its design team is tenacious; only weeks after the fruits of their labour debuted in the form of the Note 5 have we been presented with two new, distinctly different wearables. I say two, as when the Gear S2 hits stores, it’ll be up for grabs under two wholly different guises.
The vanilla Gear S2 was initially teased in Dark Gray and silver with complimentary black and white rubber bands respectively, but at today’s launch we also encountered the Gear S2 Classic. This alternative aesthetic option strays from the modern, minimalist lines of the standard S2 and instead adopts more traditional timepiece tropes; like a knurled bezel and a leather strap by default, which can be swapped out for any other conventional 22mm band you favour.
Both versions utilise a rotating bezel, which serves as the primary means of navigation on the Gear S2, although two hardware buttons for back and various functions are set into the side of the device’s steel body too. The display also supports multitouch, which is required from time to time, although nowhere near the extent of Android Wear or Apple’s Watch OS.
Like many of the wearables at IFA, customisation is a big part of the experience too, with alternative watch straps on offer for either skew from brands like Casemate and Incipio to name just two.
The circular display on the Gear S2 packs an impressive 360 x 360 resolution, which at 1.2-inches makes for crisp text and sharp imagery. Colours and contrast are punchy and clear too, thanks in part to Samsung’s favoured Super AMOLED screen tech.
Viewing angles don’t suffer from backlight drop off all that much either, but from the few times you do use the screen, it does attract fingerprints.
Versus Android Wear, it takes a little getting use to, but the Tizen-based Circular UX naturally works on that round display and Samsung has clearly spent a long time deciding how best to implement text and iconography on a round display.
The S2’s interface is brimming with features; from obvious entries like all-day fitness tracking tools that log different levels of activity, to more surprising inclusions, like support for connected cars – letting you lock the doors remotely or locate where you last parked up.
Samsung also talked up the myriad of partnerships it’s already laid groundwork into to expand the Gear S2’s compatibility with the wider world. Fitness fans will appreciate its Nike+ integration, whilst Uber cars can be ordered with a few twists and taps in select markets including Korea and the UK.
The bezel reigns supreme on the Gear S2, with primary navigation performed through rotations, rather than swipes, pinches or presses. Turning the bezel can be used to scroll through the apps menu, page down a lengthy email or zoom in on a map or photo.
We need to familiarise ourselves with it at greater length to fully understand what the Gear S2 is capable of, but the basics are intuitive and in the company’s eyes it’s a decided more manageable means of physical input versus other notable wearables, *cough* Apple Watch *cough*.
Depending on which version of the S2 also dictates the innards your smartwatch will feature. Both takes on the Gear S2 boast Bluetooth, WiFi and NFC, but the Classic and certain versions of the vanilla S2 lose out on 3G connectivity, made possible by an e-SIM – a SIM card embedded in the smartwatch granting the user mobile connectivity and partial freedom from their smartphone.
Those after a Gear S2 with 3G support will also unknowingly receive a device running on a larger 300mAh battery, versus the 250mAh cell in the non-3G version, but whichever model you opt for, Samsung is promising two to three days of use per charge. Charging takes place wirelessly, via way of a proprietary cradle, similar to the one used by the Moto 360.
NFC is most notably suited to easy pairing between mobile devices, but the Gear S2 unsurprisingly will lean on this feature to accommodate Samsung Pay as well – the company’s upcoming mobile payment platform. On top S Health integration draws data from the inbuilt optical heart rate sensor and there’s even a power-saving mode, just as you’d find on any of Samsung’s top Galaxy smartphones.
One big departure for a non-Android Wear-based Samsung wearable is support for devices outside of Samsung’s own smartphone family. To help maximise adoption of the Gear S2 and push it into the mainstream faster, Samsung is allowing Gear S2 support for any Android device running 4.4 KitKat or newer, provided it boasts 1.5GB of RAM or more.
That means devices like 2013’s Nexus 5 (for example) should theoretically play nice with Samsung’s late-2015 smartwatch – a device category in its infancy when that phone first launched.
Samsung’s has clearly laboured over the creation of the Gear S2 and from where we stand this smartwatch isn’t just a one-trick pony or an experiment. Samsung is looking to expand its already strong presence in the wearables market and what’s more do it without relying on Google (thus the Tizen-based OS).
We’re intrigued to see how it performs as a daily use case and more importantly, curious to learn about how much such a distinctive device will retail for, but we’ll undoubtedly be able to answer at least some of those questions when the Samsung Gear S2 goes on sale in October.
- 360 x 360
- IP68 certified, Samsung Pay, e-SIM, heart rate sensor