Samsung Galaxy Gear 2 Review: a step in the right direction


WhistleOut
06 June 2014

The Galaxy Gear 2 is a significant step up from the original Galaxy Gear. It’s still not the breakthrough device that Samsung wants, but it’s good enough that it may actually appeal to a Samsung customer that is seriously considering a smartwatch.

Design

4/5

The Gear 2 is a much more compact device than its predecessor. It may not look it, but it’s actually a pretty standard size when compared to a lot of watches these days.

The uncomfortable camera has been removed from the watch strap, which itself is less rigid. Even better, the strap uses a standard attachment, so you can swap it out for another watch strap that you already own or wish to buy.

Samsung has moved the speaker from the underside clasp to the back of the watch-face. This is a huge improvement. Previously the speaker made the clasp so big that it was uncomfortable to rest your hand on a table. Typing on a keyboard was a nightmare and even sitting around at a bar you’d be forever banging it against things. Now it’s a perfectly normal clasp that doesn’t get in the way any more than any other.

The home screen button has been moved from the side to the front of the watch face. We’re not sure if this is a good or bad move. The old layout was easier to press, but could also accidentally be activated when hyper-extending your hand, such as when leaning on a surface.

Best of all, the Gear 2 is IP67 water resistant, which is the same rating as the Galaxy S5. Unlike with smartphones, where water resistance is a bonus that only comes in handy in very few situations, with a smartwatch you notice it every time you wash your hands or clean the dishes. It’s a huge bonus that we hadn’t considered a big deal until we actually lived with it for a couple of weeks.

User experience

3/5

In terms of the actual software experience not a whole lot has changed since the original Gear. In fact, there are some notable app gaps like a lack of Evernote, due to Samsung’s decision to switch to its own Tizen OS rather than sticking with Android. Thanks to this, anyone who made an app for the original Gear can’t make it available for the Gear 2 without a significant overhaul.

We’re still waiting on WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger integration. Currently you can only receive notifications for a very limited set of communiques, such as phone calls, SMS and email. The problem is that quite a few people rely on other apps these days, so you may end up only getting a small percentage of your actual notifications if you rely heavily on the watch.

This isn’t entirely Samsung’s fault – it can’t make devs design apps for the Gear 2, but by switching to Tizen we think it’s going to be less likely to happen than if it had stuck with the more-familiar Android.

Be that as it may, do not underestimate the usefulness of receiving your notifications on your wrist. I personally check the time very rarely, so a regular watch is no use to me, in part because I’m always checking my phone for notifications and in doing so maintain a pretty clear idea of the time. By moving both of those features to my wrist I get to view the time plus the more important convenience of checking (some of) my notifications.

The Home screen and general menu layout is unchanged from the original. This is a shame. The Gear 2 would be a much more useful device if you could decide what app icons to anchor to the home screen, instead of choosing between a limited set of pre-arranged options.

Happily, there are some useful additions, like the IR blaster built in to the side. With this, you can take command of a TV, Air Conditioner or set top box (STB), so long as it’s a popular brand. It’s not as useful as the full TV remote app for the Galaxy S4 and S5, but it’s still a good way to avoid looking for the remote, or surreptitiously adjust the air con when it’s too cold at work or home.

There is also the option to set a double-tap of the Home button to automatically launch a chosen app. This is hugely useful, especially if you’re a big music or audiobook fan. Even better, this time around the audio controls work with every program that uses audio, although it did have a little trouble when it came to the Radiolab app.

Continuing on, you can set a triple-tap to send of an SOS text with your Google Maps location to a pre-arranged number. This is more something we can see being aimed at older users, with whom we don’t think the concept of a smartwatch will really fly.

Battery life

3/5

Battery was a big issue with the first Gear, which lasted a little over a day but never two. This kind of thing is fine for a phone, but the last thing we need is yet another device that needs charging every night.

The Gear 2 is only slightly improved. Battery life is strangely variable, but we usually got about 2 days out of it. Sometimes it would kick it around 8pm on the second night, others it would last until halfway through the third day. Unfortunately, the innate unreliability means that you still have to charge the Gear 2 every night if you want it to be sure it’ll make it till bed time. If a few hours of a dead watch on your wrist every second night doesn’t sound like a problem then at least you can halve your charging debt to once every 48 hours.

Ultimately, if smartwatch tech is going to take off we think it’s going to need more impressive battery life. Understandably there are limitations put in place by technology and manufacturing costs, but the idea is to decrease hassle, rather than add to it with more charge-hangry gadgetry.

Camera

2.5/5

The camera, while improved in positioning, hasn’t demonstrated a noted increase in purpose. It’s still a side-shooting spy cam with underwhelming image quality. Just what exactly it’s supposed to be used for is a mystery. Of course, you could say the odd thing like photographing a number or a store you want to remember, but that’s not a common enough use to justify increasing the price of a device by its inclusion.

You can of course save a couple of previous seconds by photographing a curiosity, like this funny road sign, with your watch instead of your phone.

But the trade-off in quality compared to the dollar price the camera adds isn’t too appealing.

A front-facing camera for video calls would be far more appropriate. Admittedly, video calls aren’t a common thing, but it would at least give the Gear 2 that futuristic feel that anyone who lived through the 90s will easily understand. It would also be useful for fixing hair and doing makeup.

Either ditch the camera or swivel it around. As it currently stands its only foreseeable purpose is creepy surreptitious photos of unknowing targets.

Verdict

3.5/5

If Samsung hadn’t jumped the gun with the Gear 1 then it would have avoided the bad reputation against which it is now forced to struggle. The Galaxy Gear 2 is the smartwatch that Samsung needed to lead with. It works, it’s not too bulky, and it’s actually comfortable to wear.

This is still nowhere near an industry-justifying device. It’s not going to convince any doubters that smartwatches are the way to go. However, anyone that’s already sold on the concept of smartwatches and is after a one for themselves should be pleased with the Gear 2. It’s a good early-generation piece of tech and an exciting indication of where wearables are headed.


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