Samsung Gear 2

The Samsung Gear 2 is a smartwatch that strives to be all things to all people, with its smartwatches being convenient devices that excel at needed tasks.

A great smartwatch should be more than just a device on your wrist that can be used as a pager. It should be a Swiss army knife of useful features that you can’t live without.

Samsung Gear 2

The Positive

The Samsung Gear 2 smartwatch comes with a lot of extras, like a new design, better notifications, a heart rate monitor, and basic fitness tracking.

The Negative

Limited app selection; insufficient S-Health fitness app syncing; can only be synced with Samsung phones; camera is an unnecessary feature that costs $100 more than the Gear 2 Neo.

Gear 2 Review

The Gear 2 is a step forward for Samsung, but it’s still an island unto itself, with limited apps and Samsung-only device compatibility. You’re better off waiting for Android Wear.

Samsung’s Galaxy Gear tried and failed to be a killer smartwatch last year, but the company is back with three new challengers.

The $199 Gear Fit is an attempt at simplicity: it’s a clear cross between a fitness band and a smartwatch, but it’s short on fitness finesse.

The Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo, on the other hand, are bigger and bolder, with features that range from amazing to scary.

They’re also clunkier, looking more like a squared-off nerd timepiece.

You could say that if they were Swiss Army knives, they’d have weird things like fish deboners and mini-laser pointers on them.

The Gear 2 is an interesting piece of wrist technology, but it’s not a must-have companion.

And it’s here that, despite their hardware prowess, these new Gears still feel a little meaningless.

While they’re an upgrade over the ill-fated first generation Galaxy Gear, they don’t offer any substantial advantages that you can’t obtain from your phone.

And yes, for the foreseeable future, that phone must be a Samsung model

This is a review of the Samsung Gear 2, which has a camera and is Samsung’s current top-of-the-line smartwatch.

The crucial phrase to keep in mind is “of the moment.”

Because you can bet that Samsung is already working on a Gear successor that will run the new Android Wear operating system, which will be available on Motorola and LG smartwatches in a matter of weeks.

Gear 2 Vs Gear Neo

The Gear 2 is identical to the Gear 2 Neo, another recently announced smartwatch.

They both feature the same vivid AMOLED display, the same processor, RAM, and sensors, and they both execute apps.

The Gear 2, on the other hand, includes a camera and a steel body, and it costs $299. The Gear 2 Neo is $199 and loses the camera. It also has a more plastic build.

Unlike the Samsung Gear Fit, which is smart but lacks supplementary apps and has a stretched-out screen, these are both full featured smartwatches with installable apps and the option to store music on internal memory.

The Gear Fit is priced at $199, the same as the Gear 2 Neo. Are you perplexed yet?

That’s because there are three watches to pick from in a market where the majority of consumers aren’t even ready to purchase one.

Designed as Traditional Watch

The Galaxy Gear from last year was sleek but large, with its own wrist strap that doubled as a camera lens.

This year’s Gear 2 features the same brushed metal aesthetic, but the camera is now located above the screen, on the watch’s body, beside a new small IR-blaster.

A home button is located at the bottom of the screen.

The wrist strap on my unit is made of textured rubberized plastic and can be replaced like a standard watch band; you may use a leather band, a DayGlo band, or go to a watch store to find one.

The Samsung Gear 2 band includes a metal clasp that clicks to secure it, but it can be adjusted via small holes along the band.

The Gear 2 is water and dust resistant to IP67 standards, which is an upgrade over the first Galaxy Gear.

It can even be worn in the rain or even a shower. I soaked it and showered with it, but it’s not designed for swimming.

To charge it, you’ll need a little clip on plastic dongle that attaches to the rear of the Gear 2 and allows you to use the accompanying Micro USB charger or bring your own.

But don’t lose that dongle: it’s a different fit than the Gear Fit.

It’s inconvenient, but it’s a lot better than the snap on cradle that came with the first Galaxy Gear.

It takes a few hours to fully charge the Gear 2, and I was able to use it for nearly three days without needing to recharge it.

Gear 2 Smartwatch

The Gear 2, like the Pebble watch, is quite comfortable to wear. It’s sleek, a touch Star Trek futuristic, but it’s well-designed and fits my wrist well.

The AMOLED display is large and brilliant, although it can become washed out in intense sunlight. Thankfully, there is an outdoor mode that can be activated for a few minutes at a time.

The Gear 2 comes with a selection of watch faces that may be changed using the Gear Manager app on the phone to which it is attached.

Because it’s a color display, it must be activated by pressing the home button or, more smartly, by lifting and turning your wrist to check the time.

For me, the Gear 2 turned on considerably more quickly than the Gear Fit.

The Gear 2 has a dual-core 1GHz processor, which is faster than the single-core processor in the original Gear.

Many people don’t seem to be making use of it right now, despite the fact that the Gear can measure steps or heart rate while listening to music or doing other things, which is a positive.

A 1.63-inch 320×320-pixel Super AMOLED screen looks as beautiful as a 1.63-inch screen can look: the colors pop and dazzle, and there’s enough room on the screen for a lot of text.

If you’ve set up notifications to be pushed to the Gear 2, they appear as small pop-ups on the Gear 2 display. When you tap one, the complete message usually appears.

The Gear 2 is compatible with almost any notification you could imagine appearing on your wristwatch, and all you have to do is check it off the list of notifications in the Gear Manager software.

Thanks to notifications, the Gear 2 feels like a wrist-pager, similar to the Pebble watch.

The need to tap a notification to see the entire message is either privacy protecting or inconvenient; the Pebble displays everything right away.

However, this new gear is far better at pinging than the previous one. Incoming texts, emails, and phone calls can all be answered.

Calls are received via a built in microphone and speaker, and you can respond with prefabricated short responses like “I’ll talk to you soon,” “Yes,” or the somewhat useless “How’s it going?”

Fortunately, you can make your own, but it’s a shame S-Voice can’t take dictation.

Gear 2 Features

Aside from notifications, the Gear 2 has a plethora of built-in features, all of which are baked-in apps: an onboard offline capable music player, a separate media remote for other music playback on the phone, a camera, a picture gallery app, a weather app, phone dialer and call log apps, phone contacts, a calendar with appointment listings, a pedometer, heart rate monitor, sleep tracker, exercise tracker with coaching, an IR-controller for the Gear 2’s vibration

That doesn’t even include the apps that can be downloaded separately. Yes, there are a lot of bells and whistles there.

When you boil things down, you get a camera, voice recording and control, health tracking, a TV remote, music playback, a built in speakerphone, and a lot of notification and message options.

All of these elements were employed, but not all of them felt necessary.

And the more I used them, the more I felt like a chicken pecking and swiping around on a wrist mounted screen, rather than using the Gear 2 for what it was designed to be: an easy one-glance replacement for looking, pecking, and swiping at my phone.

The Gear 2’s onboard music player can now store songs on the device’s 4GB of internal memory and play them back through the speakers or a linked Bluetooth headset, depending on whether you want to bother your neighbors or don’t have any.

There is no headphone jack on the Gear 2.

The Gear Manager phone software controls a hidden settings menu in the Gear’s music player app, and tunes are beamed over wirelessly for around 10 seconds at a time.

Gear 2 Camera

The Gear 2’s body has a 2 megapixel camera on the top edge that can take fast images or short 720p films.

Both are square and ready for Instagram. Sometimes the photos were clear, while other times they were hazy.

The videos were acceptable. But why would you need a video-capable watch?

Setting up photos isn’t easy, to say the least. It’s better angled than you might expect, and the Gear 2 could be a Google Glass replacement for on-the-spot shooting, but I’d rather take my phone out of my pocket.

This camera is the primary reason for paying $100 more for the Gear 2 over the Gear 2 Neo, and it’s simply not worth it.

In any case, I couldn’t identify any programs that took advantage of it for data scanning.

S-Voice Feature

Like the Samsung Galaxy Gear, you can communicate with the Gear 2. But for what purpose?

There isn’t a way to search the web. Certain inquiries will be answered, such as “What time is it in Boston?” and “How is the weather?”

You can use S-Voice to make phone calls, but the number of steps and time it took for S-Voice to process and load made me wonder why I wasn’t just pulling out my Galaxy S5.

The best way to use the microphone is to record voice memos: I frequently record brief reminders.

It’s also convenient that the voice memo feature works offline.

Gear Manager

On the Gear 2, the Gear Manager app is in charge of pairing and app installation.

Because you can only link one Gear device with a Samsung phone at a time, I had to unpair the Gear Fit in order to connect to my Gear 2.

You may personalize the watch faces and layouts for the app icons and home screen, as well as download more apps.

It’s a simple app to use, but it strangely doesn’t manage fitness tracking or syncing: that’s where S-Health, a separate app, comes in.

S Health is supposed to track and graph pedometer and heart rate data on the Galaxy S5, but even after a few weeks of use, I’ve never been able to collect and visualize that data properly.

Gear 2 Apps

The Gear 2 is powered by Samsung’s Tizen operating system, as opposed to Android on the first Galaxy Gear.

That means little to you, the user: the interfaces on both the original Gear and the Gear 2 appear to be very similar, and Android has no formal presence in wearables right now; that will change later this year, when Google’s Android Wear arrives, with smartwatches bearing Google’s actual seal of approval.

The Gear’s switch to Tizen, on the other hand, brings with it a whole new set of apps designed exclusively for the Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo watches.

Unlike the Pebble and Pebble Steel, which run identical apps, Samsung has relaunched the Galaxy Watch app.

And they’re hard to find: go to the Gear Manager app’s strangely named “Samsung apps” blade to see what’s available to download.

It’s unclear where to find these apps: Samsung should provide a bright “app store” symbol on the Gear Manager’s home screen when you first launch it.

Entertainment, Finance, Health and Fitness, Lifestyle, Social Networking, Utilities, and Clock are the different categories of apps.

After counting the apps in each category, I identified 136 total apps, but many of them were cross-category duplicates.

Calculators reigned in the finance area, clock faces were ubiquitous, and social networking apps are currently comprised of curiosities like Glympse, Banjo, and Flick Dat.

There are no Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or Google apps. Pebble, on the other hand, does have Yelp, Foursquare, and eBay on board.

In addition, unlike the mostly-free Pebble app library, many of these apps cost a dollar or two. Who would be willing to part with a dollar for a Gear 2 calculator?

Although there appear to be a lot of apps, when you realize how many of them are just simple team-themed watch faces or calculators, it becomes much less impressive.

And I’m not sure how many apps will ever be released for the Gear 2, especially with Google’s upcoming Android Wear platform threatening to grab any app developers’ attention.

Samsung will have its job cut out for it. Right now, none of these apps are better than the Gear 2’s preinstalled apps.

Fitness Smartwatch

Pedometers and heart rate monitors are helpful, but they aren’t enough. The Gear 2 does, after all, have all of the features of a fitness smartwatch.

A pedometer, a back-mounted heart rate sensor, and sleep tracking apps, as well as an exercise-tracking coaching app, are all far superior to the Pebble.

It’s a terrific feature for a smartwatch, and having one is preferable to not having one.

These latest Gears aren’t the answer if you’re searching for a terrific fitness solution for your wrist. The pedometer is straightforward, but it must be activated.

It can operate in the background, but because it isn’t always automated, you may lose out on step counting.

If you put on a Jawbone, Fuelband, or Fitbit fitness band, it will stay on and keep track of your activity.

The Gear’s back has a green LED and a sensor that pulses against your wrist to monitor your heart rate, and it can do so while you’re exercising for a continuous readout.

However, it’s currently unreliable: I discovered that the Gear 2 couldn’t always obtain a reading, and when it did, my heart rate measurement differed significantly from what I received on a typical gym exercise machine.

The Gear 2 still indicated my heart rate was 70 beats per minute after five minutes of fast walking, while the treadmill said it was closer to 140.

Later on, that number leveled off and became more accurate, but “sometimes accurate” isn’t what anyone wants in a heart rate monitor.

Walking, running, cycling, or hiking are the four activities that Exercise mode measures, and the timed sessions are kept as logs.

Running mode has an extra level of coaching that buzzes and says whether to slow down, speed up, or keep pace based on heart rate. Cycling tracks location via the paired phone’s GPS, and running mode has an extra level of coaching that buzzes and says whether to slow down, speed up, or keep pace based on heart rate.

You can select a maximum target heart rate or choose “automatic.” There are various levels of intensity and various lengths or distance targets that can be set.

I wanted to appreciate the coaching mode, but the heart rate readings were so inconsistent that the coaching ideas never made sense. I was urged to “keep pace” when I stood still.

All of these exercise modes require superior phone app software to sync, graph, and analyze this data.

S-Health isn’t that app at the moment. I’m hoping for improvements, but the system is currently flawed.

Competition and compatibility

The Gear 2 is compatible with Samsung’s Galaxy S III, Galaxy S4, Galaxy S4 Mini, Galaxy S4 Active, Galaxy S4 Zoom, Galaxy Mega, Galaxy Note 2, Galaxy Note 3, Galaxy Note 10.1 2014 Edition, Galaxy Note Pro, and Galaxy Tab Pro, in addition to the Galaxy S5 (12.2, 10.1, and 8.4).

The Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo don’t function with any non-Samsung phones.

Because there aren’t many real smartwatch challengers at the moment, the Gear 2 naturally takes the top spot on this short list for individuals who want a lot of functionality.

The Pebble, the best smartwatch on the market right now, earns its keep by being simple to use, waterproof, with an easy-to-read screen in broad sunshine, and compatible with a wide range of iOS and Android phones, as well as having one of the greatest app stores in wearable tech right now.

Samsung’s Gear 2 offers better technology, but it has restricted phone connectivity, fewer apps, and is less user-friendly.

It’s also reasonably priced: the Pebble Steel costs $250, which is $50 less than the Gear 2, but has fewer built-in capabilities.

The true competition in space has yet to arrive.

Google’s Android Wear, which is already being pushed by upcoming smartwatches like the Moto 360, looks to be the start of a new wearable platform.

Apple will eventually release something, but no one knows if it will be a smartwatch in the traditional sense.

The most serious competitor to the Gear 2 is Android Wear. However, it also reveals what Samsung’s immediate future will entail. Samsung and Android Wear are hardware partners.

How long till Samsung releases an Android Wear watch, and will it outperform the Gear 2? It’s been only months since the last Galaxy Gear was released. More watches will arrive sooner rather than later.

Conclusion

Samsung’s Gear 2 demonstrates, if nothing else, that Samsung has tremendous hardware skills. It’s strange, it’s feature-heavy, but it’s undeniably an improvement.

But we already knew that. The Gear 2 appears to be more of a showcase of technological skill than a product worth purchasing.

If you’re looking for a smartwatch right now, the Gear 2 is a better option than the Galaxy Gear from last year.

If you really must have a Samsung smartwatch, I’d recommend the Gear 2 Neo instead. However, if you already own a Samsung phone, you won’t need a Gear 2 or Gear 2 Neo.

Future Android Wear watches will work as well as, if not better, than current models. It would be prudent to hold off for a few months and see what happens.