- sAMOLED display
- 720p still and video camera
- Replaceable straps
- MSRP: $299.99
- Product info page
- Great health features
- Nice interface
- Battery life is around three days
- Camera is a bit spurious
If I’ve noticed any sort of trend in the wearables space it’s that watches now look like watches. Runners will remember early Garmin GPS watches that looked like bulbous alien egg sacs on your wrists while even the Omate wrist computer still looks like an unlanced polyp. But almost everyone else – Pebble, Basis, and the like – have created devices that are one step above the thinness and usability of an old Casio calculator watch. And that’s a compliment.
Now, I dare say, Samsung has upped the game.
The Samsung Gear 2 is the company’s latest smart watch and it works with a number of Galaxy smartphones. It is a Jack-of-all-trades and features a bright AMOLED screen, responsive notification and control system, and a number of fitness features that could (if the watch were generally compatible with all Android phones) put Fitbit out of business. And the best part? It looks and works like a normal watch.
Here’s why this is important: wrist real estate has traditionally been used by either bracelet like devices that act as adornments (and more recently notifiers) but watch shaped devices have always been very difficult to sell, especially if the functionality is limited. Except in very few cases, for example, I find the Pebble to be more of a distraction than a tool. Pressing a button to wake it up or getting rattled by a buzzing notification breaks you out of the normal interaction paradigm that has been familiar to humans for a hundred years. The space on my wrist dedicated to time-telling is a sacred space that requires the user to either accept a watch as a watch or make a number of very jarring compromises.
Now that I’ve gotten my personal rant out of the way, let’s see how the Gear 2 stacks up. First, it’s always ready as a watch. It’s waterproof, to a degree, and can stand a bit of rain or even a run under the sink. Don’t go swimming and you’ll be fine.
In terms of battery life, I got about three days of sparse use but your results will probably vary. Exercise use will wear the battery down quickly but basic notifications do little to drain the watch. The camera is pretty good – good enough for a watch – but it’s definitely not the main attraction. The watch pairs quickly and easily with compatible Samsung phones and Bluetooth LE handles all the communication. It is a very intuitive system.
Then there’s the excellent interface. As a watch, the Gear 2 wins. Thanks to a few accelerometer tricks the watch lights up as soon as you need it and tends to stay dark when you don’t. Your phone can send notifications to the watch or you can mute them, essentially disabling distractions. To access various features you swipe along the face and the first screen includes contacts and notifications, the second apps and music controls, the third tools including voice memo and a built-in remote control, and finally health and fitness apps like the pedometer and heart rate sensor. A small LED sensor on the back of the watch can sense your heart rate with some accuracy although it’s not good for folks in a hurry. Samsung recommends you stay still and not talk while the sensor is active, which puts a damper on off-the-cuff heart rate sensing.
The question then is not whether I’d recommend this watch if you have a Galaxy S5 – I would, and without hesitation. It’s some of the most amazing engineering to come out of Samsung in a long time. The waterproof case, the long battery life, and excellent responsiveness make it a winner and if you own an S5 I’d wager that you’ll be more pleased with the Gear than the phone itself. The Gear 2 looks like a solid watch that doubles as a wrist computer.
The question is whether you should enter the Galaxy ecosystem just to pick this up. I’m not certain. Pebble still has a lot going for it if you’re looking just for notifications and there are many, arguably less feature-packed solutions that can offer heart rate sensing and health data. This is Samsung’s walled garden. Make no mistake. Rail against others in this space all you want, but Samsung knows that it needs to lock down the Gear 2 as much as possible and I suspect it will remain thus for the foreseeable future. That said, if you’re in the market for a phone and watch combo, it’s a nice garden to wander. As a mechanical watch lover I could see the value in wearing this over a ticking hunk of steel and I honestly think it it’s a solid improvement over the original Gear. Should you make the switch? That’s up to you and your wrist.