Hands on: Samsung Gear S2
You have to admire Samsung’s savvy. After launching a tonne of smartwatches last year, Samsung have launched what could be their best smartwatch yet, the Gear S2.
The Gear S2 uses Tizen OS. It also has that oh so desirable round screen, 3-day battery life and works with non-Samsung smartphones.
The Gear S2 comes in two flavours. The Gear S2 standard has a stainless steel body/silicon strap or the Gear S2 classic, with a black stainless steel body and leather strap.
Its design is both understated and well executed. Samsung have shed the home detention wrist tracker look to the point where you’d mistake the Gear S2 for a classic timepiece. Unlike a lot of Android wear devices, the S2 isn’t bulky and doesn’t catch on shirtsleeves.
Simplicity is the order of the day. On its right hand side, the S2 has home and back buttons. On its rear is a heart rate sensor and quick-release catches for the watch-strap. Its front sports a rotating bezel that is used for navigating the S2’s interface.
The most noticeable thing with the S2 is its stunning 1.2”, 360 x 360 screen. Its AMOLED display is crisp and bright, with deep contrast. Colours pop - This helps make the S2 readable even under direct sunlight.
Behind The S2's screen, its innards appear to be standard smartwatch fare. It sports a 1GHz CPU, 512MB of RAM, 4GB of storage, WiFi and Bluetooth. There’s also NFC (which will in theory support Samsung Pay).
In use the S2’s hardware and Samsung’s choice of Tizen delivers smooth operation and a solid battery life.
The killer feature with the S2 is it’s Bezel driven interface. This is a particularly smart move by Samsung. Swiping at a 1.2” display can be a hit and miss process, especially when out on the go.
Spinning the bezel allows you to select screens. Apps are fired up via a screen tap. It’s an intuitive design that will have most new users up and running in minutes. Samsung’s S-Voice commands are also available and worked well.
So what does the S2 do? Like most smartwatches, it displays notifications and acts as a fitness tracker. Its rear sensor takes heart rate readings and it can count steps. Built-in storage means it can also do music playback with wireless headphones. Sifting though tracks and finding new music is pretty straightforward. It tells the time too.
I particularly liked the map app. It could zero in my location and took full advantage of the bezel to zoom in and out of maps. It’s a cool app but the bigger screen of a phone is still likely to be a more practical navigation option in most cases.
The messaging function is a winner. It allowed me to easily send preset responses. I was also able to respond by tapping away at tiny predictive text keyboard. If my hands were full, I could also use S Voice, which worked like a charm. My expectations were admittedly low but it was pretty usable given its tiny size.
There were several preloaded apps. These included Nike Running, Bloomberg and CNN. A quick glance through the Gear app store also revealed a slew of others.
This said, it's early days for the S2 and the Tizen platform. The availability of apps is limited compared to Android Wear or Apple’s watch. Samsung say that there are around 1000 apps available so far, which isn’t too shabby at all.
While reviewers may grizzle about the lack of apps for the Gear S2, I'm not too worried. Spending time with any smartwatch quickly highlights what functionality really matters. In this case, most of the apps I’m ever likely to need are already bundled.
What matters the most with a smartwatch is its usability and battery life. The Gear S2 excels at both. Battery life is a solid 3 days with the S2’s default settings enabled (e.g. its display shuts down when not in use). Charging is a breeze, slipping the S2 onto its wireless charging dock took only an hour or two to fully charge it up.
I first paired the S2 up with my Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge plus. I then tried it with a Huawei P8 and the Sony Z5 compact, it worked like a charm with both. For the gear S2 to work with non-Samsung phones, they must have android 4.1 (or later) and 1.5-2Gb of RAM.
The Gear S2 is a great smartwatch. On the usability front, its bezel navigation system is intuitive. Handing the S2 to friends to check out was a telling exercise. In all cases they pretty much picked up its quirks in mere moments. Great usability, excellent design and solid battery life make the Gear S2 a winner.