It takes something pretty special to stand out from the crowd in the smart wearable space. With new smartwatches and bands launching on a weekly basis, there’s lots of noise and plenty of confusion. Samsung must be aware of this, having launched their 6th smartwatch, the Gear S.
Standing out from the me-too crowd isn't a problem for the Gear S. Its sexy big curved touchscreen is a real attention grabber.
Display aside, the big news is that Samsung baked 3G into it. With 3G and Wi-Fi baked in, it can make and receive calls. You can also check messages and use it as a GPS – there’s no need for a separate phone.
At least until you decide to add custom watch faces, or other apps – for that you’ll need a Samsung phone running Android 4.3 or later.
Look and Feel
Design-wise, the Gear S speaks the same language as the Gear range. Featuring a 2” curved AMOLED screen, it has a 360x480 resolution. Unlike the Gear Fit its screen feels bigger even if it is still rectangular.
The most noticeable feature of the Gear S is its gorgeous AMOLED screen. Not only is it ultra-vivid; it’s big too. I found that scrolling through apps was a hell of a lot like using a small smartphone. 2” mightn’t sound like a lot but on a wrist the Gear S did feel big and as they say, size matters.
Flipping the Gear 2 over reveals a Nano-SIM slot, plus a heart rate sensor. Its SIM slot is well sealed with a rubberised gasket and the Gear S is IP67 water resistant. This means its fine for taking a shower with but you’d want to avoid extended dunkings such as a swimming.
The Gear S pops out of its wide white rubber wrist strap. The downside of this is that strap customisation options are limited to Gear S accessories.
The Gear S packs a 300mAh battery which gives two days of use, depending on screen settings. Using the power saver mode allows the Gear S to use low-light clock display that stays on.
Keeping the Gear S charged is a doddle – even when on the move. Samsung have added an extra 350 mAh battery into the charger which means you can charge the Gear S even when away from a wall socket.
Navigation is also intuitive. Swiping and pressing the small home button in its front screen is all you need to do to get to notifications and applications.
Comfort wise, my initial concerns about the Gear 2 catching on sleeves and getting in the way proved unfounded. I frequently forgot I was wearing it until I needed to make a call.
Under the Hood
The Gear S is bristling with sensors. It has an accelerometer, gyroscope, compass, heart rate and UV plus barometric sensors. It’s not lacking on the connectivity front either - Wi-Fi (802.11 b/g/n), Bluetooth 4.1, and 3G are all baked in.
Where other smart watches need a phone to store music files, The Gear S which has 4GB of storage available and can hold music.
A built in Mic and speaker lets you make/receive calls and you can also drive the Gear S using the S Voice app for Siri like voice commands.
Phone calls can be made over 3G, 2G and Bluetooth (when paired to a phone), but not over Wi-Fi. This could be a non-issue going forwards should Skype or a similar app pop up in the future.
Texting and email is also possible using an on-screen QWERTY keyboard. While it makes good use of the 2” screen, it is more suited for short messages. Writing war and peace would most likely be an exercise in frustrating and typos.
Sporty types will also like the fitness tracking smarts built into the Gear 2. It can track runs with GPS and its running app transforms it into a fuel-compatible fitness widget. Samsung S Health app also lets you checking your heart rate.
I didn't get a chance to check out what apps are available, but Samsung have said that there’ll be over 1,000 Tizen apps that’ll work with it.
This said, the collection of pre-installed apps on the Gear 2 is comprehensive. I found the turn-by-turn navigation capabilities of the HERE app particularly useful. I also caught myself stealing glances at the 24-hour news app which has content from The Financial Times.
There’s a lot to like with the Gear S. Having a phone on your wrist is dead handy. Especially if like me, you often leave your phone at home or the office. As you'd expect, some compromises are inevitable.
It is amazing that Samsung have crammed an entire 3G smartphone into a wrist-sized timepiece. Lugging a headset about so my fellow office workers weren’t subjected to the Gear S speakerphone was a hassle.
Given the watch-sized form factor of the Gear S and its bright screen, I was also surprised with its 2 day battery life. If a set and forget watch is something you value, charging the Gear S every 48 hours might not appeal.
These minor issues aside, the Gear S is definitely worth checking out.
Network: (2G) GSM 900/1800/850/1900 (3G) HSDPA 900/2100/ 850/1900
Wi-Fi: 802.11 b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.1
GPS: Yes, with A-GPS, GLONASS
Dimensions: 58.1 x 39.9 x 12.5 mm
Water resistance: IP67 certified (Water resistant up to 1 meter for 30 minutes)
Display: AMOLED touchscreen, 360 x 480 pixels, 2.0” (300 ppi)
Memory: 512 MB RAM
Storage: 4 GB
USB: microUSB v2.0
CPU: Dual-core 1 GHz
Sensors: Accelerometer, gyro, proximity, compass, heart rate, barometer, UV light
Battery: Non-removable Li-Ion 300 mAh battery