Watches today are more than just timepieces. While there are many watches that offer split-timing and countdown capabilities for more than 30 years already, more and more watches now include performance metrics for the avid athlete. Over the past year or two, many of the smartphone OEMs have dabbled in the newly created “smartwatch” market, some more successful than others. Unlike watches that do a few things well, smartwatches, the Swiss-army knife of watches, are expected to provide quite a number of useful features to be used on a daily basis.
Samsung last year launched the first Galaxy Gear alongside the Galaxy Note 3, but as a ‘standalone’ device, bought outside of a contract pairing with the Note 3, the device was nothing more than a disappointment to many. Fast forward a few months, to the release of the Galaxy S5, and Samsung were back at it for a second attempt at the Galaxy Gear, this time offering 3 new variants, the Gear Fit, the Galaxy Gear Neo, and the Galaxy Gear 2. Although it appears by all means that the Galaxy Gear 2 is a much better device than its predecessor, it still begs the question as to whether you’d want to own one.
Build and Design
Having previously reviewed the Gear Fit, a slimmer device designed specifically to monitor your fitness (along with a few additional bells and whistles), the Gear 2 (and Gear 2 Neo) is a much chunkier device. There are a few reasons for this, mainly because it has a camera embedded in the body, as well as the ability to accept and make calls, and in some rare form, able to reply to text messages (for those still using them). While it may be larger than the Gear Fit, it is still much sleeker, thinner, lighter, and more comfortable than last year’s Gear, which seemed less like a watch, and more like a walking statement, “look at me and my giant, pretentious accessory.”
At the heart of the Gear 2 is its 1.63” Super AMOLED screen, which has a 320x320px resolution display. The glass screen is surrounded by a brushed metal body, with no evidence of any screws or connection points. On the top side (pointing away from the user) you’ll find a 2MP camera (with Autofocus) with an IR blaster right next to it, while on the front side (pointing inward), you’ll find the main button, which doubles as a power button. On the previous version, the camera was sort of build into the non-removable strap, which made it look both ugly and stupid. The heart monitor on the Gear 2 is situated underneath the main body, which will rest atop of your wrist to measure your heart rate. The straps, this time around, are interchangeable, with a basic palette of four colours, and a wide assortment of different styles, both from Samsung and 3rd parties. The unit also carries an IP67 certificate, which makes it dust and water resistant. Just in terms of build and design, the Gear 2 already surpasses the original in leaps and bounds, and looks like a device many would wear.
Performance and Features
Since we are still technically discussing a watch, comparing its hardware to anything in the smartphone category is futile, and irrelevant. Be that as it may, for those for whom it matters, the Gear 2 sports a Dual-Core 1GHz CPU at its core, along with a 300mAh battery. It may not seem very impressive, but, then again, being able to tell time, amongst a few additional features doesn’t require much oomph. The 300mAh battery is capable of lasting a full week between charges if used at a minimum. Comparing to the original, which lasted only one day between charges, and with a 315mAh battery to boot, Samsung have dug deep to get an average of 3-4 days between charges when used more frequently.
Before getting too hyped up on the improved looks and battery performance, the Gear 2 still suffers a great deal due to the lack of apps it integrates to. While many of the Samsung-based apps will work sufficiently well, along with sending the correct notifications, any 3rd party applications using any form of notifications seem to suffer a bit, beyond the normal function of displaying text. Although it is stated earlier that the Gear 2 is able to respond to messages, this is limited to text messages, along with the additional limitations of using S Voice or included templates. The heart-rate monitor and pedometer tracking are still quite a nifty features to have, but, as with the Gear Fit, are not as precise as you’d hope to accurately measure your running patterns, or monitor your heart for anyone with a condition.
The 2MP camera, although useful for moments you cannot afford to miss, isn’t a replacement for your smartphone camera, or even that of the more techie, standalone cameras. For those thinking that it would make a nifty spy tool, you may find it a little disappointing, as users cannot mute the camera shutter sound, while being able to mute all other sounds. The 2MP camera on the Gear 2 doesn’t deliver much improvement over the 1.9MP camera on the Gear, but there is the additional capability of being able to record 720p video.
One simple feature I found quite useful is the inclusion of the IR blaster and the accompanying Smart Remote software, which enables users to tune into any IR device and communicate via the Gear 2. Although it does appear to be useful in the home, I spent most of my time using the IR blaster in public, often at work, and, for the odd amusement, at certain stores. Many people didn’t seem to realise that the IR blaster was built into the watch, so I could get away with quite a lot before anyone realised, if they did. I would not advise anyone to try this, though, as you could end up in some trouble with security.
There’s no doubting the progress that Samsung has made on the Galaxy Gear 2 over the original smartwatch, and they should deserve credit for it. It may look similar, but if compared side by side, you’d swear the one of a knock-off. Be that as it may, there is still sufficient evidence to suggest that the smartwatch is a device that will trend in the market. With improved accuracy with its S Health software, one could make a valid argument against my previous statement. Beyond looking the part, the Samsung Gear 2 isn’t a breakthrough in the smartwatch market, but does keep time pretty decently, while being able to customise the clock interface.
At around R4,000 it isn’t cheap either, and users looking to monitor their fitness progress have many watch options (with GPS tracking) that are much more affordable. In addition, there is also a R1,000 premium over the Gear 2 Neo, which essentially is less the 2MP camera. So if you do want to get your hands on one, I’d recommend the Gear 2 Neo over the Gear 2.