|+ Sharp display||- Disapointting snapper|
|+ Battery lasts 48 hours||- Fiddly software|
|+ Quality build||- Pricey|
|- Unreliable accelerometer|
"The Gear 2 features a number of small tweaks that create a better smartwatch – but it is still not great. We like the fitness and health features and S health will be improved after it is simplified. But it doesn’t offer enough for £250. Play with it in the shop and you’ll be impressed, but we think the novelty will soon wear off."
Everyone likes the idea of a smartwatch, but last year’s Samsung Galaxy Gear smartwatch didn’t really cut the mustard – it was too awkward, too big and to pricey to encourage everyone to have one on their wrist. Samsung has had another shot at the market with the Gear 2. This time Android has been rejected in favour of Samsung’s own Tizen OS, the snapper now sits on the watcher rather than the strap, and a heart rate monitor has been included to grab the interest of fitness fans. Is it enough to persuade us all to wear a smartwatch this year? Let’s find out.
A smartwatch has to get the basics right if it is to tempt anyone away from wearing a normal watch. It goes without saying that it needs to show the time, but we found the display often failed to light up when we needed it. The user should be able to flick the wrist to make that happen, but we found the display often stayed blank, even when we tried a really exaggerated move, which got us a few odd looks on the bus. The accelerometer is clearly not wholly reliable – and we ended up checking the time on our phone instead.
The solution is to ensure the accelerometer works accurately, or to offer a display that is lit at all times (LG has promised this with its new Android Wear watch, which is due for release later in the year).
The other issue with smartwatch screens is that they need to be bright enough to see outdoors without being so bright that they are intrusive when you’re at the cinema for instance. Smartphones do this by using a sensor to alter the brightness according to the ambient light – but the Gear 2 doesn’t benefit from this. It means that if you adjust the brightness indoors, when you head outside and need to alter it to be visible in bright sunlight, you can’t actually see the screen to delve into the settings to do this. You can though, hold down the Home key, which pops up a screen that houses Outdoor Mode.
These issues make a big difference with a device like a smartwatch, and unreliability is not a tempting feature. Also Samsung has provided a cheap plastic dock, which you need to connect to the cable in order to charge the device via microUSB – we reckon the dock is far too easy to lose, and yet without it you won’t be able to charge your smartwatch.
However, looking at the hardware, we see that the snapper now sits in the watch rather than the strap (which means you can use any strap you like). The Samsung strap is rubber and has a metal clasp that makes it simple to fit to any wrist size and locks securely. The watch is made of plastic, glass and has a brushed metal finish – you wouldn’t mistake it for a traditional watch that’s for sure. Google, meanwhile, has gone down the opposite route with its Android Wear smartwatch.
It’s no wider than a normal watch, coming in at 38mm, but measuring 59m high, it’s certainly not small. In fact it wouldn’t fit under a shirt sleeve, and attracted a lot of attention when I wore it due to the fact that the screen kept lighting up and that it was so big. Weighing 68g, you won’t ever forget you’re wearing it.
The Gear 2 is both water and dust resistant so will survive a rain shower but you’ll need to remember to take it off if you have a bath or go swimming.
The screen is vivid, big at 1.63 inches and offers a resolution of 320 x 320. Viewing angles are impressive, icons look crisp, and text looks well rounded. Its reactions are quick and you can even pinch to zoom when taking snaps on the camera, which is a 2-megapixel model.
The brightness is set at one of six levels – the last one being Outdoor Mode – but note that this only works for five minutes in order to conserve battery life. Glance at the watch after that and you may struggle to see it if you’re still outside.
Android has been ditched on the Gear 2 and replaced with Samsung’s own Tizen operating system. Not that it looks a whole lot different. You’ll see a home screen, with app and time shortcuts, plus pages of apps on the left and right.
Fitness fans will note the heart rate monitor, and a pedometer for tracking how far you walk, run, cycle or hike. You can take photos with the snapper, and make and receive calls.
Under the hood sits a 1Ghz dual-core chip teamed with 512MB RAM, which means the watch performs well. It’s responsive and apps fire up quickly. With a small screen you can’t expect the same level of interaction as you experience with a smartphone, but it’s still not bad.
It is also possible to set up the Home key to perform certain tasks when it’s double-pressed, such as firing up the camera app.
The battery should last from two to three days according to Samsung and our own tests seemed to agree with this. With the pedometer on constantly, Bluetooth on, and varying levels of screen brightness, the battery lasted for a good two days – with minimal use, it should last into a third day.
Rivalling the likes of the Nike Fuelband and Fitbit exercise trackers, the Gear 2 is able to measure your heart rate and track your cycling, running and walking. The data is sent to your Samsung Galaxy phone via Bluetooth and used with the S Health app. It’s a pity that the Galaxy S5 and Gear 2 don’t work in sync. Your footsteps won’t be the same on both devices (we found the discrepancy could be as much as 2,000 steps), which is rather odd. Also bear in mind that you have to use the Gear 2 in tandem with a Samsung Galaxy device – it’s not a standalone smartwatch.
The heart rate monitor is far easier to use – just tap the app, hit start, and stay still while it gets started. It takes around 12 seconds to get the first reading – but it didn’t work first time all the time, and we would have to adjust the strap and try again. This is a good feature for anyone who runs or does other regular exercise – the S Health app puts all your readings onto a graph so you can monitor how your heart rate changes as you exercise.
If you want some tunes while you run, it is possible to store music on the 4GM of onboard memory. Play it through the device’s own speakers (which are really only good for phone calls) or Bluetooth speakers or headphones. Use Samsung’s WatchON Remote and you can take control of the TV and set-top box too.
The Gear 2 also features S Voice, so you can use voice commands as you can on a Samsung smartphone. Tap the icon and then say, for instance, ‘Text John message, see you at six’ or ‘wake me at 6am’ to set the alarm. It is also possible to find an address, make a call, see what the weather’s going to be like or check the calendar.
The Gear 2 certainly has lots of features, and there are some great ones, but many of then are available on a smartphone and we can’t see why it should be any better to have them on a watch.
We also experienced some software issues – one evening the Gear 2 would not wake up for several hours, and once we managed to reset it it had lost most of its charge. On another occasion, the device needed a software update but failed to warn me, instead just informing me once the connection to the S5 had been disconnected.
We love the idea of a smartwatch, but none of those available at present really do the job properly. The Gear 2 is no exception. It has improved on the Galaxy Gear – it’s light and just about small enough to wear without too many issues but it just isn’t easy enough to use.
Hopefully Samsung will sort out the issue with waking up the screen so that it responds to a light wrist movement, and fit an ambient light sensor in the next version. At least this will mean that the Gear will work well as a watch.
|Dimensions:||36.9 x 58.4 x 10mm|
|Screen size:||1.63 inch Super AMOLED display|
|Screen Resolution:||320 x 320 pixels|
|Processor:||1.2GHz dual core|
|Operating System:||Samsung Tizen|
|Colours:||Charcoal Black, Gold Brown, and Wild Orange|
|Launch Date:||Out Now|
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