With all the smartwatches on market, I think it would be fine if I focused on reviewing some of those most interesting. I’ve been reviewing some Samsung Gear devices already last year on Samsung Magazine and now i’m bringing the review here in English language.
When it comes to smartwatch, we can’t say that these devices will flood the market. The reasons are pretty simple. First, they run out battery pretty quickly when compared to casual wristwatches. Second, no matter what brand of smartwatches you use, they will never grow their value, unlike traditional watches from manufacturers such as Rolex, Patek Philippe or Cartier. So, it’s still consumer device, which also makes them cheaper and available for pretty much anyone. For example, the Samsung Gear 2 that I’m about to review in next lines, now cost about 200€ or even less, if you choose the cheaper Gear 2 Neo model.
As for the design, Samsung Gear 2 shows that it’s a next-generation device, but not a new device. The body is made from plastic and metal in front, accompanied by the traditional glass on front. In my opinion the decision to use plastic is wrong, because a man would expect more premium materials from a watch. On the other hand, plastic is pretty much needed here as the device has to communicate with your Galaxy smartphone using Bluetooth LE antenna.
Gear Manager, Software
Samsung Gear 2 can also run without your smartphone nearby. However, the phone is needed to configure your watch, to install apps and updates and to synchronize data from watch to your phone. It all starts after you turn them on for the first time. There, they would ask you to connect Gear 2 to the phone. To pair and configure these devices, you need to install the Gear Manager app first. You can download it for free from Samsung Apps store. It works similarly in case of Gear Fit, where you need to install a separate app called Gear Fit Manager. But, what would these manager apps allow you to do? They will allow you to change the background, customize the watch face, organize the homescreen and of course, they will allow you to download additional apps from the store. There’s lot of them right now and you can even find some games here, like Pac-Man. But the Pac-man ain’t what you’re buying a smartwatch for. When it comes to apps, I prefer productive apps more than games, which is the reason why I downloaded the calculator and QR reader. Just like in case of recently released Apple Watch, here you will download an app to your smartphone, which will be then accompanied by an app that’s installed to the Samsung Gear smartwatch.
At the time I wrote the original review, not all apps were fully optimized. That’s the case of above mentioned QR Reader, which had a coding error that made the app keep the camera to itself, resulting in being unable to launch basic camera app. There was even a case when whole watch froze for a few seconds. This was an programming error, that was most likely been fixed since then. Ironically, the app was made by Samsung and not from a third-party developer.
Phone calls on your wrist? Not a sci-fi anymore
I didn’t have problem with using other apps. There was no problem with reading received e-mails, text messages, nor phone calls. The ability of making calls through your wrist is something that will make you feel like James Bond for a while. When you hear voice of your folks coming from watch for the first time, it feels weird. Even after some time, you won’t phone through the watch on public. Partly because it looks weird, but mostly because of privacy – you don’t want other people to hear what you’re talking about. Samsung Gear 2 don’t have an audio jack, so you’re forced to use the loudspeaker and the built mic. It won’t be a big problem when you’re in your own office or at home, however. Just imagine a situation where you’re writing a review and somebody will call you. Instead of holding the phone in one hand and writing a review with other one, you will just accept the call on your watch and then you will continue to use both hands to do the work. As for calls, Gear will vibrate.
…and the same applies to camera
Making photos using your watch is, again, something you’ve seen in movies. Samsung Gear 2 include a Full HD camera that will take photos in 1080 x 1080 resolution and records videos in 720p or 640×640 square resolutions. Thus, you can change the quality of your recordings. Due to technical limitations, recorded videos may take up to 16 seconds and are saved in 3GP resolution (last-decade Nokia, anyone?). Gear is basically using the file format that was about to vanish due to MPEG-4 container. The camera is a controversial feature.
People will easily think that with a smartwatch, you can spy on them and make their photos, but this ain’t much true. When taking a photo or recording a video, Gear will make sounds so pretty much everybody knows that you’ve just taken a photo. As for the quality, you may be wondered that smartwatch can do photos like this. In reality, you will use the camera only when you need to do a quick shot of something, like f.e. the pigeon walking on ped crossing instead of flying from one side of the road to another. Photos look impressive on your phone’s screen, but won’t look that good on your computer’s display or a TV. Here, they will look like they were taken using a 2008 device.
One of the most important things is the battery life. It is positively affected by the operating system, as Gear 2 use modified Tizen OS. Interestingly enough, apps are made so they are compatible both with your Android smartphone and with the Tizen OS. When testing the battery life of Gear 2, I made a few calls, I’ve been doing photos, had permanently active pedometer and finally, I’ve been using it from time to time as remote control for my TV. By using them this way, I managed to achieve 3 days of battery life on a single charge. This also confirms that smartwatch may last more than just a few hours.
One of those longer-lasting activities include movement and sports. Samsung Gear 2 work also as a fitness tracker, which is also one of a few features that work without the need of smartphone. S Health will count steps, show running time and finally, they can measure your heart rate. For tihs, Samsung included its Heart Rate Sensor (available also on select smartphones that were available since 2013) on the bottom of watch. With watch, you don’t need to find the correct position of phone’s rear sensoes in order to measure these stats. Only thing you have to do, is just to wear the device. However you need to stay still and can’t talk for the while when watch are measuring your heart rate. In other words, you should sit down, put the hand on your desk and wait. The time needed for measuring the heart rate varies on how tight you worn them. If you wear them loose, measuring will take too long and watch may even be unable to do the job. Measurements are then synchronized with the S Health app on your phone. This app also encourages users to start doing physical exercise. You will get achievements and medals for your activity.
Display and controls
I’ve spent pretty much time talking about functions, but how is the most important feature of a smartwatch – the display? Samsung Gear 2 include a Home Button under the screen (which will be probably removed from next Gear). It’s presence is useful since many have complained about complicated controls. Gear 2 interface can be controlled by gestures and the Home Button. Gestures will allow you to go back in menus (downwards). Home Button will be used to go back to the home screen and to turn off the display. This is done by double-clicking the button, but you can set a different function when you want to, like opening an app. Using the display is pretty simple, though receiving a call may be a little bit harder since sometimes you will miss the green button. The display itself is bright and readable on direct sun, though it varies on battery status. When watch tick from last, the display is very dark and pretty much unreadable. Because they want to be turned on for the longest time possible, they will block you from opening any app when the battery is very low.
Samsung released it’s second-gen Gear smartwatch and you can see that this is a new generation rather than a new model. The biggest problems were fixed and device was enriched with new functions and the Tizen OS operating system instead of Android that was used in the original Galaxy Gear. You can expect better design, since the camera is not integrated to the band but the watch itself and they also include Home Button, which makes the navigation a lot easier. Front side is made from glass and metal, while the rear is dominated by plastic. This isn’t something we would expect from a watch.
Samsung Gear 2 will connect to the phone using Bluetooth LE antenna and will synchronize content very quickly. You will notice this when receiving a call. The watch will start to vibrate at the same time your phone will start ringing. The ability to accept calls is good, since you can leave your phone on a charger or in your pocket. Watch itself are able to work without phone connected to it. But, you have to mind limitations – you won’t receive notifications. Watch include a 4GB flash memory which also works as a temporary storage for photos, before being sent to your phone. Primarily, it serves as a storage for apps and additional watch faces that can be downloaded from the Samsung Apps store. Moving apps was, in this case, clumsy, but it’s possible it was fixed since writing the review.
Gear 2 include a camera, but it won’t replace your smartphone. It’s a camera for use in certain situations and the quality is sufficient enough. It works offline, just like fitness functions, that are synchronized with your phone when it becomes available. The app motivates you by bringing you achievements, medals and even tasks to do, if you want to get healthy as soon as possible.
Finally, the battery. It is important on any watch and in case of Samsung Gear 2 it may last up to three days of typical usage. This means you will charge them 2 times a week and you won’t be worried whether the watch will last whole tomorrow. For charging, you will use a special adaptor that you will connect to charger using a USB cable.