Samsung has created a beautiful smartwatch, with smooth lines and innovative elements.
The Samsung Gear S2 review has our definitive take on the new smartwatch, with all of the details covered. Being a smartwatch doesn't mean that it's less deserving of a second opinion though.
I've been using the Sony Smartwatch 3 for a while, as it was the best fit on my wrist out of the Android Wear offerings we've seen so far, but I've been looking forward to something a bit smaller and sleeker. I switched to give the Gear S2 a shot, and see if it's size and design could make up for running on Tizen instead of Android Wear. I've been using it now for a week, paired with a Samsung Galaxy S6 edge.
Here are my thoughts on the newest wrist computer from Samsung.
Small wrists matter
Gear S2 Hardware
One of the things that really drew me in about the Gear S2 was the size. Unlike many of the behemoth watches on the market right now, it's small enough that it almost looks normal on my little wrists. I've talked about my problems with finding a smartwatch that fits before, so for me size definitely matters. The Gear S2 is smaller, and light enough that it doesn't feel bulky or get in the way like larger models. It felt like a normal wristwatch, not like the wrist computer that it is.
The display is gorgeous with vibrant colors that really popped, on a screen a bit larger than the one I'd been used to. The size of the screen really fit well with the design of the watch without seeming too big or becoming clunky on my wrist. There isn't any automatic brightness function for the screen, which can be problematic if you're constantly going between inside and outside. I kept the screen at 70% brightness and it served pretty well for the most part. It was never particularly difficult to read the screen, and all the colors were vibrant against a dark background.
I found myself using the bezel over the touch screen almost immediately.
This watch rocks a sturdy stainless steel case, and I had the dark grey version. I liked the both the look and feel of the casing. It's got a solid feel that didn't make me paranoid about using it, and it's designed to actually look like a watch instead of a screen on your wrist. It's a circular display which looks fantastic. Surrounding the display is a circular rotating bezel, you can use to navigate through many of the screens. I found myself using the bezel rather than the touch screen almost immediately, and loving the way it worked, clicking slightly as I moved back and forth from screen to screen.
The side of the Gear S2 has two buttons that will help with any navigational issues you have with the smartwatch. The top right is a back button, that will take you back a screen when you're within the depths of these apps. On the bottom right is an ever so slightly smaller button that will take you home. Both the placement and size worked for me, while they protrude slightly from the side it doesn't take away from the overall sleek look of the device. I know plenty of people think they look ugly, but I prefer they be right where they are. As much as I enjoy Android Wear, these buttons make it easier to get around, rather than relying on swiping around the screen.
The only thing I wasn't an immediate fan of on the hardware side were the straps. The rubber watch band just doesn't have the same feel as the rest of the Gear S2. Trying to get everything adjusted correctly is a pain as usual — at least if you have tiny wrists like I do. You can expect fighting to get the correct fit, and have to adjust it a few times. That being said, once you find the right fit, it does sit comfortably for the most part. I say most part because if you have to ratchet the straps down the rubber watch bands can rub uncomfortably. Samsung does make other straps for the Gear S2, but as of right now there isn't a local store where I can just walk in and touch one to see what I'd like.
Samsung has the hardware design nailed, as far as my wrist is concerned. More manufacturers need to step into this space, and they need to do so quickly. Being able to comfortably wear this watch makes a lot of other tiny issues easier to deal with, which we'll talk about next.
Better, but still awkward
Gear S2 Software and performance
Let me be real clear, I don't usually pay a ton of attention to the specs for my watch. I don't care which processor is under the glass, how much RAM is onboard, or anything like that. The experience is all that matters, and Tizen seems to offer quite the experience with noticeably less hardware than your average Android Wear watch. The dual core 1GHz Pega-W processor felt just as performant as the quad core Snapdragon 400 you find in just about everything else.
At the same time, using a Tizen watch was quite noticeable. I was definitely used to the streamlined feel of Android Wear UI, so the switch was jarring. There were serious issues when I first got started. Not all smartphones are compatible so before I even got started I had to make sure that I had one that would communicate. I wound up pairing it to a Samsung S6 Edge in the hopes that things would be as uncomplicated as possible with all Samsung products.
I was definitely used to the streamlined feel of Android Wear, so the switch was jarring.
Even with the Galaxy S6 edge, getting everything set up was tricky. When I went to download the required Samsung Gear app through the Google Play Store I got a message that it wasn't a compatible device. I got that message when using a Samsung phone to pair with the Samsung watch. Instead I had to go to the Samsung store to download the app, and from there I was set. With a Samsung phone you only need one app to work everything, but all other compatible phones require three different apps to get through set up. Compared to how easy it is to get an Android Wear watch up and running, this experience was a real pain. Samsung really needs to explain this better, or just let people use the Play Store when they want to use the Play Store.
While you can navigate through everything by touchscreen, it's almost easier with the innovative rotating bezel. That's probably because Tizen packs in a ton of content and moving through it all can get complicated. Using the bezel means that the screen isn't obscured by swiping, and you can move through everything a bit easier. It's a very clever, and well done feature that I basically fell in love with.
There are a number of widgets installed, and available on the Gear S2. For the most part they seem designed well and are actually helpful. You get access to S health, a heartbeat sensor, step counter, and remote access to any music you have playing. You can easily adjust which widgets you're using, and the way that they work are pretty fantastic. My favorite two widgets were the remote access to Pandora, along with the heart rate monitor. The ability to easily skip or pause tracks while I was out for a run was absolutely fantastic. The heart rate monitor did it's job easily, but also let me tag each entry with the activity I'd been engaged in, along with telling me if my rate was high for that activity.
While you can access the customize options from your phone, you can actually do most of your stylizing right from the Gear S2.
There's plenty hidden under the surface of Tizen too.There are over a dozen different preloaded watch faces available within the watch, most of which can be customized to your liking. They don't all look alike either, and the stylize options allow you to definitely choose something with personal flair. While you can access the customize options from your phone, you can do most of your customizing right from the Gear S2. It can be easy to get lost in the menus or accidentally select something and have to start over, but it's interesting to see so many options available direct from your smartwatch.
If you don't like what you see, you can also take a look in the Samsung store for other watch faces. There are a few, but the selection is right about nil compared to the offerings over on Android Wear. In fact overall, I wasn't exactly over the moon about the selection in the Samsung app store.There weren't many apps that caught my eye, and even the ones that did just didn't hold up the way I am used to.
Gear S2 Battery life
When it came to battery life for the Samsung Gear S2, I was pleasantly surprised. Even with the smaller size, and only rocking a 250 mAh battery it goes all day — and then some. I am notorious for forgetting to charge my devices and it's easy to do with the Gear S2. I got somewhere between 24 and 36 hours at a clip depending on how much I was using it, which is about half of what Samsung promised with their "2-3 day" estimation but more than enough for someone like me. I left the brightness at 70 percent which probably helps quite a bit, and I never really had many apps running.
Coming from the Sony Smartwatch 3, I really did love the charging setup. The Gear S2 charges wirelessly in a small cradle. Being able to just plug the cradle in, and set the smartwatch on it was fantastic. You'll always know you're getting a secure connection for the charge from the fact that the Gear S2 attached magnetically. There is also an indicator light that will glow red when charging to let you know everything is plugged in correctly.
This isn't new with smartwatches, but Samsung's implementation looks great. It's easy to sit pretty much anywhere when you're actively charging along with being small and generally unobtrusive. While it is bulkier than a simple charging cable, the port lets you see your screen while it's charging and you can always easily tell if you're charging correctly. Considering the number of cords I've killed over the years without realizing it, easy charging that I can check at a glance seems like something every smartwatch should do.
Gear S2 Bottom line
The Samsung Gear S2 manages to do some things very well, but there's still a lot of room to grow. This is a beautifully designed smartwatch, from that innovative rotating bezel that lets you navigate without swiping, to a beautifully bright screen, to a sleek overall design. This smaller than usual offering is aesthetically fantastic, and feels great in your hand or on your wrist.
The software is where things fall a bit short. While the Gear S2 handles plenty of things well, the installation issues and lackluster offerings in the Samsung store can leave you wanting. Moving over to Tizen from Android Wear is an experience, and it isn't for everyone. Given time, and a healthy mix of developer and consumer interest, a lot of this could change for the better.
You can trade aesthetics for the full offerings from the Play Store, and it isn't a terrible trade.
While I'd probably be happier with an Android Wear watch in this shape and size, this is still an awesome offering from Samsung. Even more important, the Gear S2 is a massive leap in visual appeal from the previous generation of Samsung watches, both in hardware and software. You can trade aesthetics for the full offerings from the Play Store, and it isn't a terrible trade. It's an impressive demonstration of what the company is capable of in relatively little time, which is enough to keep me interested in seeing how the Gear S2 does this year.