So the Samsung Gear S2 is finally available, and we're starting to get some quality time with Samsung's Tizen-powered smartwatch. We came away from our hands-on in Berlin a month ago pleasantly surprised by the look and feel of the watch itself, as as well as by the initial performance of the alternative operating system.
There's a lot to learn here. A lot of new things to get used to.
But we've already figured out a few things that you'll definitely need to know as you head into your time with the Gear S2.
The Gear S2 works with a good number of Android phones
Probably the biggest news to come out of the announcement of the Gear S2 was that for the first time a Samsung smartwatch will work on more than just Samsung devices. Not that Samsung is a small ecosystem or anything, but we've long been proponents of Samsung opening things up to other phones.
It'll work with the latest from Samsung, of course, including the Note 5 and the Galaxy S6 models. But if you're not rocking one of those, the Gear S2 also will work with most anything running Android 4.4 and up, so long as it has at least 1.5GB of RAM.
For a more specific list of what Samsung official says will work, check out this page.
You've got some setup work to do
Once you've got the watch, you've got to get it paired with a phone. And to do that you're going to need the Gear Manager app. If you're on a Samsung phone you can get it through the Galaxy Apps store. (Click here to get there directly.) In fact, that's the only place you will get the Gear Manager app, because Samsung's made it unavailable to Samsung phones in Google Play. (Annoying, but I get it.) If you're not on a Samsung phone, you'll be getting the Gear Manager app from Google Play. Here's the link.
Once you've got the Gear Manager installed, you'll pair the watch, then pick which apps from your phone you want to kick notifications over. And it's worth spending a little time in the settings, to see what else you can monkey with.
It works decently with Google apps
The big question for me, coming from using Android Android Wear full-time for more than a year, is how the things I currently do will work on a Samsung smartwatch running Tizen. I archive a lot of email from my wrist in Gmail. I reply to a lot of things in Hangouts by speaking. And when I'm home I tend to control Google Play Music from my watch.
The Gear S2 has hooks for all of these apps. (And I'm still finding my way through others. It's maybe not quite as elegant as Android Wear — I'm still getting used to bezel-twisting-and-tapping paradigm, and Samsung tends to have tiny touch points compared to the one-action-per-screen you'll find on Android Wear. But it's absolutely better than nothing, and that keeps me from immediately wanting to put the watch down.
Again, it's still way early for me and the Gear S2. But some of the Google functions I use most are working very well thus far — we'll have to see what limitations we come across in longer-term testing.
You can set a custom wake-up phrase
But what about Google Now and the "OK Google" hotphrase? Samsung has it's S Voice, of course. And while it'll take some getting used to — and we'll have to see how the two directly compare for speed, accuracy and results — S Voice has gotten pretty good over the years.
Plus, you can set a custom wake word. So you're not shackled to "OK Google" or "Heya, Samsung!" (In fact, it prefers if you use something that's more than just a couple syllables.
It comes with two sets of straps
We pointed this out in our unboxing, but it's worth repeating: The Gear S2 comes with two sizes of rubber straps. The large size is what you'll find already on the box. (And for what it's worth it it's what I'm using.) There's also a small set that you can swap in as well. And even "size" is maybe a bit confusing — both sets of straps are the same thickness, the only difference between them is length. So if you have a larger wrist, you'll want the large set so that you can properly strap them together. If you have smaller wrists, you can use the small set so there isn't a ton of extra strap hanging past where you need it. You can also mix the large and small ones, if you really want to customize the length.
Unfortunately, the straps aren't a standard shape and size — you'll have to replace them with Samsung straps if you want a different color or look. (That's not the case on the Gear S2 Classic, but that's another article.)
Apps are kinda limited, for now
Unlike Android Wear, which piggybacks the watch apps off the apps that are already on your phone, Samsung's Gear S2 requires separate downloads. When we first demoed the Gear S2 at the IFA conference in Berlin, we were greeted by a plethora of apps. (Basically the watches were running everything developers had ready to go that worked decently enough to show journalists.)
But if you look through Samsung's apps as it stands today, things are a bit more sparse. In fact, most of the apps that we were told would be on the watch when it launched ... aren't quite available for the Gear S2 just yet. That will change, of course. Hopefully sooner rather than later, and we'll keep an eye on things to see how quickly the app stable starts to fill out.
Just don't be surprised if you don't find something you expected to see.
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