Samsung started off in wearables with the Galaxy Gear, which was pretty terrible, and followed it up with a series of Gear watches that showed steady, but marginal improvement. They'd never quite reached a point where I could tell somebody "No, you won't regret forking over your hard-earned cash for one of those." In fact, I'd actively discourage people from getting any of them, with the closest I could recommend being the still-pretty-bad Gear Live running Android Wear.
But now I'm conflicted. I spent a good 45 minutes with the Samsung Gear S2 ahead of Thursday's event, and I came away more impressed than I've ever been by any smartwatch, and I'm one of the weirdos that's owned a few (Pebble, Pebble Steel, Samsung Gear Live, Moto 360, and Apple Watch). Well, really anybody with a smartwatch is an outlier right now, but it's devices like the Gear S2 that will help to change that.
I had this same conflicted struggle with the Samsung Galaxy S6. I knew from the first instant that I picked one up that I wanted one, especially the edge model. It was a weird feeling. I've wanted, nay, lusted after gadgets before, even smartphones. I'm very familiar with the "I want this" feeling.
Samsung was the company I loved to hate.
But I'd never had that thought about a Samsung device before. I'd long regarded them with alternating waves of scorn and derision, mocking their penchant for badly copying designs of others, falling flat on their faces when trying their own design language. I'd laughed at their build quality, their software quality, and their marketing. Samsung was the company I loved to hate.
That started to turn when I picked up that Galaxy S6. It was finely crafted, it was beautiful, and it felt good in my hand. The performance was remarkable and the user interface tweaks they'd made didn't make me throw up in my mouth. It was a device that I wanted, and it had the Samsung name on it. It was an odd mental predicament in which I found myself.
So I bought the Galaxy S6 edge when it came out. I've been using it ever since, and while the "this thing is incredible" sheen has worn off, I'm still quite satisfied with it. I've toyed around with other Android phones (and still carry an iPhone in addition to the S6 on a daily basis), but I keep coming back to it. I'm used to it being a Samsung device and being something I want to use. The Note 5 is a quite nice device too, but Samsung still sucked at wearables.
And then the Gear S2 came along and knocked my preconceptions over again. Here I was, with the Gear S2 Classic strapped to my wrist, and I was seriously impressed by the physical and digital design of this smartwatch. It felt solid, it didn't seem overly weighty, the bezel dial had a satisfying click to it as I spun that matched each movement on the display, and it simply looked great.
Of course, "it looks great" and "it feels good" are totally subjective things. But there's nothing subjective about the performance I got to experience first hand — this thing was blazing fast, never stuttered, and had an interface that seemed smartly thought out and easily discoverable. That wasn't something you could say about Samsung's previous Tizen-powered smartwatches.
There's nothing subjective about the Gear S2's performance — this thing is blazing fast.
It blew the current crop of Android Wear watches out of the water. It made my Moto 360 feel slow and clunky. It made my Apple Watch seem overly complicated and brought back to mind its childish design (but then again, the BlackBerry and Treo crowds of 2007 decried the original iPhone as childishly-designed, and we all know how that turned out).
I strap the Gear S2 onto my wrist and I want one. Well, specifically the Classic edition. The standard sporty-style one with the rubber straps that flow into the sculpted metal body I could take or leave. But the shiny metal body and leather straps of the Gear S2 Classic call to me. It's a smartwatch I feel like I could get away with wearing not just around town, but out on the town too.
My younger sister got married last summer, and her husband-to-be was wearing an original Galaxy Gear on his wrist. At their wedding, I told him he had to take that thing with its awkward camera hump off: "Trust me, in 20 years you don't want to be looking back at photos and thinking 'I really wore that thing in my wedding'?" But the Gear S2 Classic, that you could get away with being photographed wearing. Apple Watch? Not so much.
The Gear S2 is a smartwatch you can get away with wearing not just around town, but out on the town.
It's bizarre how Samsung has managed to turn around its design, engineering, and marketing efforts almost in unison. Their designs are attractive and no longer overwrought with features that nobody wants, their software is more thought-out than its ever been, the hardware is more solid than I can recall it every being, and everything from their advertising to their press events have been retooled to be more appealing and less offensive.
There are still plenty of questions to be answered about the Gear S2, and I want those answers as much as you do. How do notifications work on it? How well does it integrate with Google Now, or does it at all? What price will be slapped onto it? Will Samsung be able to continue building on the impressive stable of third-party apps? Will the leather bands at release be better quality than the cheap and cracking leather they had on these units? And so on.
But none of those have taken the gloss off of my gadget lust. I want a Gear S2, and I think I'm okay that it's Samsung that's going to make it.