Samsung's curvy Gear S smartwatch is its biggest — and coolest yet
So here we are with Samsung's sixth — yes, a full half-dozen — smartwatch in a little more than the space of a year. To wit: The Samsung Galaxy Gear, Gear 2, Gear 2 Neo, Gear Fit, Gear Live and, now, the Gear S. That's a whole lot of Gear.
This Gear, however, is unlike the other Gear(s). Well, OK. It's a whole lot like the other ones. It's running Tizen, the Android alternative enjoyed by all of Samsung's other watches save the Android Wear-based Gear Live. And it's got the same basic functionality we've seen on the other Gear watches — tell the time and date and weather and news and track fitness and heart rate show notifications and email and even make and receive Dick Tracy-style phone calls. Been there, done that.
The two things that make the Gear S stand out? It's got a curved display, and it connects to a cellular network on its own, just like your phone does. And, yes, it's a little larger than its siblings. And you know what? It's pretty darn cool.
Let's take a closer look in our hands-on with the Gear S.
The Samsung Gear S video hands-on
The Samsung Gear S walkthrough
Here's the tl;dr version: It's a Samsung Tizen-based smartwatch, with a really cool curved display. And it's really big. And has its own cellular radio.
A familiar Gear experience, just with more curves.
For the most part, the Gear S is a pretty familiar experience. Strapping it on is the same as with most of Samsung's Gear watches. You set the fit of the strap, then use a clasp system to take it on and off. (The Gear S strap isn't removable like a few of the latter models are, though.)
Samsung's Tizen-based OS hasn't changed a whole lot. Same look and feel. And while it's very possible we were just experiencing some pre-release wonk, but the Gear S seemed a little unresponsive at times. It's also perfectly possible that we were just getting used to that curved display, though. A little more time is needed to make that call. There's also a keyboard built in — Fleksy, actually — in case you feel like typing on a watch. Or you can use S Voice for input and only look marginally less silly.
That display is too much. No, really. It might be too much.
And, really, it's the display that's the main attraction here. Compared to every other smartwatch we've used — be it Android Wear, Pebble or otherwise — it's freaking huge, and pretty stunning. If you weren't already being asked about your smartwatch before (a daily occurrence for many of us), you're going to be asked about the Gear S. The display is a 2-inch Super AMOLED panel at 360x480 — it wasn't all that long ago that phones themselves had comparable resolutions.
It's also completely possible that the display is just a little too big. On some watch faces — particularly the more intricate ones — it's possible for there to be a little too much going on. Do you focus on the top of the display, which is starting over the smartwatch horizon, requiring you to move your wrist? Or at the bottom? The single home button on the face serves as a nice point of reference. But it'll still take a little getting used to.
But, damn, it's cool.
Get ready to turn heads if you're wearing the Samsung Gear S.
It's also pretty conspicuous. The model in the more slimming black seemed to hide its size more than the white one. But either way, it's a wide rubber strap with a big display pointing off it. And gluing crystals to the band is either only going to draw more attention to it, or give it remarkable power. [Editor's note to self: Find out what happens if you wear one on each wrist and bring them together, Samson/Samsung-style.]
And then there's the cellular capability. You'll be able to pop in a SIM card — which U.S. carriers no doubt will offer (along with that extra monthly charge) with shared data plans — and make calls and receive data without being tethered to a phone. It's the true Dick Tracy watch, no phone necessary. The real question is how much is that worth to you? An extra $10 a month on your bill adds up over time, to say nothing of the cost of the Gear S in the first place.
Will the Gear S be the smartwatch that finally has the mainstream — your mom and dad, really — saying "Yes! I need this!" We'll see. But one thing they will say:
"Damn. That's cool."
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