Samsung Gear 2
24th Feb 2014 | 19:00
The new wrist-based contender emerges
The new Samsung Gear 2 is the watch that we were all expecting to happen at MWC, but it came with a few surprises along the way.
The biggest one is the fact it's running Tizen; or, as Samsung tells us, a Tizen-based OS for smartwatches. The distinction is largely irrelevant, as the upshot is a faster, more efficient and longer-lasting watch.
The new Gear 2, shorn as it is of the Galaxy name thanks to not coming with Android, is a much better device compared to the original thanks to some key upgrades.
The big one is the fact it's so much lighter compared to the first Gear, which tipped the scales over 70g where the Gear 2 is a lovely 68g. It might not sound like much, but in reality it makes a big difference.
The overall construction of the Gear 2 has been engineered with the consumer in mind, that's for sure. Nearly every grievance we had with the first model has been answered in some form or another, and that starts with the construction.
The Gear 2 feels much slimmer, offered up in a 10mm form that makes it just feel much nicer on the wrist. While the camera remains for some reason, at least the module is no longer massive, and is instead embedded in the head of the smart timepiece itself.
This doesn't just improve the way it looks; it also means there's no need for a proprietary strap any more and users can customise the Gear 2 to their heart's content. Samsung is predictably selling the watch with some designer bands, but if you want to you can just shed the lurid plastic / rubber altogether.
The charging situation has been nullified somewhat as well - while there's no socket on the Gear 2 itself (boo) the charging cradle has been significantly reduced to make it look at least a bit better when being plugged in (woohoo).
There's very little new on show here with the Gear 2's interface, making it very much like the original Gear in most of the modes you'll use it in.
However, there's a lot more customisation on show than before, thanks to an increased synchronisation with the main Gear manager on your smartphone. For instance, you can take a picture of your shirt and have it as the background of your Gear 2, to really give that 'all in' flavour to the way you dress.
The wider range of clock faces definitely helps make this watch more appealing – while we don't have a price (it could still be extortionate) Samsung is looking to make something that users can actually get to grips with.
On my test unit, the swipe downwards motion no longer opens the camera, which will appeal to some people if it remains on the final retail version. This is now a redundant gesture on the homescreen, but still works in other apps and is a better way of moving through the menu system should you find yourself lost.
There's also a home button at the bottom, which you can double press and set to perform a multitude of functions, like take you to missed notifications or emails, or start your sports program.
The rest of the interface is business as usual, with the icons and the general operation barely touched at all. The same black and white Super AMOLED technology that was a strong feature of the original Gear pervades here, and simply tapping around will get you in and out of the watch. Or you can use the home button - your call, really.
Being healthy is a big part of what Samsung's about at the moment, and as such the Gear 2 is there to pick up the pieces.
By being a fitness device, and allowing you to change the mode of exercising you're doing (running, walking, cycling and hiking are all included in the mix, meaning that the watch is able to keep a better eye on your calorie burn, which it does by calculating speed through the pedometer) you've got a much more comprehensive wearable for fitness.
There's a growing number of third party apps for fitness arriving for the Gear 2 as well, meaning in a few months your main fitness brand might have caught up with the trend. There will be over 100 apps at launch, but we're really excited to try the main fitness options to see how this works in our full Samsung Galaxy Gear review.
There's also an optical heart rate monitor that can fairly accurately check your heart rate when exercising or just wandering around. Given this is one of the best ways to train (monitoring your heart's output to make sure your body doesn't get over tired) this is a really nice feature to add in to bring health to the forefront.
It seems pretty accurate and quick to pick up your pulse, using a beam of light to check how fast you blood is pumping. It's more useful when running than generally sitting around, but a fun feature nonetheless.
The Samsung Galaxy Gear 2 features a number of nifty ideas that make the idea of owning a smartwatch that little bit more palatable. For instance, next to the camera there's an IR blaster, which means you control your TV without needing to hunt for the remote.
It's got the WatchON app embedded within the device so you can easily control what you need or type in number codes should they be required.
It will also be launching with an open SDK, so there should be a number of new apps in the mix as well.
Sadly this isn't a true Dick Tracy phone, despite what Samsung claimed with the earlier version, as the angle of the camera precludes a video chat.
However, the speaker and microphone have been moved off the strap and into the main body of the Gear itself to make it easier to hold a conversation, should you wish to look a bit crazy when chatting to the end of your arm.
The Samsung Galaxy Gear 2 is a good device - but not a great one. The improved 3 day battery life (6 if you really want to push it) is a good enough number for now , as charging is becoming expected - although the real winner is going to be able to make a battery that lasts for a month.
The Gear 2 is a strong, slick and really rather impressive little package - but the worry is why Samsung is being so cagey on the price.
This is worrying for a number of reasons, but the main one is it's likely that the cost is still high, that Samsung hasn't managed to get the cost down below that which it shipped the original Gear, and knows it will upset prospective customers.
But the Gear 2 is a strong smartwatch that moves in the right direction with fitness tracking too - and that's the kind of thing we can all get on board with, especially if the price is right (and should be on the Samsung Gear 2 Neo, which is a stripped down version of this watch and will likely be a little more popular as consumers vote with their wallets.