Less than six months after Samsung unveiled its original Galaxy Gear smartwatch, the company had already introduced a successor — the Gear 2.
Despite Samsung’s efforts to make the Galaxy Gear seem like the new must-have gadget with Dick Tracey-like ads, reviews for the watch were lukewarm at best.
Critics have said that the original Galaxy Gear lacked the wow factor necessary to make a hit product, and now Samsung hopes to change that with its Gear 2.
The new watch is certainly an improvement over the first generation. Samsung clearly listened to early adopters’ feedback, addressing issues like design, comfort, and battery life.
Overall, however, it still doesn’t feel like a $US300 product. Here’s why.
How It Works
The Gear 2 setup process is pretty simple and straightforward. Out of the box, the watch will prompt you to download the Gear Manager app for your Samsung device, which can be found in Samsung’s app store or the Google Play Android app store. Once the app is installed on your phone, you can pair the Gear 2 with your phone the same way you’d tether any other Bluetooth device through the Settings menu. However the watch only works with certain Samsung smartphones and tablets for now, like the new flagship Galaxy S5.
Like its predecessor, the Gear 2 is essentially a shrunken-down Samsung smartphone on your wrist. This means you can interact with it the same way you’d use your phone by swiping and tapping the screen.
The Gear Manager app lets you customise everything from the wallpaper on your watch to the frequency of your notifications. The app itself is simple and easy to use. The options read just like a standard settings menu you’d find on a smartphone.
If you want to receive alerts, notifications, and phone calls, you need to make sure the Gear is tethered to your smartphone. Like most smartwatches, the Gear 2’s functionality becomes limited when it’s not tied to a phone.
Without a connection, you’ll still be able to snap photos, use the watch as a remote control for your TV, play any games that are installed on the device, or use the pedometer.
The Gear 2 is one of the few smart watches that’s capable of making phone calls, meaning you can actually dial a phone number and engage in conversation directly from the watch. The Gear 2 uses your phone to execute the call, but it’s possible to talk to the recipient through the watch thanks to its built-in speaker. Other smartwatches on the market, such as the Pebble, are only capable of displaying notifications when you receive a phone call.
The Gear 2, like many wearables, faces the same challenges as other smart watches on the market. Samsung’s new smart watch doesn’t really do much that you’re phone can’t do, making its hefty price tag a hard sell. Although the watch generally worked well, it’s tough to imagine why I’d spend $US300 to do everything I can already do with my phone on a smaller screen.
The Gear 2 was surprisingly clear when I used it to call a friend, although I saw mixed results. One recipient said he could hear my words throughout the entire conversation even more clearly than when I called him earlier with my iPhone.
I held my wrist at a comfortable distance from my face as if I was checking the time, and the call still came through clearly. The second time I called him with the Gear 2, however, our conversation was mysteriously dropped.
Samsung’s new smart watch runs on proprietary software that makes it feel like you’re using a smartphone. Swiping down from the top of the screen will close whatever app you’re using, and you can program the home button to launch to a specific app when it’s double tapped.
The software felt smooth and natural overall, but in some cases it seemed unnatural to navigate on such a small screen. Five home screens feels extraneous for a device of its size. I’d rather have the watch do a little less and present its core functions on the first or second home screen by default. Granted, you can easily rearrange apps by dragging and dropping any icon to a different home screen, but since the screen is so small its difficult to drop icons on the intended screen.
The watch also comes with a 2-megapixel camera that sits just above its display. That’s about the same quality lens you’d get from a front-facing camera on a smartphone or tablet. When you snap photos with the Gear 2, they’re stored both on your watch and on your phone.
Using the camera on the Gear 2 felt awkward, just as I expected it would. I had to tilt my wrist at an unusual angle to frame subjects, which felt unnatural compared to using a standard smartphone camera.
The Gear 2 shines when it’s used for primary, basic functions. Overall, I found it most useful for glancing at notifications and receiving incoming calls when my phone was buried in my purse. It’s also quite handy as a fitness tracker, seeing as I was able to track my steps, check my heart rate, and set up a fitness profile directly from the watch. This type of information is useful at a glance, and I found myself utilising it much more often than the watch’s other features, such as the ability to make phone calls or take pictures.
Design And Hardware
Samsung introduced some noteworthy design upgrades from the Gear 2’s predecessor. The result is a slightly less burdensome watch with a much cleaner look.While the general design language is the same, Samsung has axed the exposed metal screws that sit around the Galaxy Gear’s screen.
Although the Gear 2 is a worthwhile improvement from its previous iteration, it still felt bulky to wear. I often found myself re-adjusting the strap to make it fit more comfortably. It has the same sturdy industrial look as it’s predecessor, which is fine if you want your watch to look like a computer. But if you’re seeking something fashionable and sleek, you may want to look elsewhere.
If you only use the Gear 2 occasionally, the battery will last for a decent few days. My experience was right in line with Samsung’s estimates. After three days of moderate to heavy usage, which included playing casual games, taking photos, using the heart rate monitor, and checking email among other tasks, the Gear 2 was down to 6%.
Samsung clearly addressed some of the criticisms and feedback it recieved after the Galaxy Gear launched last fall. The new watch features a slightly tweaked design that makes it a bit more attractive than the last.
However, the Gear 2 still feels like a shrunken down version of a Samsung smartphone on your wrist. It certainly made checking email and receiving notifications much more convenient on the go, but for me, that’s not enough to justify coughing up $US300. Like other similar wearables, the Gear 2 doesn’t do very many things that you can’t already do with your smartphone. I’m still waiting for the wow factor.
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