Samsung Gear 2 full review
Wearable devices are booming, with more smartwatches and fitness trackers launching all the time. Along with the Galaxy S5 smartphone, Samsung has launched a trio of wearable gadgets consisting of the Gear 2, Gear 2 Neo and Gear Fit.
The Gear 2 is the top of range model and as such has a premium price tag. You'll have to splash out a whopping £300 for the smartwatch which is considerably more expensive than most. For example, the Sony SmartWatch 2 is now just £99 so you could buy three.
Before we even start looking at the Gear 2 in detail, it's worth pointing out that the device is only compatible with select Samsung smartphones. A very different approach to other smartwatch makers so you'll need a compatible phone to make it worth buying the Gear 2, or Samsung's other smartwatches.
The Gear 2 is compatible with a total of 17 different Samsung handsets including the Samsung Galaxy S5, Galaxy Note 3, Galaxy S4 mini and Galaxy Note 10.1 (2014 Edition). Visit the Gear 2 landing page for the full list.
Samsung Gear 2 review: Design and build
We didn't like the bulky design of the Galaxy Gear and unfortunately, things haven't improved much with the Gear 2. The device is only marginally thinner and lighter at 10.1mm and 68g which is not ideal. The weight means you can't forget it's on your arm and the size means it's difficult to find under some clothing – and even if you can, a large bump looks a bit strange.
What the Gear 2 lacks in svelteness, it makes up for in style. There's no Samsung logo which is surprising but give the watch a clean and uninterrupted look. It's well made and the brushed metal finish oozes class. It's a great device for showing off.
It's nice to see the Gear 2 gaining the same IP67 certification which you'll find on the Galaxy S5. This means it's fully sealed from dust and water resistant up to a depth of one meter for up to 30 minutes. You can go running in the desert while it rains without worrying about your precious smartwatch.
A physical button sits below the screen and can be used to switch the Gear 2 on and off, but you can also just tap the screen itself. However, built-in sensors mean that the display magically comes to life when you turn your wrist to look at it. This means you can easily check the time or a notification, but the screen doesn't need to be left on constantly, therefore draining the battery.
Instead of adding to the bulk, the Gear 2 charges by clipping on a small plastic module which has a microUSB port. It's a neat solution but if you find yourself without that piece, which is easy to forget about, you've got no way of recharging the smartwatch.
Moving the camera from the strap to the main body (compared to the Galaxy Gear) means that the strap is now changeable for your own. That's always a good design feature for smartwatches.
We took a look at the 'charcoal black' Gear 2 but you can also buy it in 'gold brown' and 'wild orange'. Official straps are available in four different colours.
Samsung Gear 2 review: Hardware and specs
Samsung has stuck with the same 1.63in SuperAMOLED (320x320) screen which it used for the Galaxy Gear and that's no bad thing. The display looks gorgeous with those classic Samsung eye popping colours and the Gear 2 has an outdoor mode (level 6 brightness) which switches off automatically after five minutes to conserve battery.
Inside is 4GB of storage for apps, photos, fitness data and music – you'll fill that up quickly if you want to listen to music straight from the Gear 2 (see features). Also built-in in is a camera, infrared transmitter and heart rate monitor. We'll take a look at these in more detail below.
Samsung says the Gear 2 offers a typical battery of two or three days while lighter users will get up to six. During our testing, those figures are about right with the Gear 2 offering fairly good battery life.
If you using mainly for getting notifications and switch the device off at night while you're asleep it will last the best part of or even a week. Those using features like the camera, pedometer and heart rate monitor regularly will find the Gear 2 will last a few days.
Samsung Gear 2 review: Features
Being top of the line - and a typical Samsung product - the Gear 2 is packed with features. It's got just as many bells and whistles as a Morris dancing crew. However, many of them don't really need to appear on a smartwatch.
Like its predecessor, the Gear 2 has a camera which is now positioned in the main unit rather than the strap. It's a 2Mp camera with autofocus which can also record 720p video. Pictures are shot in a square ratio and automatically sent to the connected smartphone. Ok, it's in the realm of James Bond cool but realistically it's a novelty which is going to wear off after not too long.
Another feature which is cool but we must file in that same novelty category is the infrared (IR) transmitter. This sits next to the camera and using the WatchOn Remote app, you can control devices like your TV. It's not restricted to Samsung devices but the small screen makes for a fiddly experience. At the end of the day, it's easier to do it with the actual remote or your smartphone if that has an IR blaster.
Handier, for fitness fanatics anyway, is the built-in pedometer and heart rate monitor. I've been using the Gear 2 with the Galaxy S5 which means a doubling up of these features but they're more useful in a watch than a smartphone. You can go out for a run with the Gear 2 alone, which is far more convenient. The main issue is that the heart rate monitor has to be in a specific position to work properly so can take numerous attempts.
You can even make and receive calls with the Gear 2, meaning there's a microphone for recording you voice and a tiny speaker so you can hear the person on the other end. It works but we can't think why you would want to have a conversation with someone over a watch. It's awkward, the quality suffers and don't even try doing it in a noisy environment since it's essentially a hands-free style call.
Something the Gear 2 can do without the need of a smartphone buddy is music playback – you can control what's playing on the companion device, too. You can connect a pair of Bluetooth headphones directly to the smartwatch and listen to your tunes. You can choose what tunes to transfer to the Gear 2's storage with the Gear Manager.
Samsung Gear 2 review: Software and apps
As you may have notices, the Galaxy name has been dropped from the name which means the Gear 2 doesn't run on Android – that's what the Galaxy title signifies if you're buying Samsung devices if you didn't know. Instead of Android, the Gear 2 (and other Gear wearables) is powered by Samsung's own Tizen OS.
Tizen is based on Linux, just like Android, and in fact, the interface is very similar to that of the Galaxy Gear. It's clean, stylish and easy to use. Navigation is simple with swipe gestures on the touchscreen. Swiping left and right moves between pages of icons just like a smartphone and although it's not intuitive, swiping down from the top to go back is easy to get used to.
As with most smartwatches, you can customise and control the Gear 2 with Samsung's Gear Manager app which you install on the companion smartphone. Here you can choose different home screen styles, clock faces, choose your notifications and various other settings.
Moving from Android to Tizen means a backwards step in terms of third-part apps. While devices like the Sony SmartWatch 2 have hundreds of apps to download, the Gear 2 only has a handful and most of them are watch faces which cost £1. It's not a great situation so what comes pre-installed on the Gear 2 is mostly what it can do.
Samsung Gear 2: Specs
- 1.63in Super AMOLED (320x320) touchscreen
- 4GB internal storage
- Bluetooth 4.0 Low Energy
- 2Mp camera with autofocus and Sound & Shot
- 720p video recording at 30fps
- Infrared transmitter
- Heart rate monitor
- IP67 dust- and water-resistant