Just about every week we see some new manufacture announcing a smartwatch or three. Everyone from newcomers that are smartwatch-only to old school players in the traditional watch industry are weighing in with their own take on what a proper smartwatch constitutes. And to be honest, something like a smartwatch is more-so an extension of fashion than purely a gadget. In that light, there’s a lot going on outside of the normal technical field we tend to focus on. Can a smartwatch finally be both functional, useful, simple, and fashionable? What about easy to use?
The Gear S2 is one of Samsung’s best attempts yet. But is it worth $200+ or a contract/payment plan with a mobile carrier?
The hardware is fairly standard as far as smartwatches go in early 2016 and include a 1.5-inch Super AMOLED display (360 x 360), dual-core snapdragon 4xx CPU running at 1 GHz, 4 GB of storage, 512 MB of RAM, and a bevy of wireless connectivity. Battery life is supplied by a 300 mAh cell. What’s different than most is that Samsung has built in a sim slot and cellular connectivity – a feature generally left out more-so for space, size, and battery life constraints. Cellular radios can be quite the battery killer.
Perhaps the most important aspect of the Gear S2 isn’t what’s inside, but outside instead. Where as most all smartwatches on the market today require full-on tapping and swiping on the display, the Gear S2 can be navigated with the rotating bezel. Even after just a couple minutes it’s immediately clear Samsung got navigation right. It’s far simpler, easier, and more intuitive to use the bezel to do menu hopping and app swapping. For those who want to tap, however, you can still do that (and need to at points) to select things on screen.
The second, and equally important feature: an IP68 rating. Samsung claims the Gear S2 will withstand dust and water (up to 1.5 meters) for 30 minutes. For anyone who remotely wants to use this smartwatch also as a fitness type gadget for step tracking (such as running in the rain), simply not have to worry about splashing liquid on it (it happens), or are the type that can’t be bothered to take off watches in the shower, the Gear S2 has a big leg up on more high-end tech focused smartwatches. There’s something to be said about the freedom the IP ratings give you. Instead of living life with an eye always on your surroundings looking for the next potential danger to your smartwatch, you can get on with living your life. Kudos to Samsung for making the Gear S2 a more functional smartwatch day to day.
The only big downside sadly revolves around software. The Gear S2 ships with Samsung’s own Android fork, Tizen. It’s proprietary and very much not Android Wear. As such, the app selection is far less than Android Wear and functionality such as a pretty great notification setup on Android Wear also isn’t present on the Tizen powered Gear S2. To be clear, you can still do smartwatch things such as viewing app alerts and notifications from messages, but only Samsung’s built-in apps support fuller functionality and interaction directly from the watch.
Gripes and comparisons to Android Wear aside, it’s not awful living with the Gear S2. There’s the standard assortment of fitness features such as step tracking, heart rate monitoring, and exercise tracking along with calendar, messaging, reminders, voice commands and customization via the accompanying “Gear” phone app. From said app you can adjust settings and swap out watch faces as well as find more watch faces to download.
With an added, and heavy battery leech on board, one might wonder how good (or bad) the battery life is on the Gear S2. We’re happy to report that as long as your cellular carrier’s signal is decent, the Gear S2 will easily survive a couple days as a casual notification glancer with light interaction. Up the interaction or workout length per day and/or spend a chunk of your day in an area with weak (or no) coverage for your smartwatch carrier of choice and you’re squarely back in the less than a day camp. For many smartwatch wearers though, daily charging (usually at night) is par for the course so it’s not that bad we guess.
Why the Gear S2 over any other smartwatch?
The million dollar question: Why should you or anyone else get the Gear S2 over any other Android Wear watch, or on a broader level, the Apple Watch? There are a couple reasons we can think of that make for a rather easy nod to the Gear S2. First and foremost, the IP rating. While it was second most important to us, a lot of more active gadget lovers will no doubt be drawn to and appreciate the dust and water resistance. Some may write off the feature as unnecessary as “we’ve grown accustomed to” gadgets that are deathly afraid of water and as such, we should be use to the delicate boundaries in place. But this is 2016 dammit. We should have had waterproof gadgets years ago. To any gadget manufacturer making gadgets aimed at being worn on your body, and marketed for activities such as fitness, IP ratings should be more of a priority.
Soapbox aside, the second reason we’d pick this over other Android Wear objects is the rotating bezel. It’s simply a more enjoyable way to interact with a smartwatch hands down. And if you foresee any type of high interaction level with your watch, you should probably enjoy actually using it. The bezel makes that enjoyable and simple.
The elephant in the room, and the one that will turn off many of the more hard core techies is the lack of Android Wear. It’s a serious thing to weigh: real world usability or access to a more diverse and healthy watch platform. Ultimately it depends on what you love more.
While we can’t fully answer whether or not you should get the Gear S2 over other smartwatches, we will say that if you fancy the things we’ve singled out above on the Gear S2, you won’t be disappointed. Simply put, the Gear S2 is a great watch. But it’s not for everyone.