We were recently at the IFA in Berlin, Germany, for the unveiling of the Samsung’s Gear S2 Smartwatch. We managed to get our hands on it for a couple of minutes and although it didn’t disappoint, it didn’t excite us either. We were impressed with Samsung’s UI design, and the Tizen OS is a great choice, as it may be a lot more stable than Android.
Though this year’s smartwatch offers a massive improvement over last year’s offering, we’re not sure if it does enough to merit a purchase yet. The Super AMOLED display and the rotating bezel tries to offer a new twist, but will people really find it useful enough to spend over $300?
Better, But Not Good Enough
One of the problems many people experienced with the iWatch and the earlier Gear watch was that the display was not readable in direct sunlight. Though the 1.2″ Super AMOLED display is one of the best and brightest screens in this sector it still didn’t perform well enough; under direct overhead light, trying to read the time was difficult. Others had the same problem at the launch, and the same issue will inevitably arise when the watches are sold in stores.
The new Samsung S2 is beefier, with a Snapdragon 400 chipset that ups the onscreen performance. Everything is smooth, from firing up a fitness app to rotating the bezel, and according to the company the new processor is also more power-efficient; a quoted 48-hour battery life is certainly a lot better than its predecessor, which lasted just 12 hours. We are a bit concerned about the watch overheating under heavy loads; Snapdragons are not known for being cool under pressure, particularly the Snapdragon 810 (for mobile devices), which was notorious for being hotter than a toaster.
The other significant improvement is that, unlike the previous iteration, the latest one can be used with any Android device. There is an optional version with 3G network connectivity which leaves many people scratching their heads. Can they simply leave their phablets at home and just use their watch to make and receive calls or not? Unfortunately, Samsung has not made it clear.
Design and Aesthetics
The Samsung Gear S2 is trying really hard to look like an old-school, high-end watch. Available in gray and silver it may look like a Rolex at first but upon closer inspection there are finishing flaws; it simply does not have the premium feel of a high-end timepiece The stainless steel body has swappable silicone bands which benefit from the new proprietary connector, and are surprisingly easy to use, but it’s not enough; who changes their wristbands that often anyway?
Though Samsung would like to label the rotating bezel as innovative, it isn’t; the concept has been used by traditional watch manufacturers for a long time. The “clickiness” certainly feels good, and we also like the idea that you can rotate to select an option on the round watch face. Rotating the bezel is quite intuitive and we see this catching on, but only if the software is able to keep up with the speed of rotation Currently, if you rotate the face quickly, there is onscreen lag, but Samsung has said that that will be fixed in the final version.
The magnetic charging dock is a nice feature; because it simply requires you to place the watch on it, it’s not a hassle and most owners will soon do it automatically.
The Gear S2 Classic
Something worth mentioning here is the difference between the S2 Classic and the standard model. They are identical in terms of battery life, display and performance; the difference is that the classic looks more elegant and traditional, and feels more premium. The feel is more premium. And the 20mm metal wristbands make it really stand out and will probably command a significantly higher price.
Don’t Get Too Excited
In conclusion, the Gear S2 suffers from the same problem that all smartwatches have so far been unable to address, i.e. being a great watch. Though we love the look and feel of the S2 Premium, we doubt it will replace the standard watch that most of us have used for decades. After all, if you have a mid-range smartphone that does everything you need, why would you buy a smartwatch which does half as much, half as well, needs to be rebooted, overheats and cannot be read in direct sunlight? Yes, it has health apps, but if they are your thing, then buy a Fitbit band for under $200. The smartwatch is simply too expensive and too much of a hassle for the people the makers are targeting.