Samsung Gear S2

Update: The Samsung Gear S2 is still a fine choice if you're an Android user, but there are a few reasons that you may want to consider the Samsung Gear S3

The Gear S3 features a larger battery, has GPS built-in and offers a bit more RAM than the Gear S2. If those features are crucial to you, you may want to redirect your attention to Samsung's new wearable gear.

Focusing back on the now-more-affordable Gear S2, Samsung has recently issued an update that brings the awaited iOS support, and another that brought along some minor improvements, including automatic sleep tracking, some added S Voice commands, and the ability to import your own photo as a watch face, among many other things.

You'll find the Gear S2 sitting cozy on our list of best smartwatches, next to some stiff competition from Apple, LG, Huawei and other large device manufacturers.

And because time never stops, even for smartwatch makers, we've put together a source for all of the rumors and what we'd like to see in the Samsung Gear S4. Samsung's wearables lineup has received an update every August and we expect it to follow suit for the fourth iteration, possible at IFA 2017.

Original review follows below.

In the past Samsung had a scattergun approach to wearable design, releasing numerous devices with varying form and functionality. It was great if you were looking for something different to the all-too-similar Android Wear devices, but with hindsight, Samsung's first attempts weren't very good.

Fast forward to now, Samsung has a much more cohesive, well thoughtout approach in the Gear S2. It's clear without even touching the new watch, the company practically went back to the drawing board to craft a wearable truly worth your attention.

When looking at the Gear S2, it's obvious that Samsung has learnt from its past successes and failures. It's much more wearable than their previous attempts, it looks good and it's comfortable. More importantly the updated Tizen OS has been perfectly tailored to a smartwatch screen, with perhaps the best user interface I've seen on a smartwatch, making excellent use of the tactile rotating bezel.

Tizen also, however, leads to one of the devices biggest downfalls – it's an immature developer platform, and it lacks apps. But for now, let's look at the positives.

Samsung Gear S2 on wrist

Unlike previous Samsung wearables, the Gear S2 isn’t limited to those with a Samsung smartphone. The Gear S2 is compatible with most Android phones, and one day could even be compatible with iPhones.

With prices starting at £249.99 ($ 299.99, around AU$ 428), it’s competitively priced against the Apple Watch and latest generation Moto 360.

Display

The Samsung Gear S2 features a fully circular Super AMOLED touchscreen measuring 1.2-inches in diameter. That makes it smaller than the displays on the Huawei Watch and Moto 360. Despite having a smaller screen than its rivals, it doesn’t impact usability, at no point during my testing did I feel limited by the size.

The device really impresses with a really high resolution of 360 x 360 pixels. Thanks to the relatively small screen, this gives a pixel density of 302ppi, matching the 42mm Apple Watch’s retina display as the sharpest smartwatch screen available right now.

The pixel density really stands out when putting the Samsung Gear S2 next to other circular smartwatches (including the new Moto 360 and LG Watch Urbane). It’s visibly much sharper, and clearer as a result.

Samsung Gear S2 Screen

It’s my opinion – and that of the TechRadar team in general – that circular displays are more aesthetically appealing than the square displays of the Apple Watch and Sony Smartwatch 3. It just looks more like a traditional, analogue watch. In terms of functionality, it’s hard to make a case for it being better or worse.

Samsung claims the sAMOLED (that’s not a typo, the S stands for Super) reflects one-fifth as much sunlight as regular AMOLED displays. I didn’t have any problems viewing the watch in direct sunlight, usually keeping to the eighth brightness level (out of ten). As it’s AMOLED, the colours look lovely and saturated.

There’s a noticeable gap between the display and the top layer of glass on the screen. You’d think this has a negative effect on viewing angles, particular in sunlight, but that is not the case. It does make the watch appear a little more retro however.

Just like ambient mode on Android Wear, the Gear S2 has an ‘always on’ screen option. In this mode the screen will dim after several seconds of inactivity, however, the time will still be displayed with a reduced interface. It’s a useful feature that allows you to view the time without needing to raise your arm and flick your wrist to wake the screen, as with the Apple Watch, though it does reduce battery life.

Smartwatches have become really quite attractive objects recently, just look at the Apple Watch, Moto 360 and Pebble Round. Now, the Samsung Gear S2 continues this trajectory.

The circular Gear S2 comes in two models, the standard model, reviewed here, and a ‘Classic’ one. The standard Gear S2 features a rubber strap, and a sporty aesthetic, while the Classic has a design which pays homage to more traditional timepieces, with a leather strap.

Samsung Gear S2

The two models also have different dimensions, with the sporty model measuring 42.3 x 49.8 x 11.4 mm, and the Classic a slightly smaller 39.9 x 43.6 x 11.4 mm. I’d say they’re an optimum size, and although some of the dimensions are larger than that of some rivals, the Gear is less bulky overall, and feels smaller as a result. If you’re already a regular watch wearer, male or female, the size of the Samsung Gear S shouldn’t be an issue.

The watch weighs 47g, so is comfortable to wear for long periods of time, and doesn’t feel like a dead weight on your wrist. If you prefer your watch big and chunky however, you may wish to look elsewhere.

Where the design of the Gear S2 does lose marks is the number of customisation options. The Apple Watch, and Moto 360 (via Moto Maker) allow a huge range of design choices to make a watch personal to the wearer. In comparison, Samsung only offers the Gear S2 in white or black.

The Classic is only available with a black leather strap, too, but it accepts any 22mm watch strap, allowing you to customise it with any third party strap.

However, the more sporty S2 features a proprietary locking mechanism, which very few accessory manufacturers have decided to adopt, so far.

Samsung Gear S2 Rear

It’s not the end of the world that Samsung has included so few personalisation options, but it does seem like a decision that’s counter to the more personalised way wearables are advancing.

The Samsung Gear S2 isn’t a particularly premium feeling device, it’s certainly no match for the Huawei Watch or Apple Watch, but the rubber strap and metal casing feels durable and well made.

The design doesn’t look cheap, it’s understated and looks good, just in a slightly utilitarian kind of way.

Others in the office think the Gear S2 looks more like a tech product than a watch. Personally, I like the fact it doesn’t try to copy a traditional watch design, it looks futuristic, but not overly so.

The Samsung Gear S2 features two buttons on the right-hand side of the device. These act as a home button, and a back button. They’re well positioned, making them easy to press, although, as they’re identical, learning which button does what might take a while.

Samsung Gear S2 Buttons

The main control of the Gear S2 is hidden in plain sight – the rotating metal bezel. It’s not an exaggeration when I say this bezel is one of the best things that has happened to smartwatch user experience. It’s better than Apple’s Digital Crown, for a start. It works in a similar way to Apple’s controller, scrolling through various menus and information pages, but the bezel feels much more intuitive, and very tactile, with a pleasing click motion.

On the rear of the watch you’ll find a centralised optical heart rate monitor, and two mechanisms for releasing the straps. Despite these clips being on the rear of the device, there’s no chance of accidentally unlocking the straps. They’re in place very securely.

The Samsung Gear S2 is rated IP68, which means it’s dust and water resistant. You could happily wear it in the shower or during torrential rain.

Battery Life

Samsung has equipped the Gear S2 with a 250mAh battery, which is actually quite small for a modern smartwatch (most have 300mAh or higher).

Samsung claims this is good for around two or three days use with always on display turned off, and around 1.5 days with it turned on. I found this to be absolutely spot on, with the watch lasting around three days with mixed use at a push.

When the battery life gets to around five percent, the Gear S2 will prompt you to activate battery saving mode, which reduces a majority of features to stretch out battery life a little longer. This is a very effective feature, though it does leave the S2 severely underpowered until you get to a plug socket.

Samsung Gear S2 on Wireless Charger

In short, the battery life is good, better than most of its Android Wear counterparts, even if it’s certainly not a stand out performer like the Pebble Time. I’d love to see a five-day battery life, but realistically that’s not going to happen.

Charging the battery to full takes around an hour, which isn’t bad. The charging connector is a combination of the Moto 360 charger and the Apple Watch dock. The Gear S2 features wireless charging, and sits in its cradle with magnets, stopping the wearable from falling out.

It’s a really neat little dock, and features an LED on the front which turns from red to green when the watch has finished charging.

The watch supports the QI wireless charging standard, which means you can place it on any compatible QI dock and it’ll start drawing power.

The Samsung Gear S2 functions like any other smartwatch, it alerts you to texts, emails and other smartphone notifications, tracks your steps, a runs a number of apps.

When you receive a smartphone notification, the watch vibrates, and displays the message. You can choose to dismiss it, or interact with it.

In order to make the most of the rotating bezel, Samsung has decided the Gear S2 should run its own Tizen operating system. This is a risky strategy, which has both positive and negative repercussions.

Of course, as well as using the bezel to navigate the device, you could also use the touch screen. Although I rarely found myself doing that while testing.

Samsung Gear S2 UI

We’ll start with the positives, first by looking at Samsung’s main rivals, neither of which have a perfect operating system. The Apple Watch is very fiddly, and has a lot of functions hidden away behind Force Touch, which is not as intuitive as it should be.

In comparison, Android Wear is much more intuitive, but it requires a lot of swiping and tapping to navigate, which isn’t ideal on such a small screen. Although you can use voice control on both, if you’re socially ready for that.

The Gear S2 takes the best of each OS, and combines them to create the best UI we’ve seen on a smartwatch. Tizen is very similar to Android Wear, with your home screen watch face, and then different cards for at-a-glance information. Whereas navigating the cards on Android Wear requires furious swiping, those in Tizen can be viewed with one fluid twist of the bezel.

While Android Wear is coming on leaps and bounds, Google doesn’t let manufacturers apply their own UIs, so Tizen really helps to differentiate the Gear S2 from the hoard of Android Wear watches out there.

From the watch face rotating the dial clockwise scrolls through information cards, these tell you information such as steps taken, calendar appointments, weather, music controls and shortcuts to other functions, such as apps and favourite contacts. Tap on these pages, and more information is displayed about them.

Samsung Gear S2 Notifications

Rotate the bezel anti-clockwise and you’re shown the most recent notifications from your smartphone, including emails, texts and missed calls. Tapping on an email allows you to read the entire text, scrolling down using the rotating bezel. Tapping on the three dots to the left of a message brings up the options, allowing you to archive, delete, reply, open on phone, block or clear all notifications.

Reply to messages can be done one of three ways, either with programmable set messages, emoji, or using a T9-esque predictive keyboard.

Apps are presented as one long list with multiple pages which you can scroll through with the bezel. It’s not as simple as the Apple Watch app list (but it is less fiddly), and easier to navigate than Android Wear.

Pressing the button near the five o’clock position will either take you to the app page, or home, depending where you are, and the button at the two o’clock position will send you back one screen. These buttons can take some getting used to, but they make navigating a breeze.

If you long press on the lock screen you’re given the option to change watch faces, and unlike the Google Now cards on Android Wear, the cards of information on Tizen can be organised, so you can see the information you want first. That’s a big benefit.

Samsung Gear S2 App

Watch faces are plentiful, and Samsung provide some pleasing options to customise their standard designs (change the dial, complications or hands, for example). This is best done on the companion smartphone application.

One of our favourite features has to be an SOS alert. Pressing the 5 o’clock button three times in quick succession sends an SOS alert to a selected contact, along with your GPS location. Very James Bond.

As I mentioned, the Gear S2 bezel controller is a real breakthrough. That’s just as well, since the other way of interacting with the watch – voice control – is pretty poor.

You can wake up voice control with a programmable command, just like ‘OK Google’, or ‘Hey Siri’. We went with ‘S Voice’, the name of the software. It takes what feels like an age to wake up, and once awake doesn’t get much faster. It’s definitely enough to put you off voice control, but may be adequate in emergency situations.

Specs and Performance

The Samsung Gear S2 comes packing a 1GHz processor and 512MB of RAM. That’s only a tad lower spec than the high-end Android Wear devices, which have 1.2GHz processors. Actually, the same chipset has recently appeared in the Samsung Gear Fit 2, the company’s latest fitness tracker.

Apps generally open quickly, but larger, more processor intensive apps such as Here Maps can take a while to load.

Samsung Gear S2

The Gear S2 has 4GB of storage on board for music and apps, which is plenty. I’m nowhere near filling it up.

The internal specs and performance are on par with the latest watches from other Apple and Motorola et al. The Tizen OS is snappy and responsive, and I didn’t experience any slowdowns during testing.

In terms of sensors, Samsung has included an accelerometer, gyroscope, heart rate sensor, ambient light sensor, and barometer.

There’s no GPS, so it’s not going to serve as a proper running watch, despite its sporty styling. Saying that, it’ll still count your steps and monitor your heart rate throughout the day, this can be viewed on your smartphone by downloading the Samsung S Heath app.

The watch connects to your smartphone with Bluetooth 4.1, and further connectivity options appear in the form of Wi-Fi and NFC.

Samsung Gear S2 Settings Page

Wi-Fi isn’t new for a smartwatch, but it’s a great inclusion, meaning the watch can continue to receive notifications even if your phone is elsewhere.

NFC is used for Samsung Pay contactless payment, which only works if you also have a Samsung phone.

Apps

Apps are accessed through the Gear S2’s smartphone companion app. It allows you to search the store, and organises them into best picks, categories, or the most popular.

This is where Tizen has a negative impact on the watch. Whereas Pebble, Android Wear and Watch OS 2 are relatively well established operating systems with a flourishing user and developer base, Tizen is comparatively barren.

Currently, there are very few big name apps available in the store. Launch apps like Nike+, Yelp, ESPN, Flipboard, Here Maps, Line and Lifesum are all present, but after that the list is a bit more ‘independent’ and lacking in quality.

Samsung Gear S2 Apps Page

Some of these are really useful, Here Maps is great for navigation, and the Nike+ app is very competent at fitness tracking, but it’s a shame there isn’t a wealth of choice when it comes to apps.

There’s also a disappointing list of third party watch faces, with very few customisation options available.

Will this change? I hope so, as it would be a shame to see Samsung’s efforts wasted because developers didn’t adopt the platform. The preloaded Samsung apps are fine however, they all work and look fairly standard.

Compatibility

In the past Tizen has only been compatible with Samsung smartphones, greatly limiting their potential user base. Thankfully, the Gear S2 is compatible with any Android phone running 4.4 and higher with over 1.5GB RAM. I tested it using a Moto X Style and HTC One M8, neither of which caused any problems.

More recently, Samsung has added iOS compatibility for any phone running at least iOS 9. In our experience, it's not much different than using the Gear S2 on an Android phone, and that's a good thing.

Competitors

Starting with the Android Wear-toting Huawei Watch. In terms of internal specifications, the Huawei Watch is more powerful, with 1.2GHz processor against the S2’s 1GHz processor. Is that noticeable? Not really, the Tizen OS seems just as slick as Android Wear, although opening apps can take a little time. The Huawei Watch has lower resolution screen than the S2, 304 ppi vs 286 ppi. Both are very good screens, vibrant, but the S2 edges it slightly (both are fully circular, unlike the Moto 360).

The design of the Huawei Watch is a little more chunky, but it feels well-made, solid, and more premium. That does come at a cost however, with the starting cost around £299 (US$ 349.99, around AU$ 549), a little more than the Samsung Gear S2 which starts around £249.99 ($ 299.99, around AU$ 428) – but can be found for as little as £200 online.

Also competing with the Samsung’s Gear S2 is the Moto 360, which, like the Huawei Watch, also runs Android Wear.

The Moto 360 is beautifully designed smartwatch, the internal specifications are identical to that of the Huawei Watch’s, but the screen is by far the worst of the bunch. It’s an LCD panel with a ppi of 233. It’s a desirable Android Wear smartwatch, but it’s far from the best.

The Samsung Gear S2 is currently our favourite smartwatch, the innovative bezel makes navigating the interface intuitive and simple. The watch is well made, but in my opinion, it’s not as desirable as the Moto 360 or the Huawei Watch – it misses that ‘luxe’. The Gear S2 resembles a piece of technology, it’s ‘futuristic chic’, but the Moto 360 and Huawei Watch are more traditional, and fashion focused.

The lack of apps does let down the Gear S2 down. The Gear Store is certainly barren in comparison to the Google Play Store. I haven’t really found that to be a problem, as apps are one of the features I find myself using the least. Maybe you’re different, maybe not.

When the Samsung Gear S2 was first released it was more expensive than the Moto 360, priced around £249.99 ($ 299.99, around AU$ 428). But now the cost of the watch has fallen a little bit, so both can be picked up for around the same price.

Apple Watch

Although not a direct competitor, it’s also interesting to compare the Gear S2 to the Apple Watch, because that rivalry is always entertaining.

Both of the screens have a pixel density of 304 ppi, both are vibrant, the difference being the Apple Watch is rectangular and the Gear S2 is circular. It’s my opinion that circular displays look nicer.

The bezel and crown work the same way, but for me, the rotating bezel is more intuitive to use. The UI of the Gear S2 is easier to navigate, while the Watch OS 2 is more fiddly.

The Apple Watch feels more premium, has more strap options and a tonne more apps. That does come at a premium price, with the Apple Watch starting at £299 ($ 349, AU$ 499).

I’m pretty enthusiastic about the Samsung Gear S2 – unusually so for a wearable, which have rapidly settled into a furrow of competent sameiness. There’s a lot to like here, even if it’s by no means perfect. Here are my final thoughts on the device.

We Liked

The rotating bezel is a true smartwatch innovation, it makes navigating Tizen OS a breeze, and reduces the amount of unnecessary swiping and tapping. It certainly improves the user experience, with a lovely smooth mechanism, which clicks when you turn it.

Tizen OS is also pretty decent, it clearly shows Samsung has taken a measured approach, taking the best aspects from Apple’s Watch OS 2, and Android Wear. It’s simple to navigate, and customisable, so you can access the information you want quickly. Given time, we’d expect this to get even better with software updates.

The sAMOLED screen on the Samsung Gear S2 is also a real standout feature, it’s incredibly sharp, vibrant, and fully circular. It’s the sharpest screen available on a smartwatch, equaling the Apple Watch’s 302ppi.

We Disliked

Although Tizen UI is one of the device’s biggest advantages, it also introduces a few problems. Mainly, it lacks an established developer base, the app store has very few high-quality apps in. As Samsung is a relatively big name, we expect this to change, but right now app fans might be disappointed.

S Voice is also a let down compared to Google and even Siri. It’s slow, and doesn’t provide a good enough reason to use it on a regular basis. It certainly feels like this is something that can be worked on, though the saving grace is that the alternative control mechanism – the bezel – is the best to date.

Verdict

The Samsung Gear S2 is one of the best smartwatches on the market, the Korean company have clearly learnt a lot from their previous attempts, and their rivals.

It’s the embodiment of Samsung’s tendency to iterate under the spotlight, the culmination of several attempts to nail a type of product that we collectively have only just begun to understand.

The device really feels like a step forward in smartwatch design, the rotating bezel, and Tizen OS are genuinely useful innovations. We can’t wait to see this start popping up on other smartwatches.

Of course, Samsung’s rivals are also advancing, the Moto 360, Huawei Watch and Apple Watch are all getting better as well. It’s an encouraging sign for smartwatch enthusiasts.

The Samsung Gear S2 is without doubt one of the best smartwatches available, and it’s definitely worth considering over similarly priced Android Wear devices.

TechRadar – Technology Reviews

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