Samsung Gear S2 Hands-On Preview: Better than the Apple Watch (Potentially)

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Samsung has always used IFA to launch major products, including the original Galaxy Note phablet. This year, the Gear maker used the event commonly dubbed “European CES” to debut what it hopes will be another trend-setting device, the Gear S2, Samsung’s first round smartwatch.

The Gear S2 will be Samsung’s first round smartwatch.

The Gear S2 will be Samsung’s first round smartwatch.

Based on our time with the Gear S2, it seems Samsung has the potential to accomplish what has eluded it with its Tizen operating system, which is behind the Gear S’s entirely new interface that is based largely around its rotating display. That is, create a compelling product with this X factor.

Gear S2 will ship in two versions, casual and classic, which differ only in band material (silicone or leather) and the stainless steel body design. A 3G casual smartwatch is also available, which comes with an e-SIM card.

The device has a 1.2-inch, 360 x 360-pixel Super AMOLED display, resulting in a pixel density of 302 pixels per inch. The imaging is very sharp (this is clear just by looking at the specifications) with highly saturated colors and a great contrast (a hallmark of AMOLED). The contrast specifically is very important, especially when it comes to watches, given that we tend to look at them from atypical angles and various distances, often outdoors and in bright settings.

Samsung smartphones and tablets have some of the best displays on the market, so it’s no surprise its smartwatch would as well.

Samsung Gear S2 comes with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 chipset with two cores running a 1GHz clock, 512MB of RAM and 4GB of memory storage. Of course, this is a suitable spec sheet for a smartwatch, and it functioned well during our limited hands-on time with it.

The Samsung Gear S2 pairs with just about any Android smartphone.

The Samsung Gear S2 pairs with just about any Android smartphone.

The Gear S2 has a 250mAh battery, while the 3G version has a 300mAh battery. Samsung representatives claim this is sufficient for two, or even three full days of autonomy. If true (and manufacturer battery claims are usually exaggerated), this will be another selling point for the watch. Smartwatch battery life is poor across the market, even with the Apple Watch, and most units struggle to last a full day.

Another important novelty which will prove significant for the device’s market success is that Gear S2 can be used with just about any Android OS smartphone, not just a Samsung upper-class handset, as the case was with some of this manufacturer’s previous smartwatches. Still, paired up with Samsung phones, Gear S2 provides certain additional functions, like Samsung Pay support.

On the wrist, Gear S2 looks like a regular watch, especially the casual version, which is reminiscent of a Swatch watch due to the cheerful user interface and vibrant colors of the Super AMOLED display. Of course, the watch’s appearance can be adjusted to personal preference thanks to its various skins and band colors. The device is surprisingly light and slim (the 3G version is slightly heavier and thicker because of the bigger battery and e-SIM) and it does not represent an unnatural bulk on the wrist, as the case may be with too many other smartwatches.

The Samsung Gear S2 looks almost like a Swatch watch.

The Samsung Gear S2 looks almost like a Swatch watch.

Perhaps its strongest selling point is its delightful UI. Managing options and navigating by rotating the display edge is exceptionally intuitive. When the user reaches the desired option by rotating it, they only need to tap the display in order to select it, while pressing the Back key on the right exits the chosen option or application.

This rotation takes place smoothly with a slight clicking sound, and is so clear, logical and natural that it raises this question: why didn’t any other device maker of this sooner? No matter how much the circular icon imaging is reminiscent of the Apple Watch interface, Gear S2’s interface is far better. The software was a big drawback to Apple’s wearable, while it could be a selling point for the Gear S2.

Samsung Gear S2 is set to launch globally in October. No word on pricing.

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