- Editor's Rating
- Immaculate Super AMOLED displays
- Gear Fit's ergonomic curves are wonderful
- Significantly improved battery life across the board
- Few available apps
- Exercise sensor isn't always accurate
- Limited response options to notifications
Just half a year after presenting its first smartwatch, the Galaxy Gear, Samsung has revealed three new wearable devices: two smartwatch successors called the Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo, and a smartwatch and a fitness bracelet hybrid dubbed the Gear Fit. Among other things, they mark one of the first times Samsung has omitted its famous Galaxy branding from its mobile devices, a surprise given how mammoth the name has become in the Android space.
This time out, the wearables run on Samsung’s own Tizen OS, but the software change hasn’t stopped all three devices from progressing quite a bit when compared to the six-month-old Galaxy Gear. In retrospect, this shouldn’t be a big surprise, since the first projects in any entirely new gadget family are typically shaky, and it usually takes a few new models for things to mature.
Samsung has crafted three such devices here, offering plenty of value for new customers — yet still leaving room for improvement. That room is rather significant when it comes to Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo, but the Gear Fit bracelet is, in many ways, the best wearable device currently available on the market.
Build and Design (Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo)
Let’s start with the Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo, which differ in just one detail — the latter does not come with a camera (and its accompanying application). As far as design goes, these watches have not changed a great deal compared to Galaxy Gear. Their bodies are still robustly square and crafted out of polished metal, while their straps are made of very flexible plastic. The straps’ clasps no longer holds a microphone, making them somewhat slimmer as a whole. Furthering that sentiment on the Gear 2 is the fact that the camera has now moved from the strap to the upper part of the watch.
Neither device’s band includes electronic parts this time out. This makes them more practical than the Galaxy Gear, as their straps can now be replaced and customized with differently colored alternatives more easily.
The Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo have just one key, located right below the display, while their backs feature a charger and a heartbeat sensor. Both the watches are IP67-certified, meaning they are suitably dust- and water-resistant. In other words, feel free to shower while wearing them.
Generally speaking, Samsung has improved upon the build of the Galaxy Gear, and neither the Gear 2 nor the Gear 2 Neo feels unnatural on the wrist. Aesthetically, though, they still look atypical next to everyday watches — they look less like fashion accessories or pieces of jewelry, and more like techno-futuristic experiments.
Build and Design (Gear Fit)
Samsung’s Gear Fit leaves a significantly better impression than either of the smartwatches. Next to its competitors in the fitness bracelet market, the Gear Fit is surely the most convincing product of its kind. Unlike the watches, it doesn’t seem bulky; it’s significantly lighter, fits more smoothly with its band and, most importantly, comes with a rounded display that naturally follows the curvature of the wrist. All of its sensors are located on the back of the body, as is the case with its smartwatch siblings.
As it’s a hybrid between a notifications device and a fitness band, the Gear Fit will display the time on its thin and tiny display when you’re not working out, measuring their pulse, or the like. Flipping through the Gear Fit’s UI can be done with just one finger, but only up to three icons can fit on the display at any given time. By contrast, the Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo can display up to four icons at a time.
Still, the exceptionally narrow display form is unnatural for reading data, since everything is written across the length of screen by default. You can change the settings so that all information is written across the width of the device, making it so text is naturally oriented towards the eyes when the hand is moved to the face, but that only looks more awkward on such a small screen. Despite all that, though, the Gear Fit leaves a more convincing impression as a fitness band than the Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo do as smartwatches.
Display and Specs
The Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo both feature a 1.63-inch, Super AMOLED screen that looks fantastic on such a small surface. As with the displays on Samsung’s top-tier smartphones, there aren’t many complaints to be had about its quality — sharpness, brightness, color saturation, and contrast are all exceptional.
The Gear Fit’s display is also a head-turner. It’s a curved, Super AMOLED 1.48-inch screen, but with an atypically thin shape, which explains its unusual 438 x 132 resolution. Its height is actually greater than that of Gear 2’s display, even though it’s far smaller from a width standpoint. Either way, its quality is worthy of just as much praise as the Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo’s displays.
The exact hardware power of these devices isn’t all that important in the long run, but it’s worth noting that all three wearables come with a 1 GHz, dual-core chipset, 512 MB of RAM, 4GB of internal storage, Bluetooth 4.0, an IR blaster, a built-in microphone, and a built-in accelerometer. The Gear 2’s camera, meanwhile, comes packing a humble 2 megapixels. They all run just fine.
All three devices sport a 300 mAh battery that can now last up to three days with average usage. That’s an improvement over the Galaxy Gear, whose battery required daily recharging. The devices are charged via a cradler that connects to their backs.
One nifty way Samsung has saved battery life here is by having the Gear devices recognize whenever you turn your wrist is turned towards your face, and then display the current time accordingly. This doesn’t function all that well in practice, but it can work fairly consistently with some practice. Either way, gesture recognition is much more responsive on the Gear Fit than it is on the Gear 2.
In order to get any use out of the three new wearables, you need to connect them via Bluetooth to one of 17 supported Samsung smartphones, tablets or phablets. These are mainly flagship level Galaxy devices, ranging from the Galaxy S3 to the Galaxy S5 and other new models. And before connecting any wearable to an earlier Samsung device, you need to download the Gear Manager app needs to from Samsung’s proprietary app store.
Apart from enabling the connection with the watch, this app is where each wearables’ settings are managed, where apps are on installed, where alternative watchfaces and themes are installed, and the like. These settings can also be changed through the Gear devices themselves, but it feels more natural to do all of that on a larger display if you can.
The bad news here is that, due to the switch from Tizen to Android, all the apps that previously worked with the Galaxy Gear no longer work on any new Samsung wearable device. At the moment, there are only a few available apps for the three new wearables — most of which come from Samsung, with just about a dozen others from third-party developers. Most of those are related to cosmetic improvements and various skins. The one silver lining in all of this is that the Gear Manager app has not changed, which is to say it’s still clear and intuitive.
Apps and Camera
Although it’s a different OS, Tizen’s user interface on the new Gear devices is almost identical to the modified Android UI that came with the old Galaxy Gear. Each device comes with a fair amount of simplistic preloaded software, including a stopwatch, dialer, media controller, address book, call log, heart rate sensor, exercise monitor, and music player.
The exercise monitor, simply called Exercise, is a simplified version of Samsung’s S Health app for smartphones; as is the case there, Exercise lets you mark the start and end points of your workouts and then give you appropriate statistics and feedback.
As far as the built-in heart rate sensors go, they only seem to work if you are exceptionally calm. If you move just a bit during a reading, which lasts several seconds, the monitor will either fail or turn out imprecise data. There’s plenty of room for improvement, but again, readings are more precise on Gear Fit than they are on the Gear 2 — most likely because its rounded shape fits more snugly around the wrist.
As it includes a camera, the Gear 2 has the option of automatically transferring taken photographs to a connected smartphone’s gallery. This works wonderfully, and it’s easy to get used to the interplay between devices. Still, the camera’s small, 2-megapixel sensor takes photos that are just okay, however, and that’s provided that you’re in good lighting conditions.
The original Galaxy Gear didn’t do a particularly great job of integrating notifications from a connected smartphone, but Samsung has done a good deal of work in improving this key feature.
For instance, notifications for incoming emails now display the start of each message, giving you enough info to decide whether or not the email is immediately worth reading. Unfortunately, you’re still not able to reply to emails directly from the watch; that’s understandable given the devices’ small screens, but it’d still be nice if a stock “Yes” or “Talk to you later”-type reply could be sent right away.
The list of applications that send notifications is also impressive — many of the major ones, from your calendar to Candy Crush Saga, can push alerts directly to your wrist. The lack of dedicated Facebook and Twitter apps for these devices is still a sore spot, however.
The second generation of Samsung’s Gear family is a marked improvement over the first, and those who were on the fence about the original Galaxy Gear should find a worthwhile product here. The fact that you really need a flagship Galaxy phone to get the most out of each wearable is still annoying, yes, and the lacking app support, limited notifications, and questionable exercise sensors are disappointing as well.
But even with those shortcomings, technology buffs will find Samsung’s latest trio of wearables to be the most advanced group of smartwatches and smart bands yet. They’re pleasures to look at, and the Gear Fit particularly stuns with its exceptional performance and modern design. In the end, if having a camera on your wrist isn’t a dealbreaker, and if you’ve been aching to see what this whole smartwatch craze is about, both the Gear 2 Neo and Gear Fit are well worth their $200 price tags.