Smartwatches

Review: Samsung Gear S2 and Gear S2 Classic smartwatches

Monitor your health and look cool and stylish with Samsung’s latest in wearable tech, which use a proprietary operating system but are compatible with Android devices from other makers

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 20 December, 2015, 8:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 11 October, 2016, 1:04pm

Samsung is no stranger to wearables. The company was among the first to introduce a smartwatch, the Galaxy Gear, in 2013 that ran on the Android OS. Its latest releases, the Gear S2 and the Gear S2 Classic, have made several leaps forward and are on a completely different system called Tizen, which the Korean phone maker helped develop (along with other partners including Intel).

Hardware and design

The Gear S2 looks just like a traditional watch, thanks to its curvy stainless steel face, but has a relatively slimmer body. The S2 Classic, as its name suggests, is classier and is the device tested in this review.

Its rotating bezel is adorned with ridges and makes turning a little easier. This is an important feature because it is with this bezel you navigate the functions of the smartwatch.

With such a small display, a touch and tap experience is rendered almost impractical as your finger is likely to obscure everything on the watch face. Other manufacturers have made attempts to counter this problem by either relying completely on buttons as seen on the Pebble, or having a combination of touch and secondary input such as the digital crown on the Apple watch.

The Gear S2 Classic is closer to the latter but takes the concept further. While the digital crown is limited to depth navigation such as zooming, the rotating bezel gives you vertical navigation, allowing for item selection as well as screen switching. Two further buttons to the right hand side take care of going back a step and to the Home screen.

Flip the watch over and you see a piece of glass that houses the heart rate monitor and it all looks quite elegant. Having traditional watch lugs and spring bars means you can mix and match the straps with any third-party offering. Although the straps that come with the Classic are made of leather, some might prefer the stainless steel variation.

Features

Out of the box, the Gear S2 Classic comes with every feature a smartwatch user would need, from a simple timer and calculator to fitness tracker. You can activate these features via S-Voice – Samsung’s voice assistant. Text input can be done through either a tiny T9 keyboard or by using your voice.

In the past, Samsung has kept its wearables tied to their own devices, a strategy that didn’t go down well with consumers. That has now changed. The smartwatch no longer works exclusively with Samsung devices and is compatible with a good number of Android handsets from different brands.

Samsung has a suite of apps – such as the Gear Manager and S-Health that bridge the connection between watch and phone. Don’t expect compatibility with the iPhone yet.

Since all the smartphone functions run off Samsung software, everything is still tied to them. So while the Gear S2 Classic is capable of passive heart rate monitoring, all the useful data stay on the S-Health app. It is the same with data from the step counter. If you’ve been using Google Fit as a central repository then you’re out of luck because these two apps don’t talk to each other.

Third-party apps are limited but this isn’t exactly a deal breaker – just look at the Apple watch. The situation so far is that third-party app support just isn’t convincing enough as a selling point for smartwatches so really it’s a non-issue.

What’s more (if not the most) important is getting notifications right. Smartwatches are more about reading snippets of information without having to pull out your phone and the Gear S2 Classic performs well in this area. Spin the bezel left for past notifications and right for apps.

The only problem here is the S2’s weak vibration. The pulse was hardly ever felt.

The Tizen OS also offers great customisation.

The circular display offers 302 pixels per inch which is a mere 20 or so pixels behind the Apple watch. But it’s the brilliant colours emitted by the Super AMOLED technology that brings the watch faces to life.

Conclusion

The Gear S2 and Gear S2 Classic perform with speed – Tizen feels as though it’s very light on resource usage. The battery lasts 2½ to 3 days. It is clear now why Samsung continues to invest in the operating system.

This doesn’t mean the Classic model doesn’t have its issues. Users who like to wear their watches on their right hand might find that there is no option to flip the orientation around (yet) so the Home and Back buttons will continue being an awkward reach.

While the ridges on the bezel help with the rotation and style, I felt if they were more angular, they would suit men far better. As it is now, they may look better on a woman. Fortunately this doesn’t carry over to the Gear S2 edition – design and build materials are all that separate the two.

The Gear S2 series is fine if you’re looking for something fresh, intuitive and innovative, but not so great if you want something more established with plenty of third-party app support.

Check that it’s compatible with your Android smartphone before taking the plunge.

Samsung Gear S2 HK$2,588

Samsung Gear S2 Classic HK$2,888