The utility of the watch was subverted long before the smartphone came along. Clocks on everything from ovens to cable boxes means that wearing a timepiece isn’t really about time as much it is about fashion and habit.
In that sense, the Samsung Gear 2 triumphs over its predecessor. It’s less clunky, having moved its camera from the band to the watch. And though rightfully bigger than most traditional watches, the Gear 2 is immediately comfortable to the point where you miss it when you’re not wearing it.
The second-generation of the watch, which retails for steep $299, packs some other notable enhancements of version 1.0. It’s now lighter, faster, water-resistant (not just splash-proof), and longer battery life—a full charge lasted about two and a half days for me with moderate use. Most importantly, it runs on Samsung’s Tizen operating system—hence the “Galaxy” dropped from its name.
The focal point of the new OS on the Gear 2 is fitness. An exercise tracker that adjusts for walking, running, biking and hiking has a prominent spot on the watch along with a pedometer and the heart rate application. Setting the watch before a workout is fairly simple but getting a heart rate reading took a few attempts every time I tried it. Through a cumbersome process, music can be uploaded to the watch and listened to via Bluetooth headphones. So you can leave your phone at home while out for a jog and when you get back, all the info syncs to the S Health app on whatever device your Gear is paired with.
As for the Gear 2’s role during the majority of my life spent not working out, the fun and functions of the watch mostly served as conversation starters rather than tools.
In a quiet environment like the car, home or office, calling worked well on the watch. Every one of my contacts that I bothered said I sounded as good if not better than a typical speakerphone when calling with the Gear 2, with minimal outside noise jumping in. Hearing them, however, was challenging with the limited volume and clarity of the external speaker.
The novelty of receiving alerts and notifications on the watch didn’t wear off in the short time I used it and the Gear Manager app made it fairly simple to add or subtract applications from the notification list. Next to that in the Gear Manager app is an easily edited list of preset SMS responses. With a little bit of tweaking, I was able to put together an answer set that could work for a bit in lieu of a keyboard. Smartly, Samsung just added a Blocking Mode to silence updates in a new update for the OS.
The most controversial part of the Gear 2 is the camera, which is much less pronounced now that it’s on the watch face bezel. Most people who inquired about the watch’s camera inevitably steered the conversation toward creeper shots. But that kind of behavior is probably much easier with a smartphone given their ubiquity and besides, it’s hard to look inconspicuous while aiming your watch. Coupled with the 2-megapixel performance and 15-second limit on videos, and the watch doesn’t have much use besides capturing new wallpapers. Hopefully the next Samsung Gear will face the camera toward the front and enable a video-calling feature. Even if it only works with other Gears, it will still be very cool.
Outside those core features, most of the other functions work as advertised. WatchOn controlled my TV via the infrared sensor, opening up tremendous potential for messing with other people’s TVs. S Voice worked well for placing calls and other basic needs. Even the timer has a clever interface. Surprisingly, there’s no calculator, a classic watch function going back to the days of Casio.
Luckily, there is absolutely no shortage of calculator apps for the Gear 2. But besides those and loads of custom watch faces and wallpapers, I had a hard time finding much else for the Gear 2. Chalk that up partly to the recent switch to Tizen and the still fledgling market for smartwatch apps. But be ready to suffer with little or no new apps for the time being.
The Gear 2 is a strong step up from its hurried and much-maligned predecessor and the functionality, though limited, works like it’s supposed to. For those pairing it up with an unwieldy phablet, this will be a relief. But the lack of apps and likelihood of waning interest in all features except the notifications, weather, alarm and clock means the Gear 2 might begin to outweigh the trouble it takes to charge it.