As smart technology begins to adapt into new frontiers, stretching its boundaries beyond that of the phone and into other common devices, the Samsung Gear 2 seems to be one of the first to really achieve what it is to be a smart ‘watch’, but does that make it necessary, or an extravagant novelty?
The first impression any device can give to a potential buyer is the box it comes in, and Samsung seems to follow a common philosophy in design for device containers, opting for a simple, stylish box that avoids seeming cluttered by irrelevant information. Many Samsung boxes have suffered from a clutter of imagery that deters from a brand identity, yet the Gear 2 holds a simple design that clearly defines itself; this is a stylish, cool product that you should be looking into. The box itself has a wooden pattern split into two sections, an upper and lower which encase a sturdier cardboard case for holding the device. The title of the product is dead centre, leaving the rest of the main cover blank. Basic information has been put on the back of the box, namely the size and material of the product, and various basic specs such as connectivity, camera specs, speaker information and resistance to water and dirt. The box has been made from 100% post-consumer recycled paper, and can be recycled itself.
Heading inside the box, a very clear effort has been made to make the opening process as exciting as possible; the watch itself is centre fold, having a sleeve of thin card holding it in place whilst simultaneously hiding the less interesting, more serviceable clutter. The watch can be removed without lifting the flap, but underneath you’ll find a charger and charger pack. This is an interesting shift in tone from the current packaging philosophy; with a culture heavily dedicated to an “unboxing” ceremony, Samsung instead has designed their current boxes to emphasise the excitement of the product.
The watch gives off a fantastic first impression; from the moment the box is opened you’re encouraged to lift it out of its seat. The colour scheme for the ‘gold brown’ version of the Gear 2 perfectly matches a general aesthetic of class, with a subtle suggestion of the device being a classic. It’s not too heavy, no more than an expensive watch would be, and sits rather comfortably on either wrist – the screen is designed in such a way that both left and right-handed individuals can use it with ease. The straps that hold the watch to your arm continue to perpetuate an image of excellent quality. To this extent, the watch is very comfortable. The only complaint about the initial design is the placement of the camera, but we’ll get into that later.
The Gear 2 requires that you have a Samsung phone to sync it up to, operating almost entirely through a free application called “Gear Manager”. At this point, potential buyers may be dissuaded by the reliability the device has on a phone, as you will need to keep carrying the phone you synced the device with in order to use the watch. Luckily, the effort required to sync the Gear 2 is incredibly minimal, taking me less than a minute to get finished. Once synced, a minimal amount of adaptation can be performed through the settings menu of the Gear 2 itself, but be prepared to spend a lot of time on the ‘Gear Manager’, at least whilst getting started. The application on your phone installs external applications to the Gear 2, handles more trivial data like adding personal wallpapers, and importing/exporting photos.
The basic set of applications on the device only achieves the bare minimum of the devices potential; Four fitness applications, media applications such as a music player and voice memo application, not to mention notification, contact and dial-up capabilities take up the bulk of the data installed; on the Samsung app store itself, found through the ‘Gear Manager’ on your phone, you’ll find more traditional and/or recreational applications, such as social networking applications, games and other utilities. It is worth bearing in mind that these are purely recreational, but limited in their scope; They may be good for procrastinating in a boring meeting, waiting for a bus or filling the gaps in a long car journey, but most of the games are barely serviceable and painfully simplistic (For example, a port of Pac-Man suffers from slow controls and lack of visual scope). One difference to be noted is the appeal for social networking; although the ability to respond is difficult due to the size of any typing utensils, I did find it quite helpful to have notifications pop up on my watch for me to go and check on a larger device, such as my phone.
The camera on the Gear 2 boasts some very impressive specs for the size and scale of the device; a 2.0 megapixel camera is placed on the outward-facing slope of the device proper. Pictures are taken by tapping the screen, with Samsung accommodating for the more awkward controls with an auto-focus feature that centrally focuses before a shot is taken. The photos that come out are, for the most part, of very high quality, but many photos suffer from a lack of variety due to the limited manoeuvrability of the human wrist. Regardless of these limitations, the photos can be taken with the possibility of 1920×1080, 1080×1080 or 1280×960 proportions, with many looking of much higher quality than of those taken on a wrist-worn device. Bold colours in larger, block patterns seem to come out best, with muddled pictures coming out with the least focus and tact, most probably due to the auto-focused nature of many of these images.
The only problem I can find with the camera is, well… the inclusion of one.
Elaborating on this point slightly further, the inclusion of a camera on a wrist-worn device just seems like an odd decision for me. The smart watch operates best in a simplistic capacity, using apps that focus on fitness, time and communication. Although the angle that the camera is at suits the level of the majority of shots, the requirement to take pictures like such means they are often stealthy. It would work great as a spy camera, a theme I want you to bear in mind as I bring it up later. The inclusion of a camera is also presumably one of the main contributing factors towards the overall price of the Gear 2 in comparison to the Gear 2 Neo, its cheaper companion with no camera.
Continuing swiftly to how well the Gear 2 runs is a welcome perpetuation of the simplistic and smooth device operation that has been a standard in recent Samsung devices. It’s reminiscent of the early appeal Apple products held in the smartphone market; the Tizen operating system is beautifully designed with a touch for what makes the smart watch what its best designed for. The interface is divided into five ‘home’ screens that you can scroll between to get basic information from the majority of the device-included applications. External applications can be placed on the home screen, but they are often held under the ‘applications’ section, which documents and presents every application you installed. The brightness can be adjusted, from its factory setting of ‘4’, which is extremely bright in an office environment, up to ‘6’, which is labelled ‘outdoor’ mode. Honestly, outdoor mode is so bright it can cause eye strain when inside, so it is best used when out in the afternoon to combat sun glare or reflection.
The 1.63” Super AMOLED screen is perfectly serviceable when it comes to general consumption of the device, giving it a very clear appearance that works well when indoors. Outdoors, the screen seems to suffer, especially in daylight, requiring the higher brightness, but it does better than an iPhone 4/5 on a middling brightness. The battery life compliments the need to change brightness well, managing to last a very sturdy 2-3 days when under ‘typical usage’. If used sparingly, say, for only checking the time, the battery can last up to six days. Measures seem to be in place to make sure that the watch cannot overheat when under the strain of running applications, perpetuating the comfortable nature of the device. Basic motion sensors in the device also make the screen turn on and display the time when you move your arm towards your face, which gives an extra, enjoyable element to the device as a whole. Samsung is fantastic at assuring these great, quirky, ‘quality of life’ features, and I feel like the device does manage to achieve some of these. Its clever programming and design that really brings these ‘smart’ devices to life.
A lot of the features of the Device are aimed around the mobility, and realistic usage. Thankfully, the camera is a standalone feature of what seems to be a conversion of a smartphone into a wearable device, as many of the features present on the Gear 2 take full advantage of the different platform. In terms of fitness, something the watch could naturally excel at, the Gear 2 includes a Heart Rate monitor, Pedometer, Exercise ‘modes’ (running, walking) and a sleep mode, all of which are featured on the home page and actively encourage the use of the device out and about. The music player is sleek in design and control, allowing for listening on the go if you manage to have a Bluetooth headset. The WatchON remote is a handy, if somewhat gimmicky application that allows you to change the channel on TV and/or operate the television sets with an IR LED Sensor, something which could be considered quite handy if you have a habit for losing remote controls, or a penchant for going on rampages through the local supermarket, turning off every television set you see.
The Gear 2 presents a lot of promise for the smart watch platform. It’s a sleek, stylistic device with a superb operating system, managing to fulfil its role as a truly wearable device through an encouragement for movement, outdoor activity and quick, simple applications. It seems to be, with comparison to some of the other smart watch devices out there, the best choice. Yet, we find ourselves returning to the question I had to ask myself at the beginning of this review; is it just a novelty?
The problem with the original iPad when it first came out was that it struggled to find an identity. People had no idea how to use it in accordance with phones, the smaller screens, or TV’s, consoles and computers, the bigger screens. It would take at least a year for a true identity to reveal itself, and although the tablet was originally seen as a novelty platform, it is now one of the largest technology industries in the world.
The smart watch is not a novelty; it’s a gadget. A true spy gadget, not too far off of something you could see Q giving James Bond to mess with on one of his missions. The Gear 2, and to an extent, a lot of the first generation smart watches, are an experiment to see just what they can do with the platform, and the Gear 2 takes it the furthest. If you’re desperate to buy a Gear 2, I suggest you go for the Gear 2 Neo; it’s cheaper, and although the cheaper plastic doesn’t give you the same style that the counterpart does, it forgoes the most expensive and, unfortunately most redundant feature of the device. This isn’t to say the Gear 2 is a bad piece of technology. Quite the contrary, in fact; it’s TOO good for the current market, and as such its features suffer from the lack of appreciation and the bloated price.
The Samsung Gear 2 may be the best smart watch on the market. It’s a shame there’s not a big enough market to hold it yet.