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Samsung Gear 2 Review

Posted: , posted by Chris P.

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Interface


Oh, boy, do we have a lot to talk about. Ladies and gentlemen, say goodbye to Android. That's right, the Gear 2 does not make use of Google's OS – it's got a Tizen heart instead. Google never really did intend, nor did it modify the existing Android code, for use on wearables with tiny displays, at least until recently, when the Android Wear project was announced. What Samsung did with the Galaxy Gear last year is modify the Android OS on its own, optimizing it for its watch. This likely steered Samsung towards Tizen, a platform it has far more control over. In any case, virtually nothing about the Tizen-based software looks or functions differently from the Android OS-based one in the first generation Gear. That said, a lot has been added on top of the previous platform.

But let's first talk about the user experience using the Gear 2. Well, it's actually exceedingly simplistic in nature, and in a good way. Unlike your non-smart watch, the display doesn't work all the time. However, by default, the display is set to wake up whenever it detects motion in an effort to try and guess motion reminiscent to when you raise your wrist to check the time as you would with a normal watch. Unfortunately, in our opinion, it is too sensitive, so the display constantly powers on. This not only drains the battery unnecessarily, but can also be annoying and distracting. That's why, after a while, we decided to keep the auto-waking up feature off, so we have to press the home button every time we want to see the time, just as on a phone.

The homescreen houses the time and date, along with quick access to the camera, pedometer, and options. Samsung provides you with a few choices here, and you can instead have the weather show up, or even set up a fitness-centric homescreen which constantly updates itself with the number of steps you've traveled.

Navigating your Gear 2 is simple – you just swipe left and right to access the different screens like you would on your smartphone. Whenever you need to quit an app or go back a step, you simply swipe from the top, and that's about it. The physical Home button also works like its Android counterparts – a click will transport you directly to your chosen homescreen, unless you're inside an app where it simply works like a back button.

The UI has been updated with the option to have a proper background image, instead of just having a pick of several primary colors and a few secondaries. What's more, apps are now arranged in a 2x2 grid for each homescreen and you can rearrange them, which makes navigation that much easier – gone are the days of endless scrolling about.

Functionality


So let's talk functionality. The Messages app, as you can imagine, allows you to read the full SMS text messages that you have received on your smartphone, and you can even use a number of pre-set templates with short answers, or even create your own. A dedicated E-mail app synchronizes with the built-in Samsung mailbox on your device, allowing you to read the full contents of an e-mail, instead of just serving as a “You've got mail!” type notification. You can, again, reply with pre-set answers, but nothing more.

The Notifications app contains each and every incoming and stored notification. They are not just snippets, and all the information from the notification you receive on your device is usually available right from your Gear 2. What's more, thanks to a feature called Smart Relay, you can easily transition between the tiny notification window on the Gear 2 directly to your full-sized device exactly where you left off.

You also get Dialer and Contact apps built-in, and they both are well-implemented for the small screen, and work well. For example, the Dialer will quickly recognize the number you're typing if you have it stored on your smartphone, and you can also use the numeric keypad to search and dial names directly, in T9-like fashion. As for the Contacts app, you can easily navigate through your many contacts thanks to the alphabetical slider on the right.

The rest of the built-in apps include the likes of S Voice for voice commands, a timer, a stopwatch, voice memos, and a weather app, which were also present on the original Gear. The new ones here are the Schedule app, which works in unison with your Samsung device's built-in calendar, and the WatchON Remote, which uses the built-in IR blaster to control your TV and set top box.

Also new are the Heart Rate app (which works in unison with the heart rate monitor on the back), allowing you to take measurements of your heart beat. Unfortunately, for it to work properly, you need to have the Gear 2 hugging your wrist bone, but not too tight, nor too loose. Even then, however, it usually takes over 10 seconds for an actual reading, and those can be quite erratic, too. There's also a new Exercise app, which essentially uses the pedometer and your profile's stats (age, height, weight, gender) to provide approximations of the distance and the speed at which you're moving, along with a calorie counter.

Want some extra apps specifically created for the Gear 2? There are some – like Evernote, Feedly, Banjo, along with several watch faces – but the list is really, really short, and a big portion of it isn't free. Maps or turn-by-turn navigation remain a mirage. Thankfully, apps that worked with the Galaxy Gear, work with the Gear 2 as well. However, the small app ecosystem size continues to be by far the biggest issue we have with Samsung's smartwatches.

Pairing with a phone


The Gear 2 is designed to be paired with your phone and not used as a standalone device. However, you cannot pair it with just any Android device. Instead, the smartwatch is only compatible with Samsung devices only, though the list has now grown to 18 different models, including the Galaxy S4 and S5, and even the Note 2 and 3. Although the list is generous compared to the first-gen Gear, it cannot be compared with the Pebble watch, which works with both Android and iOS devices.

The Gear 2 pairs via Bluetooth 4.0 LE, but it is not as easy as pairing a Bluetooth headset for example. It requires you to download the Gear Manager app on your phone/tablet off the Samsung app store, and go through a few prompts. The rest is, for all intents and purposes, a completely automated process, but a bit time consuming.

Processor and memory


The Gear 2 also ups the ante in the performance department, with a speedier, dual-core Samsung Exynos 3250 chip clocked at 1GHz, and 512MB of RAM. This is a sizable upgrade from the single core 800MHz processor on the original Galaxy Gear, allowing it to push through the fancier graphics and new interface at even faster speeds than its predecessor.

Essentially, you're getting slightly better response times with the added benefit of all the extra functionality. We've experienced no scenarios where lag or hang-ups reared their ugly heads above the surface, and that's definitely a big plus.

Lastly, there's 2.91GB of free storage available to you, which you can use for loading music, third party apps, watch faces or for photos you have taken with the built-in camera.

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