Technophile

Polished hardware, half-baked ecosystem

Visvaksen P | Updated on January 19, 2018 Published on February 17, 2016

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Samsung’s newest smartwatch is a great hardware package that is hamstrung by the lack of depth in the app store



Unlike smartphones, whose design is pretty much set in stone by now, wearables are still in a nascent, evolutionary phase where every new device pushes the envelope and attempts to redefine the acceptable standard. Despite the furious pace of innovation and iteration, no company has managed to hit the smartwatch sweet spot that ticks all the boxes yet. Since 2013, Samsung has taken half a dozen stabs at getting it right and come up short each time. Their latest attempt at capturing mind and wrist space is the Gear S2. The device, which is powered by Samsung’s own Tizen OS, gets a lot right but also has a near-fatal flaw.

Design

There are quite a few smartwatches out there with a round watchface, but none of them are quite like the Gear S2. Thanks to Samsung’s control over the hardware and software package, the device’s user interface is actually designed specifically to suit a round screen with a rotating dial. The idea is similar to the digital crown on the Apple Watch, except the dial becomes a whole lot nicer to use when it wraps around the whole screen instead of presenting as a small knob. The 1.2-inch 360x360 pixel AMOLED display that the dial encloses is crisp and colourful. The Gear S2 features two buttons, both on the right side which can be used to go back and home.

The design of the Gear S2 is sleek and sexy but also very subtle. Unlike most other smartwatches, it actually looks and feels like a regular watch – which means that it isn’t nearly as good a status symbol as an Apple Watch, but if you don’t feel the need to let everyone you meet know how smart your watch is, there’s a lot to love. The watch itself is made mostly of metal, while the strap included in the box is made of rubber. Alternatives are available and replacing the straps is a simple affair involving a couple of buttons on the underside. The whole package carries an IP68 stamp of approval – meaning that is dust and water proof.

Specs and performance

The Gear S2 is powered by the custom built dual-core Exynos 3250 chipset with 512 MB of RAM. It has 4 GB of onboard storage space and offers a range of connectivity options including Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and NFC. This set of specifications, which – aside from storage space – is on par with low-end desktop computers from a decade ago, is more than adequate for anything you can throw at a smartwatch. It also boasts of a barrage of sensors including a heart rate monitor, barometer, gyroscope, an accelerometer, and an ambient light sensor. The hardware package is, to put it simply, comprehensive. The Gear S2 can connect to any smartphone that runs on Android version 4.4 or newer and has at least 1.5 GB of RAM. Setup was fairly painless and the device managed to maintain a constant connection with our test phone. Launching and interacting with apps is a smooth, lag-free experience and the S2 even supports seamless multitasking.

The battery unit on the Gear S2 has a rated capacity of 250 mAh. In our testing period, in addition to near constant notifications and an hour of music playback from onboard storage, the activity monitor and S Voice personal assistant also saw heavy usage. This left us needing to recharge roughly every one and a half days. However, since a mid-day recharge is not always feasible on the go, we were forced into a nightly recharge cycle.

Software

Apple’s Watch OS and Android Wear are both relatively new projects that are still undergoing heavy development. But they are practically finished products compared to Samsung’s implementation of Tizen on a smartwatch. To give credit where it’s due, the Korean electronics giant has ensured that the base OS and default apps are as polished as they can be. The circular app selection interface complements the hardware dial perfectly, there are a number of snazzy watchfaces, S Voice does a commendable job of being a voice activated personal assistant although it lacks the sophistication of Siri and Google Now and S Health has all the activity tracking functions you’ll ever need.

But it’s hard to go beyond the core functionality that the Gear comes with out of the box due to the lack of a thriving ecosystem of Tizen-based apps.

Samsung’s Gear app for Android features a built-in app store that offers a few third-party app options, but the offerings are a drop in the ocean compared to Android Wear and Watch OS. Most of the major developers are absent from the store, which is populated instead by a small collection of paid apps from smaller developers.

Functionality such as accessing your email and WhatsApp messages is only possible when you have received a new notification from said apps, unlike on other platforms where they are always available through native watch apps. In a weird quirk, the Gear app also defaults to Hindi for the Indian region and switching it to English is seemingly impossible.

Bottomline

Samsung’s Gear S2 is one of the best designed smartwatches we’ve seen and it also boasts of a compelling hardware package. However, the lack of developer support for Tizen OS means that you are largely restricted to the software that comes with the watch. For this reason alone, we have a hard time recommending the Gear to potential buyers. However, a concerted push by Samsung to get developers on board and populate the app store could significantly increase the appeal of their smartwatch.

Price: ₹24,300

Love: Design, interface

Hate: Lack of third-party apps

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Published on February 17, 2016
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