Samsung has finally cracked the smartwatch with its seventh design: a round watch compatible with almost all Android smartphones and with a rotating bezel that’s not just for show.
The world’s biggest smartphone manufacturer has quite a lot of experience making smartwatches. Its first was launched in 2013, but since then the South Korean firm has made six different models, though none of them have quite got it right.
The Gear S2 is Samsung’s seventh try and it was worth the effort.
Round and attractive
Unlike all the previous Samsung smartwatches, the Gear S2 is slim, round and attractive. It comes in two models “classic” and standard. I tested the standard Gear 2.
It looks like a modern round watch with a stainless steel body and moulded white or black plastic strap. A rotating bezel rings a crisp 1.2in AMOLED screen, which has the highest pixel density yet for a round smartwatch at 302 pixels per inch. Its closest round competitor is the 286 ppi Huawei Watch, meaning the Samsung beats all but the square 42mm Apple Watch, which also has a 302ppi pixel count.
The screen is excellent: crisp, vivid with really dark blacks, which make dark watch faces particularly good looking. Similar to Android Wear it can switch to a basic white-on-black face when not active. It’s not as high resolution as the main face, but doesn’t suffer quite so much ugly pixelation as that used by the Moto 360.
The watch sits comfortably on the wrist. Its tapered body design mimics that of high-end mechanical watches and hides some of the watch’s 11.4mm thickness. It’s also waterproof to IP68 standards, which means showering with it on isn’t a problem.
The rubber strap is of high quality and didn’t make my wrist sweat as some Casios have in the past. It’s held in place by a proprietary push-button clip, which makes it easy to remove, but means you’ll be limited to straps offered by Samsung.
There are two in the box, one large and one smaller strap that reduces the depth of the watch on the wrist. The Gear S2 Classic has traditional watch lugs for standard straps.
The back of the watch has a heart rate monitor, like most other smartwatches, which can be manually triggered to record your beats per minute, or used as part of an exercise tracker. I found it accurate to within around one beat per minute.
- Processor: Samsung Exynos 3250
- RAM: 512MB
- Screen: 1.2in sAMOLED (302ppi) sapphire
- Storage: 4GB
- Connectivity: Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, NFC, Barometer, heart rate sensor
- Dimensions: 42.3 x 49.8 x 11.4
- Compatibility: Android
Snappy for one day and a half
The Gear S2 feels snappy and responsive in operation. It connects to a smartphone via Bluetooth or over Wi-Fi, once a network has been configured. Unlike other Samsung Tizen smartwatches, the Gear S2 will work with any modern Android smartphone, using a couple of Gear managing apps.
There are a few functions that require a Samsung device, namely Samsung Pay which allows users to pay for good and services with NFC on the watch. Samsung Pay has yet to launch in the UK, but is available in the US and South Korea.
The Bluetooth connection was strong when connected to a Nexus 6P, while Wi-Fi was easy to set up by tapping in the password with the surprisingly useable T9-style on-screen keyboard. Notifications were delivered instantaneously over Wi-Fi, which is not always the case for all smartwatches.
The Gear S2 lasted 36 hours on a charge with the screen on all the time. The watch comes with a wireless charging dock, which charges it in under two hours.
Tizen, not Android Wear
The Gear S2’s software is simultaneously its greatest strength and its biggest weakness. Unlike other Android watches that run Google’s Android Wear, the S2 runs Samsung’s own Tizen operating system.
The custom software and rotating bezel makes the S2 one of the fastest and easiest to use smartwatches. Twist to the left for notifications, right for widgets for things like music control, heart rate, calendar, weather updates and fitness tracking. Swiping down from the top goes back one step, or pulls down a quick settings shade on the watch face.
A little three-dot menu tab appears on the right of anything that has further actions, while the smaller button on the side takes you to apps and the bigger button to the watch face. Covering the watch with your hand puts it to sleep. It all works smoothly and intuitively.
Other apps are held in a circular list, but apps are the biggest issue. Because of the Tizen operating system there basically aren’t any beyond the included ones. You’ve got CNN, Bloomberg, Here maps and a collection of Samsung apps, including S Health and voice recorder.
The apps that are included work fine, but the lack of choice isn’t going to be fixed any time soon as Tizen’s relatively small user base means there isn’t as much of draw for developers to actually create them as there is for Android Wear and Apple’s watchOS.
There are odd quirks to the system. For instance, some watch faces are active and can be tapped to perform functions. Tapping the top of bottom of chronograph face sets off a stopwatch, but you can’t start a timer or set an alarm. The timer also doesn’t have a widget for some reason, where the alarm does.
Samsung’s S-Voice works well for setting timers and other quick activities, but I struggled trying to dictate a reply to a Hangout. The on-screen keyboard works for quick things, while the rotating bezel makes it easy to select a quick emoji to reply.
The Samsung Gear S2 costs £249 in dark grey or silver. The Gear S2 Classic costs £299 in black. Both are available for pre-order, shipping on 12 November.
One the seventh attempt Samsung has finally cracked it. The Gear S2 is the best smartwatch the Korean firm has made – and by miles. It’s also one of the best available, introducing genuinely better ways of interacting with a smartwatch.
It is held back by Tizen’s lack of app support by developers, which is unlikely to change, but its support of more than just Samsung Android smartphones is a step in the right direction.
What it does it does well, it’s just not quite as versatile as some other smartwatches.
Pros: comfortable, excellent rotating bezel interface, wide Android compatibility, waterproof, great screen, NFC
Cons: limited app support, proprietary straps, S-Voice inferior to Google Now, no cross-platform support
- Pebble Time review: better on Android than iPhone
- Motorola Moto 360 (2015) review: what the original should have been
- Huawei Watch review: the best Android Wear smartwatch
- Apple Watch review: beautiful hardware spoiled by complicated software
- Samsung Gear S review: can a smartwatch with a phone built-in replace a smartphone?
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