Samsung unveiled literally three smartwatches at MWC this year. If that tells you anything, it should be this: the company is desperate to make a wearable product stick in the marketplace. It will do anything to whittle down the form factor, price point, and functionality consumers are most responsive to. And thus, we now have 3 Gear devices to choose from - the Gear 2, the Gear 2 Neo, and the Gear Fit - Samsung is taking its shotgun approach to the smartphone market and inundating you with wearable choices, hopefully enough choices that you will actually choose to buy one
I reviewed the original Galaxy Gear. It wasn't a pretty picture. The Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo may have dropped Android, gained battery life, and made some hardware tweaks that addressed some of the original device's pain points, but they've done nothing to address some of the overarching concerns I had about the concept.
In fact, before I even get into the Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo, here is a list of general issues I had about the original Gear, nearly all of which now apply to that product's dual successors - see comments on applicability in parentheticals.
- You pretty much have to take it off in a movie theater or otherwise put it somewhere where it's not going to randomly illuminate. Unless you turn off the wrist detection gesture in the Gear Manager app (inconvenient!) even level 1 brightness is going to be very noticeable in that kind of venue. (Yup - still true.)
- Wearing the Gear while driving a car at night can be distracting - just using the steering wheel as you normally would will cause it to illuminate sometimes, which will catch your eye and probably distract you momentarily. Yet another scenario where I was often forced to take it off. (This is still true, as well.)
- Forgetting to charge it (or forgetting the charging cradle) means you have a useless lump on your wrist that can't tell the time but also doesn't make a very good fashion accessory. (The new Gears have better battery life, but still have a charging dongle that must be used with them, so the problem is still very relevant.)
- So many things the Gear does can be accomplished as or almost as quickly by just pulling out your phone, and your phone will almost invariably do all of said things a lot better. (Still definitely true.)
- Having a smartwatch that doesn't have an always-on display mode for at least a basic watchface seems kind of, well, dumb. (The Gears still go display-off when idle.)
- At no point have I actually found something the Gear does to be compelling enough that I actually want to wear it. It is more burden than benefit. (We'll see!)
- Because it's a smartwatch, you're probably going to fiddle with it more than a regular watch. If you do this in company (eg., look down at it and turn it on), people will think you're saying "I need to go / I'm in a hurry" with all the subtlety of a polar bear in a sausage factory. (Yep.)
Sorry for the focus problems - we were having a camera issue.
What have they done to the new Gear to improve it, though? First and foremost is undoubtedly battery life - the original Gear often struggled to make it a whole day under heavy use. Samsung promises 2-3 days of "normal" usage with the Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo, which sounds much more livable - I have to give them credit there. The gains in battery life have generally been attributed to the switch from Android to Tizen, so that's interesting.
There's a home button! It turns the screen on and off, long pressing gets you power options (and outdoor mode / mute shortcuts), and it goes home. Much better than the side-mounted atrocity on the first generation. Next, Samsung has removed the microphone and speaker elements from the bottom of the wristband, which made the original Gear rather annoying to wear while typing or working at a desk. The new band is much thinner along the bottom as a result. Once again, a nod to Samsung - this substantially improves the Gear's ergonomics.
The awkward camera hump on the band has also vanished, as the camera is now integrated into the body of the watch. There's an IR blaster for controlling your TV or set top box (that sounds fun on a 1.63" screen!), as well as a pulse oxmiter for measuring your heart rate. The new Gears even stream music to Bluetooth headsets now (assuming your phone isn't currently connected to the watch).
All of these are positive changes (well, Tizen is up for debate, I guess). And yet, when I put on the Gear 2 / Gear 2 Neo and used them, all I could think was "this is basically exactly the same as the old one." It still only works with Samsung devices, it's still set up first and foremost to communicate with Samsung apps, and it's still a chunky, ugly, awkward thing to have on your wrist all day. And it requires a [very] little charging dongle that's a lot smaller - and thus easier to misplace - than the admittedly fumbly and flimsy cradle the original Gear used.
The short of it is this: if you want a Samsung smartwatch, or a smartwatch / fitness tracker specifically for your Samsung device, these aren't the products to look at. The Gear Fit is more stylish, has a much cooler / form-factor fitting curved screen, modular wristbands, and gets better battery life (3-4 days as opposed to 2-3). Sorry Samsung, but I'm pretty sure you just Samsunged yourself here - the Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo just don't make sense when you're releasing a product that will so obviously be better-received than either.