14
May
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If you've ever eaten a cheap frozen pizza, you know it's not exactly a delicacy. It's edible, but if you had to eat it every day, you'd probably lose your mind (and your appetite). Now, if you put some sriracha on that pizza, you do make it considerably better. But it's still a frozen pizza, it just happens to be marginally better than the other, non-sriracha'ed frozen pizza.

The Gear 2 is frozen pizza... with sriracha. It's noticeably better than the original recipe (the Galaxy Gear), but at the end of the day it still feels like a cheap imitation of the product we all really want: an amazing, useful, usable smartwatch. With no pineapple, because that's weird. Is anyone else hungry?

The problem isn't the Gear 2's hardware, or even its price - both of those aspects are worthy of some criticism in their own right, but they're not what makes the Gear 2 kind of sort of bad. The problem is the very way Samsung has conceptualized the smartwatch experience: it all feels terribly uninventive and extremely predictable. As a result, the Gear 2 just isn't a very good product to use. There is almost nothing it does that compels me to wear it - and that's a real problem for a highly conspicuous $300 wrist accessory.

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Samsung Gear Fit
  • Price: $300
  • Processor: 1GHz dual-core ARM processor
  • GPU: Unknown
  • OS: Gear OS, based on Tizen
  • Display: 1.63" AMOLED 320x320 (277 DPI)
  • Network compatibility: None
  • Memory: 512MB RAM / 4GB internal storage
  • Cameras: 2MP
  • Battery: 300mAh, non-removable
  • NFC: No
  • Wi-Fi: No
  • Bluetooth: 4.0 with BT Smart (LE)
  • Ports / expandable storage: microUSB (via dongle) / none
  • Thickness at watch face: just under 10mm at thickest point
  • Weight: 68g

The Good
  • Design / hardware: While the overall look isn't a dramatic change from the Galaxy Gear, I think the Gear 2 just looks better in so many little ways that add up to a much more attractive, sleek smartwatch overall. It's not beautiful, but it looks more refined and elegant to my eyes.
  • Battery life: I found Samsung's 3-4 day moderate use and 6 day light use estimates perfectly attainable. I could definitely handle a smartwatch if it only meant charging it twice a week.
  • Display: Samsung's AMOLED works beautifully on a smartwatch, much as it did the first Gear. Great pixel density makes information very readable, and allows for a richer experience.
  • Not completely useless: For glancing at email subject lines, seeing who's calling, reading text messages, and dismissing alarms or calendar events, the Gear 2 is reasonably useful.

The Not So Good
  • Overkill: Samsung has tried to stuff its smartwatches with tons of features that no one will ever use, and it makes using the watch substantially less pleasant and simple. I do not want a full-on wrist smartphone, that's not what a smartwatch should be, Samsung.
  • Notifications: While integration for 3rd party apps like Gmail and Hangouts has improved greatly since the first Gear (you can now go directly to an email or message from the watch to your phone), things still aren't great. Notifications don't cross-clear, they aren't persistent in a useful way on the watch, and non-Samsung apps still only have 2 interaction options for notifications (delete or view on phone).
  • Price: Fact aside you're paying $100 extra for a camera you'll never use (the Gear 2 Neo is only $200), $300 for a smartwatch that does what the Gear 2 does is laughable. The useful functionality is nowhere near providing you your money's worth - this is 100% a techy enthusiast's toy that has essentially zero justifiability in the real world.
  • Not all that "smart": Shouldn't a smartwatch set out to solve the problems having to take your phone out to do something causes? Make your life easier? Be highly intuitive and quick to use? Well, I'd say yes. The Gear 2, though, just feels like a slower, dumber smartphone for your wrist.

The Hardware

The high point of the Gear 2 is almost definitely the hardware - not only does it have a beautiful OLED display, its design feels more refined and modern than that of the original Galaxy Gear. The changes aren't huge - side by side, the Gear and Gear 2 look fairly similar, but it's hard to deny that the Gear 2 does look better.

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The more pronounced brushed texture of the steel bezel surrounding the display looks more, well, watch-like. The removal of the rather tacky looking exposed screw heads on the original Gear also helps give the new device a cleaner look. The metal home button provides a nice accent, and the integration of the speaker, microphone, and camera into the watch body mean no more awkward lumps on the wrist band or clasp.

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The checkered texture of the included band actually pairs pretty well with the Gear 2 - I find it much less visually grating than the original watch, which had a gray (or colored, if you so chose) silicone band that seemed reminiscent of a cheap digital watch you'd find at a convenience store. The wrist clasp, too, looks more elegant, particularly since the bulky speaker it once housed has been moved to the body of the watch. It's still too thick at the clasp though, and it makes wearing the Gear 2 while typing or using a mouse simply not worth the effort (or scratched surfaces), in my opinion.

The changes from the original Gear taken on their own are small, but together, they add up to a smartwatch that to me looks significantly more stylish, something the Gear 2's predecessor legitimately struggled with.

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The bands on the Gear 2 are also interchangeable and use what appears to be a fairly standard pin-slide system. Samsung sent me a leather Fossil band with crocodile embossing as an alternative to the factory band. As I'm sure you'll agree, I quickly decided the included Samsung band was a much, much better choice.

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I think the Gear 2 would look decent with a steel link band, or really any reasonably fashionable silicone band, but leather? Not so much. I think somebody just grabbed this thing out of the demo pile and said "good enough." Because yuck. Seriously uggo.

On the quality side, I think Samsung did a great job with the original Gear, and the Gear 2 still manages to feel yet more refined and solid. This does not at all feel like a cheap product, which is such a marked departure from Samsung's phones and tablets.

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The display seems basically like the unit on last year's watch, but that 1.63" AMOLED is still an absolute looker with a totally respectable 320x320 resolution. Unfortunately, like the Gear before it, the Gear 2 doesn't have an ambient light sensor and so brightness still has to be adjusted manually. This essentially makes the Gear 2 an annoyance to use in bright sunlight since the maximum brightness setting (outdoor mode) only remains active for a limited time to conserve power, then goes back to the next highest setting.

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The speaker on the Gear 2 is reasonably loud, though even at its maximum setting I doubt it would be particularly good for a phone call if you were in a noisy area. The microphone, too, seems to work pretty well, but most of my testing of that was indoors or in quiet areas.

The charging dongle for the Gear 2 is a marked improvement over the cradle of its predecessor, I'd say - it's a bit more likely to get lost (being smaller), but it snaps on to the watch easily and doesn't require much fiddling around with. I'd still like to see a dedicated dock or a wireless charging system for a smartwatch (with dongles maybe being used for travel), but for now, I guess dongles it is.

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Battery life for me has been generally been above Samsung's estimates (2-3 days for "typical" usage, 6 days for low usage), though admittedly I don't really find much reason to use the Gear 2 all that much, so that's probably why. 3 to 5 days has been my experience, with the display being the biggest drain on power, obviously. I think for a full-color smartwatch that's adequate, though more would obviously be better.

Oh, the Gear 2 has a camera. It takes pictures. And like the original Gear, the direction it faces means taking a straight-on photo while standing is kind of difficult, because the viewfinder (the display) is at a very shallow angle to your eyes. Considering how much someone would actually use this (I'm guessing "almost never"), it's not really a big complaint.

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Software

The new Gear 2 does have some significant software changes apart from a switch to a Tizen-based OS. Navigating, though, is largely like it was on the Galaxy Gear, and I just don't find it to be a compelling experience for a number of reasons. First, though, let's talk notifications, as this is one of the key roles of any smartwatch.

Samsung has finally mostly fixed 3rd party notifications on the Gear 2 - emails from Gmail show up with a sender, subject, and body text, and tapping "show on device" finally sends you directly to that email, not just to wherever you last were in the Gmail app (as it still does even on the Gear Fit). This seems to work with most apps, including Hangouts. It will not work if the notification has been cleared on the main device already, though, suggesting this functionality is dependent on the notification in order to work properly. This is a major improvement over how things were previously.

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Still, I go back to my basic problem with notifications on Gear OS [the following is ripped from my Gear Fit review]: with Android, we have come to expect a level of persistency and richness from notifications we receive. I can turn on my phone at any moment and a simple little icon can tell me if I have a new email, text, or some other notification - all with one press and a quick glance at the status bar at the top of the screen. Gear OS, once it receives a notification, then proceeds to bury it. You can act on a notification within a few seconds of it displaying on the watch, but once it's gone, you have to navigate to the notifications app to find it again. This is the same basic flaw that plagued the first Gear.

Even though the notifications themselves are now rich, there's still no passive behavior on the Gear Fit's part to make you aware of them after the initial alert. The watchface homescreen really should have some level of notification integration. I don't think that's a terribly difficult or controversial thing to ask for. The other thing is that notifications don't sync: clearing them on your phone does not clear them on the watch, you have to do that separately.

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There are richer experiences for notifications from stock Samsung apps (3rd party apps have basically zero functionality aside from "view on device"), such as quick text responses (you can set them up and customize them on the Gear Fit Manager app yourself) for phone calls, texts, and emails. You can also dismiss calendar notifications, ignore or answer calls, and snooze alarms. This stuff is definitely useful, but it's also far from exciting at this point - a smartwatch that didn't do these things would be kind of terrible.

The Gear 2 does have some other token functions, like a stopwatch (novel!), timer (handy), a phone locator (assuming it's paired), and a media controller that seems to work with pretty much any video or music app I tried on my Galaxy S5. The media controller, though, like the notifications, does not passively assert its existence. If I want to control the playback of music on my phone via the Fit I still have to turn the watch on and flip to the homescreen where the media controller shortcut lives, tap it, and then do what I want to do. I just don't get why Samsung couldn't throw the playback controls below / beside the time on the primary homescreen when you're listening to music. That might be convenient. As it's currently implemented, it really isn't.

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The Gear 2's one interesting audio feature is music playback via Bluetooth. You can send music to the Galaxy Gear over Bluetooth (yeah, I'm sure that's real quick), though the Gear Manager app only scans the music folders the Samsung music player app does, so you have to store your music that way or drag and drop from your PC via USB (much faster anyway). The Gear 2 has about 2.6GB of usable space, enough to keep a reasonable number of playlists on if you so choose. The music playback works only with Bluetooth headphones, of course, so you'll need those if you want to use it. The point of this feature is to be able to go exercise without having to carry your phone, I assume, and in that sense, it is indeed useful. I'm not sure how much this will run down the Gear 2's battery, but I have to imagine it's a pretty significant drain.

Gear 2 also has WatchON integration, which allows you to use the watch as a remote for your TV via the built-in IR blaster. Why someone would want this on their smartwatch when their Samsung smartphone already does it (except more and better), I have no idea. Because gimmick, I guess.

The Gear 2 also includes all the Gear Fit's fitness features, including a pedometer and heart rate monitor, which you can read about in that device's review.

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So, how about apps? There are indeed apps for Gear 2 on the Samsung app store, but the number that are actually, well, useful, is still pretty slim. I found a free calculator app, and for $2, an app that lets you control various functions on your paired phone like Wi-Fi, mobile data, silent / vibrate toggle, power-saving, sync, tethering, and Bluetooth (yes, really). There's also some golf app, eBay, Feedly, CNN, and a flashlight app that literally just turns the screen white. Woohoo. Other than that, there really isn't anything exciting going on with apps on the Gear 2 at this point. Samsung has strongly hinted developers will make creative use of the Gear 2's camera (which you pay a $100 premium for since the Neo doesn't have it), but I really don't see that happening, because it never did with the original Gear.

As far as performance is concerned, the Gear 2 is definitely faster than the original Gear, and that device wasn't exactly quick. Strangely, because the Gear Fit's animations scroll much more smoothly than the Gear 2's, though I'd say app opening times are about equal on the two. It's entirely livable from a speed perspective.

Conclusion

I think the simplest way to put it is this: Samsung looks at its smartwatches as a mission to downsize the smartphone experience and put it on your wrist - it literally advertised the first Gear as a wrist phone. But that's exactly what a smartwatch should not be. A smartwatch should augment and enhance the functionality of your smartphone, not seek to emulate it.

The catch, of course, is that doing one of these things is much harder than the other. If you just try to make a smartwatch a tiny smartphone, you know where to go - the functions and features are already laid out for you, you just have to design an experience around them. If you try to make a smartwatch more than that, you start running into really tough questions - what do people use their smartphones for that a smartwatch could make easier or better? How do you make it simple and quick enough to be worthwhile? Why would someone want to use their smartwatch for this activity or task versus pulling out their phone? What information do people really want at a glance? How much control should they have over that experience? It's the difference between making a product for a market and making a product to define a market.

This is something of a fundamental problem with most smartwatches right now, though Samsung's Gear devices may be guiltier than others. It seems like Samsung simply didn't ask any of those crucial questions, they just went with what was obvious and easy. That's not to say they didn't do anything right - on the contrary, some of the most obvious functions (dismissing alarms, calls, calendar appointments, quick replies to SMS messages) are among the most useful. But this is just a tiny cross-section of a $300 device's capabilities, most of which I would frankly never, ever use, and doubt most people would either. Even at $200, the Gear 2 Neo is really no better a value proposition. Samsung has built a smartwatch that very clearly was designed to mimic, yet cannot function without, a smartphone, and I think that's a dead end. This is one time when Samsung's "throw all the features at consumers and see what sticks" strategy can actually harm them: the Gear 2's usefulness is haphazard at best, weighed down by an OS that can't get out of its own way far too often. Buying a Gear 2 for what it does do well is like buying an eighteen-wheeler because the horn is loud: it is overkill to an obscene degree. No one needs a $300 (or $200, for that matter) smartwatch to do the things the Gear does - that's half the cost of a high-end smartphone for something that does maybe one tenth (if you count apps, maybe one hundredth) of the stuff. It just doesn't add up.

I think it's time to go back to the drawing board, Samsung - Android Wear's on the horizon, and I don't see the Gears weathering that storm well in their current state. It's not that they're terrible, it's just that they're not particularly useful, either.

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David Ruddock
David's phone is whatever is currently sitting on his desk. He is an avid writer, and enjoys playing devil's advocate in editorials, and reviewing the latest phones and gadgets. He also doesn't usually write such boring sentences.

  • Fabian Pineda

    There is no way those are David's arms. Bro, I'm disappoint. I thought we were hairy brothers in arms.

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ David Ruddock

      :(

  • jonathan3579

    I started reading the review and had to comment about the first paragraph making me hungry. (Damn you, David!)

    Now I can go back and read the rest.

    • jani jokela

      i was just typing that too!

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  • silver_arrow

    Every time I read a review for a Samsung smartwatch I love my Pebble a little bit more...

    • motoridersd

      Same here

      • mike

        pebble?

        are you kidding?

    • http://www.droid-den.com Rachid

      Why? I don't see how the Pebble offers anything better than a Gear (apart from the price)

      • simp1istic

        Always on display. Much better notification/app situation, better battery life, looks (subjective.) It's better in every way that a "watch" matters to me.

        • didibus

          Always on Display, I'd have to give it to that!

          • http://www.droid-den.com Rachid

            The gesture works great on the Gear, seriously you don't even know its turned off when you're not looking at it. It's extremely sensitive, it works well, trust me :P

            How is the notification system better on the Pebble?

            Battery life, yes pebble is better. But you can easily get 3 days out of the Gear, its not as bad as it's made out to be.

            Anything else? Because The Gear has lots of benefits over the Pebble!

          • Boodaa

            It's only able to connect to Samsung devices. Pebble has a range a larger range of devices to connect to. With Pebble you can customize it to the way you want. Without gimmicks that you'll never really use, It's pretty much open source for any of your own customization via how it displays time. Cheaper too and not to mention the Pebble Steel looks great.
            You can get more details on the Pebble at their site.
            So yeah many many more benefits over a Samsung Gear.
            To be totally honest, I'm just waiting on the Moto 360 before thinking about my purchase.

          • http://www.droid-den.com Rachid

            Only Samsung devices, true, but only an issue of you don't have a Samsung. Which most people do :p

            The customisable watchface on the Gear are a load better than the Pebble. Go check out http://www.gearfaces.com and see (seriously, they are awesome).

            Also, if you put tasker on the Galaxy Gear you are unlimted in what you can do (no need to root either).

            Price is the only thing it seems better at..

          • http://www.friendlyphotozone.com/ Friendly Photo Zone

            I have an HTC... I must be an outcast.

            I'm sick of Samsung devices. After the Note 2 and Note 3, the One M8 is a breath of fresh (and mod-able) air. Boooo Samsung crap...

          • didibus

            But, you won't be able to put tasker on the new Gears, and it's update no? Since they turned to Tizen?

          • Boodaa

            Ah and forgot to say Pebble has their own App store. With many developers doing their thing for it. =)

  • Jephri

    What's wrong with pineapple on your pizza?

    • Daire O Connor

      Everything! Ugh.

      • Gaurav Arora

        I like my pinapple's like I like my women with pizza with...ok I'm not sure where I'm going with this..

        • Dutchy

          i get where you're going bro lol

        • Daire O Connor

          I like my women how I like my pizza. Sliced up in a box.

          • Im to lazy to log in

            Dexter

  • Fatal1ty_93_RUS

    Samsung is really going crazy over features these days, they don't even care how many any more, just stuff as much bloat as possible

  • zapote21

    I love my gear2 neo. Thats all that matters..

    • Brian

      The Gear 2 Neo is a terrific device. I find it amusing how the author feels he has the authority to tell us what a smart watch should be. Personally, I love the ability to receive/make calls from the watch! I often receive calls when my phone is in a different room to what I'm in, on charge. It's a piece of cake to send/reply to text messages by voice, set alarms/timer/reminders/appointments by voice. This is the best watch I ever had and has exceeded my expectations.

  • John kim

    I find it Pretty useful far. I can walk around my place of work and not have to carry the phone with me. I like that it has a pedometer as well. So no need to wear a fit bit plus not having a phone in my pocket is awesome. I recommend for people who don't have to worry about $300 bucks. If you make that in a week, then you are not the type of person who should buy this.

    • didibus

      Why is not having a phone in your pocket so great?

      • John kim

        That's a very good question. My job requires me to walk back and forth between two places many times a day so I find things (wallet, phones, change, etc) in my pocket annoying.

  • A2theC

    I miss android vs tizen, if you root the original it is a full android device. The only thing this is missing is Wifi, micro SD, and some decent software support.....great!

    • Sruly J

      Out of curiosity, what exactly would you need a micro sd slot in ANY smartwatch for? I mean, are you watching on planning movies on your wrist or something?

      • yankeesusa

        I have that same question. why micro sd. Just have everything transfer over to phone if you need anything transferred.

      • A2theC

        I think 4gb is a bit small, music photo/video taking etc. Nothing in particular, I think the problem with smart watches is people don't know what they want them to do, but what we have available isn't it lol. I've heard quite a few people complain that it isn't a phone on its own, wouldn't want that but I guess since do as they've asked me about it and were not happy utter wasn't.

        • didibus

          I think the coolest thing a watch should do is let you get information on your current surrounding. You shouldn't even need to tell it to, it should just constantly adapt to where you are and show relevant info. That was the point of watches originally, to give you relevant info about where you are, like time.

          You'll always be using the watch with one hand, so it's obvious the interactions with it are already handicapped versus a smart phone. And there's the obvious smaller screen.

          That's why I think Google Now is the closest thing right now that could make a smartwatch great. And probably something like Tasker or Llama would complement it.

          Some form of interaction would be neat, for things like answering or hanging up a call, music playback, and I think that's mostly it.

  • troph

    Have the disagree with this review...

    Hawaiian pizza is delicious

    • Da Fuq

      Did you know that Pizza Hawaii actually comes from Germany? :)

    • ©nyphonejacks.com

      pineapple has no business being anywhere near a pizza!

  • Adi

    "that's half the cost of a high-end smartphone for something that does maybe one tenth (if you count apps, maybe one hundredth) of the stuff."

    I think you've got the math reversed here. Otherwise, Excellent review as always. Samsung's making it real easy for android wear

  • Steven Brumfield

    Random Quote: "The Gear 2 is frozen pizza".

  • yankeesusa

    I think it looks okay. but at 300 they can keep it. If this was compatible with more than just samsung galaxy phones I think they would sell many of these.

  • vgergo

    Replace S Voice with Google Now? On the phone we can do it with S for Switch Voice, but with Tizen instead of Android as the operating system on these things,,, our already very small chances have completely diminished :-( https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=hu.viczian.deathtosvoice I'd say have patience until the real smart watches start to come out.

  • Derrick Amundsen

    Very fair review, I have the Gear 2 NEO and it's okay.

    But given recent happenings, I would tell everyone DON'T BUY ONE. You can't even buy a charger for it separately. I lost mine and Samsung wanted me to send in the watch to get a charger (WTF). I ended up forcing the store I bought it at to return it. If I can't buy a charger for it, what's the rest of the support going to be like?

  • Ladson SC

    I got my Gear 2 anbout a week after it came out. I must say it is almost what I expected. ie It can be used in conjuction with a bluetooth hearset, but no not mess with the Samsung Hub to purchase apps because you will get screwed. I attempted to download one on the 6th of May 2014. Download did not accure so the next day I called Samsung Hub Tech support. They could not fix the issue and passed me to the next level who could not do any better. Making a long story short, today is the 15 of May 2014 and at about 10:00. I received a email telling me that I would not get a refund. The app cost me $0.99 and Samsung Hub dragged this out 9 days. After all what good is the watch without apps.

    • Dutchy

      you know, this could be a good case to take to the courts.

  • Blu314

    I don't understand what people want from there smart watch. They don't want it to have all the features of a phone but they want it to pretty much do what the phone does. I love my Gear I work out I love having music on my watch and play it through my Bluetooth. I don't need my phone with me that alone is something other watches can't do. People have this perception of how the watch should be but that's not the case for everyone. Its your preference there will never be a perfect watch! We are years away from what everyone wants in a smart watch.

  • abobobilly

    Jeez. Where is Moto 360 when you need it. :(

  • gettysburg11s

    Actually, with the latest software update, the Galaxy Gear (which I have) does most of what the Gear 2 does. Of course, the battery life, while better than at launch, is not as good as the Gear 2 (but that has more to do with the OS than anything).

    Of course, I'd never pay $300.00 or even $200.00 for either one. I got my Galaxy Gear on sale for $99.00. For that price, its a great smart watch.