REVIEW: Samsung Galaxy Gear 2: A pretty, frustrating experience
Samsung, why do you do this to yourself? To us?
The first Galaxy Gear smartwatch didn’t woo me when I reviewed it late last year, but that didn’t curb my excitement when I got my hands on the Gear 2. I was so sure that the Gear 2 would be heads and shoulders above the original, yet here I am, frustrated and disappointed.
It’s more like a Gear 1.5, because while there are improvements across the board, they’re not vast improvements. And, for all of its pluses, the Gear 2 has a few minuses that really bring down the whole experience.
Overall the Gear 2 is a better smartwatch than the Gear: It’s faster, sturdier, has a better battery and has more functionality. But it’s glitchy, has little app support and has some shallow software features. For $299 you should get a lot more than you do with the Gear 2.
The Gear 2’s hardware updates range from superficial to welcomed. It’s waterproof to one meter for a half-hour, it has a heart rate monitor and the watch’s camera is no longer housed in the strap, instead residing in the watch’s body. Which is a solid design change, because now you can swap out straps if the default color doesn’t suit your style.
The 1.63-inch, Super AMOLED display is a pleasure to look at, and the new charging adapter is easier to use than the Gear’s awkward charging cradle.
Samsung’s Gear Manager app is where you’ll go to change settings and download apps for the Gear 2. Although you can use it on the watch, it’s easier to navigate using one of the 17 Samsung devices it can be paired with.
If you’re upgrading from the original Gear and are hoping to use the same apps, then you’re in for a smack in the face, because you won’t be able to. This stems from Samsung’s decision to have the new Gear tech run on Tizen instead of Android.
Ugh, Samsung. This is what I mean by causing a frustrating and disappointing experience — there’s a thing called an app ecosystem, and this change of software crushes all of it. It’s not like the Gear had a lot of apps to begin with, but any progress made on that front has just been cut off.
Similar to Android
Tizen isn’t all that different from Android in terms of usability and visuals. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to notice any major differences if you compared the Gear and Gear 2 side-by-side. That said, Tizen does offer more tools that are ready to roll once you boot the device up: various fitness trackers and a native media player, for example.
Tizen also offers better notifications than found on the Gear, and the number of apps supported by notifications is quite sizable. On the Gear, the Gmail notifications I’d receive would just let me know I received an email and that’s it. But the Gear 2 shows me a few lines from the email, so at least I know who sent it and what they want. It’s not perfect, but it’s a definite leap forward.
But can you reply to that email using the Gear 2? The answer is no — you have to break out your phone to do that. What about texts, can you reply to those through the watch? Yeah, using your voice, or by using templates. I found it easier to just reply using my phone.
Like the Galaxy Gear Fit, the Gear 2 won’t be replacing your dedicated fitness or sleep tracker anytime soon. It’s not as accurate as it should be and it’s a muddled experience at best.
Another thing the Gear 2 won’t replace is your phone’s camera. It’s easy to snap photos and capture video with the watch, but the quality is nothing to write home about.
Making phone calls with the Gear 2 is a more pleasant experience than with the Gear, but it’s not something I preferred doing. It came in handy while I was driving, but I’d much rather go hands-free altogether to get a better user experience.
One thing I did enjoy was the IR blaster that allows users to control televisions and set-top boxes with the Gear 2. I felt very James Bond and silly at the same time while surfing channels on my telly. It’s not a necessary function, but it’s a fun and useful one.
The native music player is also a breeze to use and sends tunes to headsets via Bluetooth. It has a clean, simple and very usable interface, and for those looking to have a low-profile music player while at the gym, then this works exceedingly well. Be mindful of the 4GB space restriction, and you’ll be all right. And, if you have fat fingers like I do, then using the controls might take some getting used to, because, well, fat fingers.
All of these features are sure to suck your Gear 2 dry within a couple days’ use, but if you use the device just as a watch and notifier, then you can squeeze double to triple that amount of time out of the 300mAh battery. Which is respectable.
Works half of time
Of all of the negatives the Gear 2 has, one of the biggest offenders it the auto screen-on sensitivity. Basically, when you tilt your wrist, the watch’s display should turn on so you can use the darn thing. Problem is it doesn’t always work out that way. How are you supposed to use the device when it works how it should only half of the time?
The Gear 2 is better than the Gear, but not better enough. Combined with the absurd $299 asking price, the destruction of the app ecosystem and the sloppy sensitivity means you shouldn’t even look twice at the thing.