News Column

Samsung Gear 2 smarter, but pricey

May 13, 2014

Edward C. Baig, ebaig@usatoday.com, USA TODAY



Samsung unveiled the Gear 2 smart watch only months after the original Galaxy Gear went on sale, all but admitting that its first techie timepiece wasn't so smart, after all.

But Samsung remains committed to wearable tech, and Gear 2 marks an improvement, even if its appeal is limited, especially at $300. That's a sizable sum to invest in a device that primarily functions as a complement to a requisite Samsung phone or phablet. Gear 2 is only compatible with Samsung devices dating to the Galaxy S III and Note II, including the Galaxy S5 I used for testing. Forget about using it with rival Android handsets, or, of course, the iPhone or Windows Phones.

Speaking of which, Samsung ditched Android on the Gear 2 in favor of the Tizen operating system. Samsung hopes to leverage Tizen across watches, phones, even cars and appliances.

No single smart watch has emerged with broad appeal, though there remains no shortage of companies trying. Google's upcoming Android Wear platform shows a lot of promise. Folks have been waiting since time began to see how Apple might clock in. That leaves Samsung, for now, as the most high-profile company in the market.

Navigating Gear 2 is simple, and there's not much visible change in Samsung's move from Android to Tizen. Swipe and tap to move around and open apps. There's a single home button below the 1.63-inch Super AMOLED display that you press to get to whichever clock face you choose. I could make out the display, barely, in direct sun.

The watch communicates via Bluetooth with the Samsung Gear Manager software on your phone, from where you can visit a Samsung App Store to fetch free or pay apps for the Gear. The supply of apps is skimpy, though.

Gear 2 does much the same things as its predecessor, but better. You can dial or answer calls from your wrist, probably something you won't do often in public. You can employ Samsung's S Voice app to dial. Call quality through the speakerphone and microphone was surprisingly good. You can send a canned text reply if you choose not to answer a call.

Gear 2 includes a TV remote- control app I used on an LG-branded television. You can record voice memos, view a weather app, even play music stored on the device through watch speakers or a paired Bluetooth speaker.

Arguably, the most useful thing you can do on Gear 2 is glance at your wrist at notifications that come in for e-mails, texts, social-networking posts and more. You can tap a notification to scroll through an e-mail, say, or to display it on your smartphone.

Gear 2 includes a heart-rate monitor that I had to fiddle with before sometimes getting a reading, along with a pedometer. An exercise app includes modes for walking, cycling, hiking or running, with an audible coach. Samsung needs to improve how fitness data is shared with the S Health app on your phone.

I don't envision a lot of compelling uses for the camera, but Samsung has improved it. The 2-megapixel autofocus camera has moved to a spot just above the display.

While shooting isn't ideal, I got a few decent pictures and video clips (15-seconds or less).

If a camera seems like overkill but you're otherwise intrigued, consider the Samsung Gear 2 Neo, which removes the camera, doesn't share the same metal body, and costs $100 less. Moving the camera serves another big purpose. You can replace the watchband with any standard interchangeable 22mm band.

Gear 2 is also dust and water resistant. You can shower with it.

Another area of improvement is in battery life. Samsung says you can get two to three days in typical use, in line with my tests.

The Gear 2 is indeed a smarter smart watch. But it's a high-priced luxury that doesn't do enough on its own.


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Source: USA Today


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