Farewell, Android Wear. Hello, Tizen. Samsung’s latest smartwatch abandons the Android Wear OS in favour of the company’s homegrown Tizen OS, which proves to be a smart choice indeed. The Samsung Gear S2 has a user-friendly interface that’s world’s easier to use than Android Wear.
And the watch itself has a great design that combines the round face and stainless steel case of a traditional timepiece with a futuristic, rotating bezel that makes navigation even easier. But there’s still some room for Tizen to grow, as a dearth of apps and weak voice recognition keep the Gear S2 from nabbing a higher score.
The Samsung Gear S2 comes in two flavours: There’s the regular Gear S2, and the Gear S2 classic. The regular Gear S2 comes with a black or white silicone wristband, while the classic model has black leather strap. No matter which version you choose, the watch face is made of matte stainless steel.
We reviewed the regular model, with a white band and a silver face. The standard Gear S2 model is extremely comfortable and light on the wrist, with a simple clasp and an adjustable buckle to stay in place. No matter which model you choose, you’re sure to be happy with the watch’s most distinguishing feature, a rotating bezel.
You physically turn the bezel around the watch face like a dial in order to make selections. It’s precise, quick, and feels very satisfying to use thanks to the little clicks it makes. The watch also has a Back button in the two o’clock position, and a Home button in the four o’clock position.
The Home button brings you to the default watch face or to your main app library if you’re alrep in whatever app you’re in. Of course, you can also tap your way through the interface without bothering with the bezel. I’ll discuss navigation more in a bit, but the Gear S2 is the most easily navigable smartwatch I’ve tested.
The Gear S2’s round watch face measures 1.66 inches around, 0.44 inches thick, and weighs 48-gms. The watch is rated IP68 for water-resistance, which means it can withstand splashes at the sink, but you shouldn’t take it to the beach or in the shower.
The Gear S2 has a 1.2-inch circular Super AMOLED display with a 360-by-360-pixel resolution that works out to a sharp 302 pixels per inch. I was always able to see it outside, even with the brightness set to low. The screen is not always-on by default, but there is an option to do so if you wish.
Without it on, the screen still activates quickly when you lift your wrist, and it never accidentally turned on in my testing, which is very helpful for conserving battery. The screen turns off fast, though—after about five seconds—which can get a little annoying when you’re trying to read an email, text, or a news headline. However, a quick tap or turn of the bezel keeps the screen activated.
Samsung uses an ambient light sensor to adjust brightness depending on surroundings. It’s also easy to adjust the brightness on your own: just swipe down on the display and tap the Brightness setting. The watch can be paired with Bluetooth 4.1 devices, including headesets or speakers for music playback, or mobile devices that run Android 4.4 or later.
However, there is no iOS support. To start the pairing process, you need to download the free Samsung Gear Manager app on your Android device and follow the simple on-screen instructions. I easily paired the Gear S2 with a HTC One A9. Once connected, you have a number of options at your command, like customizing the watch face, managing apps and notifications, and sending music files to the watch, which comes with 4GB of internal storage.
The Gear S2 has an accelerometer, a barometer, a gyroscope, proximity sensors, and a heart rate sensor. However, there is no GPS, but there is Wi-Fi, which extends the range of the watch when connected to a wireless network.
The heart rate sensor here works better than most smartwatches on the market. By default it checks in about five times per day, though you can adjust it to check more or less frequently. You can also check manually, and it lets you know whether your heart rate is average when you’re resting, in a state before exercise, or after exercise.
The watch reported resting numbers in the low-to-mid sixties while sitting in a relaxed state. The watch counts steps and detects when you’re exercising or resting for too long. You can also keep track of the amount of water or caffeine you’ve been drinking.
And you can install the Nike+ running app for more detailed fitness analysis. However, like I usually advise, you probably want to go with a dedicated fitness tracker rather than a smartwatch if fitness is your primary concern.
Powered by a dual-core 1GHz processor and 512MB of RAM, the Gear S2 uses Samsung’s proprietary operating system, Tizen. It has the best user interface for a smartwatch yet, though it does have one annoying flaw. For some reason, the Gear S2 doesn’t go back to the app you were previously using after it goes to sleep.
Instead, it goes back to the default watch face every time it wakes up. That can be frustrating if you want to keep reading a story, or reply to a text when suddenly the screen shuts off from inactivity. Thankfully, the watch keeps images and headlines loaded in news apps when you finally return to them.
The strength of Tizen lies in its layout, which is a pleasure to navigate. Turning the bezel or swiping to the left brings up any notifications, which you can tap to open or swipe up to dismiss. Swiping or turning the bezel to the right brings up the main menu for Apps, a list of favorite contacts, Settings, or the S Voice assistant.
Keep swiping or rotating the bezel and you can see a whole collection of apps around the perimeter of the screen, as if they were numbers on a watch face, including the calendar, heart rate monitor, music playback control, pedometer, or whatever other apps you want to include. It beats swiping through endless vertical lists and cards like in Android Wear.
However, you still have to tap on the touch screen to make selections. It would’ve been nice to be able to push the bezel in to make selections, but since your fingers are already on the watch anyway, it’s not a big deal.
Unfortunately, Tizen’s selection of third-party apps is weak. There are no music streaming services besides Samsung’s Milk Music, little in the way of fitness apps besides Samsung’s S Health, and nothing when it comes to note-taking apps or popular social media like Facebook or Twitter.
There are some useful apps available, like Bloomberg, CNN, The Wall Street Journal, and Yelp, but Samsung needs to lure many more companies if it wants to compete. And although watch apps aren’t available, you can still receive and respond to phone notifications from Facebook, Google Hangouts, and Twitter on the Gear S2 with a robust set of options.
You can choose from some short, canned phrases or send an emoticon. You can also respond with voice-to-text, though unfortunately this feature is hit-or-miss; I never reached a point in testing where I felt like I could rely on it to quickly send an accurate message. Surprisingly, the Gear S2 also offers a phone number pad-style keyboard with three letters assigned to each number so you can type out messages.
It’s a slow process, but predictive text helps things along. A friend texted me some good news and I was able to type in “Wow, that’s great! Congrats!” fairly easily. Don’t expect to take calls on the Gear S2, though. You can use it to dial a call, but you’ll have to take out your phone or put on a Bluetooth headset if you want to take things any further.
Battery life is excellent. Samsung promises up to three days of use, which is accurate if you keep the display set to power off automatically. With it set to always-on, the watched lasted for nearly two days, which is still better than any other smartwatch with a color display I’ve tested. The Gear S2 can also be set to go into Power-Saving mode, which turns the screen monochrome when you’re running low on battery. It charges with an included magnetic dock and micro USB cable.
The Samsung Gear S2 is one of the better smartwatch options on the market currently. It sports a sleek design, a user-friendly interface that blows the confusing Android Wear out of the water, very good battery life (for a smartwatch), and a unique, rotating bezel. The Samsung Gear S2 is definitely an intriguing new option, but a paltry selection of apps holds it back.