Hands-on: Samsung Gear 2 review

The Galaxy in the original Galaxy Gear smartwatch name is gone, as Samsung's Gear 2 ditches Android for Tizen OS. This means a new fast, simple and now - with a heart rate sensor - more comprehensive menu than before. But is it enough to let this smartwatch compete with the open source smarts of the Pebble that has so many more apps?

We got our hands on the Samsung Gear 2 on the eve of Mobile World Congress 2014 in Barcelona, to see what the new smartwatch from Samsung offers, as it arrives only five months after the launch of the original.

Smarter interface

From first glance the screen on the new Gear 2 is different from its predecessor. You still have a time display but now can add menus for quick access where a world of swiping existed before. You've also still got the same 1.63-inch Super AMOLED screen with 320 x 320 resolution - which is plenty at this size. As is the 1GHz dual-core processor which makes swiping through the menus a speedy affair.

The home button, which is now on the front of the watch, can be double-tapped to immediately access a selection of shortcuts - to start a workout, for example. That's ideal when in a rush and perfect if a particular app is used regularly, like the music player. It can also be single tapped to go back to the home screen from anywhere. This also brings up the battery status for a moment, which is most welcome after the Galaxy Gear which meant tapping through menus to find remaining battery life.

The music player is now built in and can be directly output to a Bluetooth headset. We didn't get to try it, but accessing the menu was as easy as tapping the music player shortcut and hitting play. This makes the device a standalone music player independent of the phone, unlike the handset-reliant Galaxy Gear before it, although there's only 4GB of storage.

You can also control your TV using the WatchOn Remote app from the Gear 2. We couldn't test this out ourselves, but in a demo we witnessed it seemed instant and the layout is clear and simple. Never again will the fight for the remote be so easy to defend, with it strapped to your wrist.

The home screen is customisable with three icons below the clock that can be changed on the phone. Quick settings is a great idea as it easily allows access to an area that previously took several battery draining steps to reach.

Camera

The camera has moved from the strap - on the original Galaxy Gear - to the watch body. While this means straps can be swapped, angling photos without breaking your wrist isn't as hard as we expected - but it's not comfortable. The autofocus makes for fast snaps much the same as on the Galaxy Gear, in spite of it being shrunk into the watch itself.

Video loads up fast in spite of shooting with a healthy 720p at 30fps. But it did feel a little wobbly on the wrist and maintaining that arm angle for long periods could soon get painful.

We didn't have the chance to look at the quality of the results, but we'll be sure to look in detail when we get the Samsung Gear 2 in for a full review.

Heart Rate

The heart rate monitor, which is a first for a Samsung smartwatch, works really well. It shows a live feed of your heart rate before settling on an average for the 10 seconds or so it rates you. This can be done just for fun or within a training regime, like a run, for uploading to the S Health app on a Samsung Galaxy smartphone.

The sensor is light based and despite having a fair amount of hair in place to block said light, we found that readouts were still instantly achieved every time.

Customisable

Straps can be changed out now for any 22mm watch strap. At the touch of a button it pings off easily for a quick replacement. A selection of Moschino straps were on display in various colours including black and orange, meaning the new Gear is going to be easier to personalise.

The home page can be customised as mentioned previously. This is useful but has to be done on the smartphone, which takes a little while but isn't needed to be done often.

First impressions

The Samsung Gear 2, which will launch globally on 11 April, is better looking than its predecessor. It's more physically customisable as well as offering more personalisation options. But the apps are still not plentiful enough and the ecosystem is still closed. We're going to be digging deeper into what the shift to Tizen means and how this will shape the app landscape as soon as we can, as there's plenty left to learn.

The heart rate sensor, remote control and ability to play music directly to a Bluetooth headset make it a worthwhile investment - but in spite of standalone features, you still really need to own a Samsung phone to get the best out of the Samsung Gear 2.



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