I have been sold on the concept of wearable devices, so much so that I got my sister to gift me a Pebble watch late last year. It was around the same time that I got to review the Samsung Galaxy Gear, the first smartwatch from the Korean tech giant. I did a comparison of the two watches and came to the conclusion that Pebble was the better watch, while the Gear was smarter. Now, I have a review unit of the Samsung Galaxy Gear 2, the second generation of the smart watch. It is not a simple upgrade as the device comes with some big changes.
I decided to discard my Pebble for a four-day trip to cover the Computex in Taipei and here are the results.
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The most noticeable change in the Gear 2 is the design. The watch no longer has the camera bump which made the first version a bit awkward to use. The lens is now incorporated into the bezel. It also feels a bit lighter without this protruding lens and stays on stable on the wrist. You still need to add an appendage to get the phone to charge, I feel Samsung must be desperately trying to shed this with the next version. Or they have a problem. I had to carry this charging dock with me for the trip and had to be extra careful to ensure that I did not forget this small piece somewhere. This appendage also takes away the ability to charge using a micro-usb cable on the go. The strap is very comfortable and you don’t have to be bothered about keeping the watch safe as it is water and dust proof. My review unit was black and with a metallic bezel, much more sober than the orange strap of the first Gear I used.
24 hours with the Gear
It was a Sunday and I had the gear all charged up for what was going to be a long trip to Taipei. The first Gear was not very great in the battery department and I was not going to take any chances. But in the end I got more than what I bargained for. With an unusually delayed connecting flight in Kuala Lumpur, I actually got 24 hours of hard core time with the Gear 2.
I started noticing the advantages of wearing a smartwatch like this on way to the airport itself, as I could see my notifications, including Facebook posts and mails pop up on the watch face. Waiting to check in at the airport, I could even take a few calls on the watch without having to pull out the Samsung Galaxy S5 from my tight jeans pocket. Yes, it is definitely awkward, but yet it works.
But that little James Bond gig had a few people coming over and asking me what I was wearing. Some even knew it was the Gear. But in a bid to reduce the ‘sore-thumbishness’ of a head turner like this, I switched the watch face to something that actually looked like a watch and kept the notifications in silent mode. They were still coming on the watch, but not really popping up.
I am sure I was not the only person wearing a smartwatch in the two Malaysian Airlines flights that took me to reach my destination. But none asks you to switch of a smartwatch in the flight, even though it has communication modules built in. And that comes with its advantages. You can click selfies with the clouds behind you and even shots of the horrible airline food. And with a camera like the one on the Gear 2, the pictures are really good. It even lets you take a photo with 9 seconds of audio, if you can figure out a good use for the feature.
While wandering around sad looking airports, like the one in Kuala Lumpur, the smartwatch lets you take control of your music. It is also keeping a tab on your physical exertions. In fact, in the two days that I spent between three airports, I walked well over 13 km, or 15,000 steps, burning over 700 kilo calorie. That is the kind of data crunching the Gear 2 thrives on. It wanted me to cross 10,000 steps a day. I will cross that milestone someday.
The interface of the Gear 2 is very easy to use for anyone accustomed to Android. There are many screens of apps, and you can add many more from watch faces to torchlights beaming out of your wrist. There is even a version of the smart remote that you find in top-end Androids now, letting you take control of most television sets and set top boxes.
There is one thing that bugs me a bit though and that is the lack of a back button. You now do this by swiping down on the screen. You also need the Gear Manager app on the phone to download new apps to the watch. There should be an option to add app, at least watch faces, directly from the Gear. That will add to the utility of the device.
One of the best features of the gadget is the instant backup to the phone. Anything you create on the watch from a picture to a voice memo is saved in the phone within seconds. Similarly, any notification on the phone appears on the watch instantly. The integration is seamless. The Gear is like an extension of your Galaxy phone (only a Galaxy phone for now) and not a competing device.
The Gear 2 has rectified the biggest problem with its predecessor and now looks and works more like a watch that has fallen out of a StarTrek flying machine that just went over us. It is the smartest of all smartwatches and can seamlessly integrate with your daily life. Buy this only if you own a top-end Samsung Galaxy phone or it will be rendered useless. But for those who own a Samsung Galaxy S5 or Note 3, this is a worthy investment that can add fun and productivity to your digital life.
Price: Rs 21,900