A disclaimer before I start. I’ve been using smartwatches for sometime now, I had the first Kickstarter Pebble Watch, and currently wear the Pebble Round on my hand, except the days when I forget. (And there are quite a few of those).
I like smartwatches since wearing one means I don’t have to constantly look at my phone or reply to every ping, alert, etc instantly. My Pebble Round doesn’t give me this ability yet, and I’m truly grateful for that.
But smarter wearables with more features are where smart computing is headed, or so we are told. Personal devices on our wrists, some worn as a pendants, with the ability to track our heartbeat while giving notifications on where and when our next meeting takes place. Smartwatches are, of course the biggest and best examples of these wearables, with players like Samsung, LG, Moto, Huawei, and Apple all launching their own.
At CES 2016, while smartwatches and fitness trackers occupied an important space, one could see that more than revolutionary new features or improvements, design had become the central focus. Swarovski crystals studded on the outer rims, better colour options (read Apple’s Watch’s Rose Gold) and slimmer designs are what we saw at the tech show.
Samsung Gear S2 is the new smartwatch from the Korean company and goes for a round-design, instead of the earlier Gear S launched before that. The Tizen-OS based smartwatch can be synced with any Android device, and it’s recently been introduced in India at Rs 24,300, while the Gear S2 Classic costs Rs 25,800.
It’s got a rotatable bezel, a home and back button and a touchscreen where you can tap to get access to some apps, notifications. I’ll be reviewing this watch for the next week to see whether the round Gear S2 can really add something meaning to my life. I’m using the watch in sync with a Galaxy Note 5, although this one works with other Android devices as well.
Day 1: Figuring out the watch
Rotating bezel around a touchscreen and the charging dock; there’s a lot that there is new with this Gear S2. It can be a bit daunting, training yourself on how to interact with a new device. But to the Gear S2’s credit, it is actually quite easy to use and set-up, for the first part at least.
The watch does come with a set of useful instructions when you are setting it up, which help. You learn that the rotating bezel is how you move from one tab to another on the watch, and that if you wish to open an app or read a message on the watch, you need to rely on the touchscreen. And thankfully the Home and Back button do exactly what the name suggests, and Samsung hasn’t added any extra hidden functions to them. Navigating the Gear S2 is fairly easy I’d say.
The first thing that many will try and do with the watch is, of course change the Watch face. You can either do this by going to settings and tapping on display and then changing the Watchface from there. Or just do a long press on the Watchface you are currently using, and then the watch will reflect all of the options you can choose from. Once again you can either scroll via the touch or just use the bezel to rotate. If you wish to add more watch faces, you need to rely on the app on your smartphone.
It’s a fairly simple process, and while the Bezel might seem like an unnecessary addition, I don’t mind using it.
The Gear S2 gives notifications from email including Gmail, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and yes, you can reply to these messages, via voice or just type out the text as well. However, you can’t initiate chats or messages on either of these apps, because the Gear S2 is mirroring content from your phone. Gear S2 doesn’t have native apps to support Gmail, WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger, so that’s a bit of a letdown.
In order to get these notifications to reflect from your phone on the Gear S2, you need to manage them in the Gear app on your device. If you don’t right click all of these, then the notifications will not appear on your watch, even though the device will connected to your phone.
Day 2: Taking calls on Gear S2 and trying to find more apps
Yes, the Gear S2 lets you take or reject calls with a swipe, and even via a voice command. But you need activate something called ‘Voice Calls’ for the latter. And yes, you can even initiate calls on the Gear S2, but it comes with a big restriction. (I am not a big fan of tip-tapping numbers on that tiny screen.)
In order to continue with the actual call, I need to move on to the smartphone. So what happens is this: Gear S2 will let me talk into the watch, which admittedly makes me look a bit daft. I say hello into the screen and the other person will hear that, but after that I need to pick up the phone. Kind of makes the watch redundant.
The watch does connect to a set of Bluetooth headphones in case you want to listen to music, but these didn’t work with the calls.
Also I’m not entirely convinced about the accuracy of the Voice-call feature to answer or reject calls. Samsung Gear S2 expects you to say Answer or Reject between vibrations, in order for this feature to work, and frankly I’ve not gotten it right till now. Pro-tip: Don’t let that little mike symbol when a call appears confuse you, it doesn’t do anything special.
In my opinion, the call feature is a bit of a let-down, almost feels like an afterthought.
Now coming to apps. After all apps are what make a device, and its ecosystem worth the use for any customer. Even my Pebble gives alerts for WhatsApp, FB Messenger, etc, so Gear S2 needs to do a little more on the app front.
But scrolling through the Gear App store, you can see that this is where Samsung is still struggling. Sure there’s a CNN, Flipboard and Bloomberg app for new alerts, and S-health is one of the best options of health, but that’s about it. Samsung has created most of these apps, and other top-end developers have not really jumped in.
I noticed quite a few paid apps, and I’m not sure users will shell out Rs 50 or more for apps on a watch unless you are a hardcore Tizen OS fan.
Samsung really needs to up the app game for its Tizen OS, because that’s the one thing that will increase use cases, and utility for the watch. It needs to move beyond just health apps or mirroring app alerts from the phone.
Having said that I’m quite impressed by some of the Watchfaces in the Gear app store. Some are pretty stylish, and definitely brighten up the look, and feel of the watch. Of course some users might get bored with changing watchfaces everyday, but for now I’m enjoying this.
Day 3: Tracking health on the Samsung Gear S2
The Gear S2 offers a bunch of features around health, from tracking all-day activity to special modes for exercise, and finally a heart-rate sensor. From a utility perspective, the Gear S2’s health aspect is probably its most comprehensive and well-thought out feature.
Gear S2 is accurate and comprehensive with the activity tracking, and monitoring daily steps. It doesn’t just randomly increase daily step count as I’ve seen happen with so many fitness trackers. And yes the watch does prompt one to get up and walk. I do take the bait sometimes, but I try not to in some cases, as I don’t want my steps conditioned to a watch’s commands.
Gear S2’s health widget also has special exercise modes for treadmill, run, elliptical trainer, cycling, exercise bike, step machine, etc. Simply rotate the bezel to pick one of these or tap on the screen.
In my case, I tried the treadmill mode. Once I pressed start, the Gear S2 started recording time spent along with the heart-rate. Thankfully, a user can swipe up to pause the session as well. This is particularly useful for someone like me, who needs to take constant breaks for water.
Also if one is using the S Health app, the Gear S2 will sync the data there. I could see how erratically I had done over the week. Based on my step count and the weekly graph, I’d say I alternated between a hyperactive child and a bear in hibernation.
With the Heart-rate sensor, though I do have a word of caution. The watch’s large size means that for those with bony wrists like mine, the first couple of tries won’t yield accurate results. In my case it happened on the treadmill, when the watch recorded a lowly heartbeat of 77 bpm, while the treadmill put it at 140 bpm. Gear S2 had almost convinced me I was in some sort of heart-trouble.
I discovered the cause of that problem a little later. The next day when I tried to take a heartbeat, the watch didn’t quite get it right, and warned me that I should either use the watch on the underside of the wrist, or on a part where it was not resting on the bone. These instructions fixed the problem. The next time I was on a treadmill, I wore the watch slightly higher on my wrist and it worked just fine, displaying a much more believable number.
Some might think heartbeat feature is gimmicky, but I’d say this one is worth it. Personally, I like to run fast on the treadmill (well for some minutes at least), and want to extend the distance and time I can spend on the machine; a watch like the Gear S2 is a more convenient and easy way to keep track of the heart-rate and overall fitness data.
It’s also an easy way to get all my health data in one place. If only this had worked with my iPhone 6s, I would have probably considered buying it. For all Android users though, the Gear S2 is one of the best and more accurate options when it comes to keeping track of health.
Day 4: Battery woes, Performance
I was recently gifted the Pebble Round, which though beautiful and just-right for my wrist, barely lasts two days. What this does is that I end up forgetting to charge it, and thus wearing it. And nothing looks more ridiculous on one’s hand, than a watch that isn’t reflecting the time or anything else in case of a smartwatch.
With the Gear S2, Samsung claims that the battery will last 2-3 days, but am yet to see that happen. The watch definitely needs charging every day. In my case, the constant WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Messages etc, were enough to drain the watch within 12-15 hours. And since I didn’t carry the charger around, I found myself wearing a watch which basically couldn’t tell the time.
We tried using a Moto 360 2 wireless charging pod for the Gear S2, and while the watch showed that it was charging, the levels didn’t go up. Mental note to self: carry the Samsung wireless charging pod around at all times. Basically, the Gear S2 felt like another device to keep me tethered to a charging point.
Limited battery life aside, the Gear S2’s performance is worth its price. There’s no lag on the watch, the S-voice works just fine and will record replies quickly and accurately, provided one doesn’t speak too fast. Gear S2 had no trouble dealing with a flood of notifications on WhatsApp, and I found I could easily use the Bezel to read the whole chain of replies, without the watch stuttering.
Users can also transfer music, photos to the watch; the pictures are displayed quite nicely on the Gear S2’s screen. To listen to music, one needs a set of Bluetooth headphones.
Even when I left the smartphone in another room, the watch continued delivering pings and notifications from the phone. There is WiFi only mode supported as well, but that becomes restrictive because the watch doesn’t have native apps for things like Facebook, WhatsApp, etc which means the notifications stop.
So do you really need the Gear S2 on your wrist? Yesterday, someone called me and wanted to know if the watch will track tennis as well. (Update: I’ve been told there are apps to track tennis, cricket, basketball and health for Indian users). But knowing the person, they will get the watch, simply because they want it.
Gear S2 classic, which is a more beautiful and slightly more expensive version of the regular Gear S2, would be my choice any day. If you’ve been wanting to try out a smartwatch for sometime and don’t want to spend all your money on an Apple Watch, the Gear S2 is definitely an option. It’s fast, has health-tracking that is comprehensive, looks good (mostly on men though), has some stunning watchfaces to offer, and is easy to interact with; my husband thinks the rotating bezel is a win-win.
My biggest problem with Gear S2 is the battery, and the fact that a lot of apps are missing. For instance, the Gear S2 apparently has an Uber app, but I couldn’t find it in the store.
For those who’ve never tried a smartwatch, I’d say give the Gear S2 a try provided you’re okay with spending this amount of money, and don’t mind interacting with a second screen.