We reviewed Samsung's Gear 2 smartwatch when it launched in April, but we skipped its sibling, the Gear 2 Neo. With only minor differences between the two, we figured the one review could speak for both watches. Well, Samsung's smartwatch platform has grown in the last four months, so let's see how things have changed as Gizmag (finally) reviews the Samsung Gear 2 Neo.
The Samsung Gear 2 Neo is almost exactly the same watch as the Gear 2. The only differences? The Neo is missing a camera, has a plastic body (in place of stainless steel) and is US$100 cheaper.
When we reviewed the Gear 2, I thought it was a marked improvement over the Galaxy Gear, but had the same apps problem that plagued its predecessor. Namely, it had very few – and even fewer that mattered. With Android Wear (at the time) looming on the horizon, I wasn't sure if developers would give the Gear platform much love.
Four months later, has any of that changed? Well, though Samsung's Tizen platform for wearables (the software that runs on the Gear) hasn't exactly set the world on fire, it is in much better shape than it was in April.
For starters, the Gear platform finally has a few killer apps. To me, the biggest game-changer is Fleksy (above). The keyboard app lets you type and send text messages right on your Gear, without pulling out your phone or using Samsung's slow and limited S Voice input. Typing isn't exactly ideal on a 1.63-in display, but Fleksy's unique error-correction works like a charm here.
With Fleksy, all you have to do is try to tap your fingers on the correct letters, and watch as Fleksy automatically corrects whatever gibberish you hammered out to the words you were trying to type. It isn't perfect, but, for me, it works most of the time. For such a tiny screen, that's no small feat.
Developers have spawned a few other gems as well. Converter+ (above) lets you quickly make most common conversions (including distance, weight, cooking and much more) right on your wrist. Smart IR Remote gives us the advanced TV remote features that Samsung's WatchOn is missing. Hell, even weather nerds have a killer app, as Radar Watch shows you the latest Doppler radar map of your area right on your Gear.
Android Wear's app development has been active since it launched, but the Gear platform has been doing surprisingly well in its own right. Wear has much better voice input, and it also integrates more directly with Android smartphone apps. But in every other respect, I'd say the Gear's Tizen is doing at least as well, if not better. If nothing else, the platform is finally showing signs of life.
I can't say I miss having a camera on the Gear 2 Neo. And it looks like Samsung has also realized that most people don't need a crappy 2 MP shooter on their wrists, as the company's upcoming Gear S smartwatch (yes, there's yet another new model on its way) is going to be missing a camera as well.
The Neo's main body is made of plastic, rather than the Gear 2's stainless steel, but I don't see this as a big loss. It's a very solid (slightly rubbery-feeling) plastic, and I don't think it downgrades the premium aura of the watch. If anything, it should be more durable and less prone to scratches.
Like the Gear 2 (and several other recent Samsung products), the Neo is also water-resistant. Its IP67 rating means it can soak in 1 m (3.3 ft) of water for 30 minutes and keep on ticking.
Though I'm enjoying the Gear 2 Neo more than I thought I would at this stage, I'm also not sure if this is a great time to buy it. If you're a fan of Samsung's watches, we're going to find out more about the company's forward-thinking Gear S in a few days. It has a standalone 3G connection (so it can work its mojo without a phone's help) and a spacious curved screen. If it ends up retailing for $200-300, it might be worth a look when it launches this October.
Of course we'll also be finding out more about Android Wear watches like the round-faced Moto 360 and LG G Watch R in the next week. And, oh yes, Apple is also rumored to have a little something up its sleeve on September 9. The smartwatch market is about to get a lot more interesting.
While the Gear 2 Neo isn't likely to be your best choice this holiday season, it does give me hope for Samsung's wearable platform. App development is better than I expected it to be and, with a few tweaks (most notably to its voice control), it could be a legit Android Wear rival.
The Samsung Gear 2 Neo is available now, still retailing for $200. For more detail on the watch, you can hit up our full Gear 2 review from back in April. And stay tuned to Gizmag this week, as we expect to spend some quality hands-on time with the upcoming Gear S.
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