Smartwatches

Samsung Gear S2 review: Awesome potential, incomplete experience

Samsung Gear S2 review: Awesom...
Gizmag reviews the new Samsung Gear S2, a round-faced smartwatch with a rotating bezel (and a few missing pieces)
Gizmag reviews the new Samsung Gear S2, a round-faced smartwatch with a rotating bezel (and a few missing pieces)
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The 1.2-inch, fully round display on the Samsung Gear S2
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The 1.2-inch, fully round display on the Samsung Gear S2
The Gear S2's rotating bezel lets you scroll through the UI without blocking the screen (and it also happens to be a lot of fun)
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The Gear S2's rotating bezel lets you scroll through the UI without blocking the screen (and it also happens to be a lot of fun)
Scrolling through the settings menu with the Gear S2's rotating bezel
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Scrolling through the settings menu with the Gear S2's rotating bezel
The back (top) and home buttons on the side of the Gear S2
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The back (top) and home buttons on the side of the Gear S2
The standard Gear S2 we reviewed has a plastic band, but there's also a Classic version (that costs $50 more) with a leather band
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The standard Gear S2 we reviewed has a plastic band, but there's also a Classic version (that costs $50 more) with a leather band
The sleek and minimal design of the standard Gear S2
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The sleek and minimal design of the standard Gear S2
Why did Samsung put all this effort into improving its wearable, only to leave out a fundamental smartwatch feature like the ability to set reminders?
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Why did Samsung put all this effort into improving its wearable, only to leave out a fundamental smartwatch feature like the ability to set reminders?
We don't even know if reminders are supposed to be supported or not
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We don't even know if reminders are supposed to be supported or not
The Gear S2 has a virtual keyboard that can be handy in a pinch
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The Gear S2 has a virtual keyboard that can be handy in a pinch
Gizmag reviews the new Samsung Gear S2, a round-faced smartwatch with a rotating bezel (and a few missing pieces)
10/11
Gizmag reviews the new Samsung Gear S2, a round-faced smartwatch with a rotating bezel (and a few missing pieces)
This standard version of the Gear S2 looks sharper than we expected it to
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This standard version of the Gear S2 looks sharper than we expected it to

After making five smartwatches with either square or rectangular displays, Samsung now has a round-faced model that improves on its predecessors in other ways as well. Read on for Gizmag's review of the new Samsung Gear S2.

The Gear S2 is so close to being the best smartwatch you can buy that its bizarre missing pieces are that much more frustrating. It has an awesome new navigation method, handles notifications much better than any previous Samsung Gear and looks pretty good to boot.

But not only is Tizen's third-party app selection the worst of the big three smartwatch platforms (a list that also includes watchOS and Android Wear), we're left scratching our heads as to why Samsung left out one of the key pillars of the smartwatch experience: the ability to create reminders.

Why did Samsung put all this effort into improving its wearable, only to leave out a fundamental smartwatch feature like the ability to set reminders?
Why did Samsung put all this effort into improving its wearable, only to leave out a fundamental smartwatch feature like the ability to set reminders?

Say you're on the go, maybe one or both of your hands are full, and you think of something you need to do later on. Maybe pay a bill, buy a gift for your niece or set up a doctor's appointment. Sounds like the perfect job for that US$300 device that you're wearing on your wrist, right? Though you can't watch Netflix or play Grand Theft Auto on a smartwatch, things like reminders are a perfect fit, no?

Well, apparently Samsung doesn't agree. If the watch you're wearing on your wrist is the Gear S2, you're going to have to put down what you're doing, pull out your phone and create the reminder the old-fashioned way.

Not exactly the end of the world, but it's one less reason to bother wearing a product that's non-essential to begin with.

This standard version of the Gear S2 looks sharper than we expected it to
This standard version of the Gear S2 looks sharper than we expected it to

Nobody needs a smartwatch. They can't replace smartphones and the ones that look good are relatively expensive for something that duplicates functionality you already have on your phone. So smartwatch-makers need to give us as many compelling reasons as possible to buy them. Make the core experience as airtight as possible, add as much convenience as possible, and maybe then we'll buy enough of them so that developers are motivated to make enough killer apps for them, so that maybe someday they'll become something close to essential.

Android Wear supported reminders brilliantly from Day One. So did the Apple Watch. Even Samsung's first and second generation smartwatches supported them, albeit in a clunkier manner.

But when I tell the Gear S2's virtual assistant, S Voice, to create a reminder, I have no idea if the feature is unsupported or just plain buggy:

Me: "Create a reminder."

S Voice: "What is the subject?"

Me: "Pay my power bill."

S Voice: "Sorry, your request couldn't be processed. Please try again later"

... okay, let's try this another way.

Me: "At 3 pm, remind me to pay my power bill."

S Voice: "Unfortunately that is not supported."

We don't even know if reminders are supposed to be supported or not
We don't even know if reminders are supposed to be supported or not

Is this an error that couldn't be processed, or are reminders just not supported? We reached out to a Samsung PR representative a day ago and have yet to hear back. So not only can we not create reminders on the Gear S2, it isn't even clear whether they're supposed to be supported or not.

Not a good way to make a killer smartwatch, Samsung.

Third-party app support is another weakness, albeit one that Samsung has less control over. Once you get past marquee big-name apps that sit front and center in the Samsung Gear Apps store (like Yelp, ESPN, CNN and Bloomberg), there's an enormous drop-off, where you're left sifting through endless flashlight apps and watch faces.

There aren't any of the big note-taking apps like Evernote or OneNote, no popular music streaming services (unless you count Samsung's Milk Music), no ubiquitous fitness apps like Runkeeper or Runtastic (though Samsung's built-in S Health is quite good this time around) and not even any third-party task-creating apps to fill in that hole.

Android Wear and watchOS have all of the above.

Scrolling through the settings menu with the Gear S2's rotating bezel
Scrolling through the settings menu with the Gear S2's rotating bezel

The Gear S2's rotating bezel is our favorite smartwatch navigation method yet: similar to the Apple Watch's Digital Crown, the bezel lets you scroll through the UI, messages and menus without blocking the screen or needing to swipe over and over on a tiny display. There's a satisfying "click" with each new screen you rotate to, and Samsung has revamped its Tizen UI to look like it was built for the new rotating bezel. It's tons of fun to use.

There are also two buttons on the watch's right side: a back button up top and a home button down below. They fit the rotating bezel, located for easy access from the position your hand goes to when twisting the watch's bezel.

The Gear S2 also handles Android's actionable notifications, so you can interact with smartphone apps that don't directly support Samsung Gear. Things like archiving CloudMagic emails, responding to Hangouts messages or marking Google Now reminders as done (yes, the Gear does receive reminders you created on your phone). Another big improvement.

Best of all, this is the first Tizen-running Samsung Gear that works with most Android phones, not just those made by Samsung.

The 1.2-inch, fully round display on the Samsung Gear S2
The 1.2-inch, fully round display on the Samsung Gear S2

We like the design of the watch itself, even though we're reviewing the standard version of the Gear S2 (there's also a snazzier-looking Gear S2 Classic that looks a bit more like a traditional timekeeping watch). The one we're handling has a minimal stainless steel design that, despite looking a little smartwatchy and having a plastic band, looks pretty modern and stylish.

Like last year's Gear S, the S2 has an onscreen keyboard, something its biggest rivals don't offer. It still isn't a great experience typing on a small screen, but Samsung's virtual keyboard solution – a phone keypad type of layout with three letters on each key, with text prediction that usually figures out what you're trying to type – works well enough to be a nice bonus.

The Gear S2 has a virtual keyboard that can be handy in a pinch
The Gear S2 has a virtual keyboard that can be handy in a pinch

The keyboard isn't something you'll want to use all the time, but it's good enough to work in a pinch – and great when you want to rap out a message on a busy street or in an airport, where it isn't convenient to whip out your phone but you'd also rather not have others around you hearing a dictated response to your spouse.

The Gear S2 handles alert vibrations better than Android Wear. Sitting somewhere between Wear's buzzes and the Apple Watch's taps (the Gear's alerts are more like pulses), you can adjust between two strength settings. They're prominent enough that we never miss alerts when set to the stronger setting, something we can't say for most Android Wear watches.

Battery life is good. Samsung estimates 2-3 days of uptime, and that's about right if you keep the always-on clock face setting turned off. With the always-on display turned on, it drops between 4-6 percent per hour, still a full day with room to spare for most people.

The sleek and minimal design of the standard Gear S2
The sleek and minimal design of the standard Gear S2

With so many strengths in its column, we wanted to declare the Gear S2 the smartwatch of the year (and it is still Samsung's best smartwatch yet by a wide margin). But the indefensible lack of reminders, overall clunky voice assistant and underwhelming third-party app selection make us put it behind favorites like the Huawei Watch, Apple Watch and 2nd-gen Moto 360 that fill in all of these gaps.

These are all things that could change with software updates, and we'll keep our fingers crossed for that (and we'll be happy to re-review the Gear S2 if those improvements do arrive). In the meantime, though, this otherwise impressive ship has a hole or two that keeps it from floating.

The Samsung Gear S2 is available now, starting at $300 for the standard model you see in this review. The Classic version costs $350.

Product page: Samsung

11 comments
gizmowiz
I have the Gear S original and it's much better with it's larger surface area and rounded form. Fits the wrist much better than a big round flat kind of watch and that's more important than features. I love it.
JeremyJudkins
You were much too nice on the Gear S2, check out my video, which lists all the bugs I found with it: https://youtu.be/Cj3ffsOEoyw
KevinDellHughes
The Gear S2 is the only model that has been released. I have been looking for the Gear S2 Classic since the reported October 2nd release date. I have not found it anywhere despite looking for availability at Samsung.com, Amazon, Best Buy and Macy's. - They only have the Gear S2 in stock. Does anyone have some insight on this? Samsung website shows 3 to 4 weeks!
Maccman
Actually the reminders do work from the watch to the phone... They get saved in Google reminders... However the watch does say not supported...
Stephen N Russell
Fix Samsung or lose sales of watch alone IF NOT fixed for Gen 2,3 models due later & when price wars commence for smartwatches, then who will?
BryanStern
I heard from Samsung rep at BestBuy that the classic are going on sale Sunday (to the best of his knowledge). Said he would know for sure today when the weekly schedule comes out.
ccdezign
Love this watch way more than than the Apple and Moto 360. Just added a screen protector from roboshields http://goo.gl/FNnflA
KarenHill
You might have an issue with yours, but mine functions perfectly! Settting reminders and all.
FrankBoscoe
"Nobody needs a smartwatch" Perhaps, but I come close. Most days, I take the bus to work and then run home. I carry an old tiny flip phone because it's the only thing comfortable to run with. The run-friendly features of a smartwatch (GPS, heart rate monitor) would be nice to have. On that bus ride, it would be nice to check the news, weather, practice my foreign-language flashcards, or listen to podcasts, none of which require a large screen. I average less than one call per day, mostly to my wife, so the Dick Tracy problem isn't really a problem. You can always take it off your wrist and hold it like a phone. It seems like the S2 might serve my needs; as usual I can't tell. Just for fun, I went to Best Buy and asked 5 employees - 2 said yes and 3 said no.
BrianHartman
I decided to go with the Gear Live. I think with the Gear S2, you're paying far too high a premium for the round design. And the Gear S2 has a smaller screen, to boot. Plus, Android Wear blows Tizen out of the water in almost every conceivable way (except maybe battery life). Google services in the watch are pretty important, and Tizen lacks that. Put Android Wear on it, and knock about $50 off the price, and then I'd consider it.