- Rotating bezel control is a master stroke
- One of the better looking smartwatches
- Great battery life
- Water resistant
- You can check emails and messages, but replying is limited
- Most functionality is just duplicated from what you do with your phone
- Expensive for what it offers in return
Some things take a little while to get used to. We’ve seen a number of smartwatches in the past three years, some good but most underwhelming. The concept of wearables is still very much in its infancy.
The problem is that while smartwatches increase convenience, there isn’t much these gadgets can do on your wrist that you can't with the phone in your pocket. It might be easier to check information with the flick of your wrist, but there is limited functionality and the expense of buying yet another gadget to consider. So, what exactly are smartwatches good for?
The Samsung struggles to answer this question with the apps it includes. It still duplicates the functionality of a smartphone, but its design makes it much easier to use what tools are available.
The crucial element of this design is the rotating bezel around the watch face. This works in a similar way to the twisty knob on the side of the Apple Watch. Turning the bezel on the Gear S2 activates the watch and scrolls through the apps and info you set up as different digital faces. In individual apps, the bezel scrolls through pages or options. You can use swiping gestures on the 1.2-inch touchscreen, or the two buttons on the side of the watch, but the bezel is faster and keeps greasy fingerprints off the display.
There are fewer surprises with what you can do with this smartwatch, though. There is Messaging and Email apps, which are great for viewing incoming missives, but terrible for replying. Chances are you’ll use the Gear S2 most to check incoming emails, and while this is handy when you’re on a crowded bus, and the emails are displayed in a way that is easy to read, it really reinforces why smartwatches are still superfluous. It will only take a half-dozen ‘Daily Deals’ emails to have you ignoring the Gear S2 in the same way you ignore the buzzing in your pocket.
Health is the other key area Samsung focuses in on, with apps for step counting, heart-rate monitoring and a cute app for counting your cups of water next to your cups of coffee each day. It is rather motivating to have a device like this keeping track of your vitals, but you can find these same functions
Mapping is something we quite like about Google’s Android Wear watches, but the Maps option in the Gear S2, powered by Nokia’s Here Maps, is dreadful. You can search the map, you can identify a point of interest, but as soon as you ask for directions it tells you to use your phone. Which is to say that you might as well have started your directions search on your phone to begin with and cut the watch out of the equation all together.
The Gear S2 has some rudimentary music controls, and taps into a number of popular music apps, like Samsung Milk and Spotify. You can skip tracks and adjust the volume, but if you want to change your playlist you’ll need to reach into your pocket. There’s an extremely limited photo gallery which requires you to upload photos from your phone, rather than streaming them on request.
The one truly unique and useful feature in the Gear S2 is the ‘Find My Phone’ apps. If you’ve put your phone down, and it’s slipped between the cushions on your sofa, this app will make your phone ring so you can locate it.
There is an app store for Samsung’s watches, so you might be able to discover other app gems, but right now it is a marketplace stuffed full of watch faces — most of which are pretty ugly.
Aesthetically, the Gear S2 is one of the best looking smartwatches available. It has a sporty look, rather than a classic high-fashion style, and unlike most smartwatches it relatively thin. Other popular smartwatch options tend to be quite bulky to accomodate all of the smart elements, but the Gear S2 looks more like a watch you’ll be familiar with.
Battery life and charging the Gear S2 are two of this gadget’s best features. You should expect to get about three days of charge out of the Gear S2 and there is an Ultra Power-saving mode in case you are caught away from the charging dock. This dock is a neat little stand with a magnet to secure the watch, so you don’t need to fiddle around trying to get a charger into the watch, as you would have had to with previous models.
With Gear S2, Samsung nails the ‘how’ part of building a smartwatch. It rotating bezel is a stroke of genius and makes the watch easier, and more fun, to use. Samsung doesn’t do such a great job of defining the ‘why’ part of this category of devices, though. Though the Gear S2 is jam-packed with apps, there is actually very little you may end up using it for, and you’ll often reach into your pocket for your phone to accomplish simple tasks like replying to an SMS.