Time flies when you’re Samsung. It seems like only yesterday that we were testing the original Galaxy Gear, but after less than six months, the company has released two successors, the Gear 2 and the camera-less Gear Neo. We had a chance to spend a few moments with the Gear 2 here at Mobile World Congress and came away pleased with Samsung’s iterative improvements over the first-gen model.
The Gear 2’s rectangular body is almost identical to the original Galaxy Gear’s, but now comes in a couple of vibrant colors, including black, orange, in addition to silver and gold. The watches come with color-coordinated bands out of the box, but in a huge change from the original Gear, users can now swap them out with any standard 22nm watch band. Where on the original, the microphone and camera where built into the band, these functions have moved to the body. As a result, the default bands were far less rigid and more comfortable than on the original and we found the clasp much easier to close.
The new Gear 2 is only 0.2 ounces lighter than its predecessor, weighing in at 2.4 ounces to the Gear’s 2.6. However, it felt a lot lighter in our hand and on our wrist, perhaps because of the band. The new watch is just 0.04 inches thinner than the 0.43-inch thick Gear, but it also seemed quite a bit thinner to us. The watch is IP67 rated to survive dust and water, but we did not have a chance to try dunking it.
The home / power button now sits below the watch face, rather than on the side of the device and, in our tests, we found it more comfortable to press, perhaps because it felt more like a smartphone home button. The 1080p camera adorns the top side of the chassis, but still faces outward for capturing the world around you, rather than conducting video chats.An IR sensor, which lets you control your TV, is part of the same block as the camera. On the Gear Nero, this block is a small black circle, because there’s no camera.
Samsung hasn’t changed the 320 x 320, 1.6-inch display from the original Gear, but in our time with the Gear 2, its display seemed brighter and even more colorful. A Samsung rep said that the screen on the Gear 2 can run brighter due to increased power savings, but perhaps we found the output more attractive because of the new watch’s custom wallpaper. Where the Gear had boring solid color backgrounds, the Gear 2 has a number of colorful, attractive backgrounds to choose from. We found changing the background was easy enough, either by using the Gear Manager app on a paired phone or by entering the settings menu on the watch itself.
Samsung has replaced the Android-based operating system on the original Gear with a Tizen-powered system. However, the changes are mostly under the hood, as the user interface and even the stick-figure-like icons are exactly the same. As we swiped through the different screens, we saw shortcuts for the dialer, the remote control and the heart rate monitor, among other preloads. The heart-rate monitor is located directly on the back of device so, when we launched the application, it read our wrist, without requiring us to touch anything else.
Unlike the original Gear, which could do almost nothing without being paired to a phone, the Gear 2 can play music, record your steps with a pedometer, measure your heart rate or remote control your TV, without a handset present. We didn’t get to try the music playback feature, but the WatchOn remote control software looked very basic, but functional. Where Samsung’s WatchOn for phones has a rich program Guide, the ability to store favorite channels and ways to search for online video, the watch version is nothing more than a set of virtual buttons for controlling the volume, power button and channel number. However, if you’ve ever fumbled around the couch looking for your remote control, having this functionality on your wrist could be a lifesaver.
We didn’t get to test out the notifications or third party apps on the Gear 2, but Samsung says it will have 100 applications at launch, including Evernote, CNN and eBay. Unfortunately for consumers who paid $299 for the original Gear, these new apps are not compatible with it, because the old watch runs Android rather than Tizen. Developers may be frustrated to learn that the apps they programmed for the original watch won’t run on the new one, either. In fact, the new watches do not have the word “Galaxy” in their names, because Samsung uses the Galaxy name for Android devices only.
Overall, our initial impression of the Gear 2 is that it’s a nice step forward, but we will have to see how the app ecosystem around it develops. We look forward to putting the Gear 2 through its paces when it launches later this spring. There’s no word yet on pricing or a precise ship date.