Samsung Gear S2 review: progress in smartwatch design but lack of apps disappoints

Samsung’s latest smartwatch, the Gear S2, is one of the best designed watches on the market, and one of the few devices out there that I enjoyed wearing as an actual watch. However, it’s unfortunately let down by the lack of some notable hardware features, and a limited selection of apps.

It’s a pity, because the S2’s design is a massive step up from the chunky designs of smartwatches we’ve seen so far. The classic version tested (retailing at Dh1,399) felt like an actual watch on my wrist, rather than a watch-shaped gadget, while the standard version (available for Dh1,199) has a slick, futuristic design.

But that really sets the S2 apart from its rivals is its rotating bezel, situated around the face of the dial. Twisting the bezel makes navigating around the watch’s apps an absolute doddle, on a par with Apple Watch’s digital crown for ease of use.

The selection of apps is where the issues start. Like its predecessor the Gear S, the S2 runs off Samsung’s Tizen, rather than the more common Android Wear platform.

And while the range of apps available on Tizen is growing (apps from Bloomberg, CNN and Nike+ are included), it’s very thin compared with the likes of Apple Watch or Android Wear, with proprietary Samsung apps often your only option.

While most of the basic hardware features we’ve come to expect from smartwatches are present and correct (see Q&A), the basic and classic models have no inbuilt speaker, meaning they can’t be used to make or receive phone calls. Neither have inbuilt GPS, ruling them out as hard-core running watches.

And while the Apple Watch and Android Wear devices have learnt to play nice with each ­other’s platforms, the S2 currently only works with Android devices, ruling it out as an option for iPhone users.

The Gear S2 is a beautifully designed watch that’s a pleasure to wear and promises a lot, but still lacks features and apps that are increasingly becoming standard for smartwatch users. If Samsung can rectify this with the S3, it will have a winner on its hands.


If only the Gear S2 came in a version that had a built-in speaker and GPS capabilities …

The funny thing is that such a version does exist, in the form of the Gear S2 3G. Sadly and somewhat inexplicably, there are currently no plans to release it here officially, so you’ll have to try your luck on the grey market.

How very strange. Can you still use the normal and classic versions for exercise?

The Gear 2 comes with the standard features of heart rate monitor and accelerometer, so it will track your steps without any issues. And despite the lack of GPS, the Nike+ app will keep track of your runs, as long as you have your phone with you.

I know I can’t make phone calls, but can I still tell the watch to do things?

If you absolutely must, yes. Speaking into your watch will of course make you look very silly, but thanks to the S Voice app you can tell the Gear 2 to send a text message and find out what the weather currently is in Bognor Regis, although it was a bit confused when I asked it where Bognor Regis is.

I bet it’s not the only one. How does its battery fare?

Pretty well. On moderate use you can squeeze two full days of charge from it, making it a little better than the Apple Watch. Charging the device is a hassle- free experience, done via a magnetic wireless cradle.

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