Samsung Gear S2 review - now with 3G
It’s all about the bezel. Forget the sleek design, the Tizen operating system and the comfortable fit; it’s the rotating bezel that really makes the Samsung Gear S2 immediately impressive.
"What rotating bezel?" you may say, expecting the kind of bling-worthy milled metal wheel marked with numbers you'd find on a TAG Heuer or Rolex. Instead, the Gear S2’s bezel is so subtle as to be almost invisible, an act of design maturity that I didn’t expect to see with such an otherwise noteworthy feature.
It may not be obvious then, but the outer edge of this smartwatch does rotate. Not with heavy and grand clunks, but deftly with a subtle click, it doesn’t quite spin, but the action is light enough to be near effortless. It’s brilliantly implemented too, letting you switch from the time, to notifications, calendar appointments, media playback, fitness tracking, weather, alarms and more - all at a simple twist.
It provides instant access to a lots of useful information, without all that awkward swiping and tapping on a tiny screen. It’s also easy to use even if you’re wearing gloves, which is handy in the winter. You can still swipe if you prefer, though, or tap to get more details.
There are Back and Home buttons on the side of the watch too. Tapping either wakes up the screen, Back lets you step back in apps, while Home returns to the time, brings up all you apps, and also acts as a power button if held - it's far better than Android Wear’s tortuous trip through settings to turn the watch off.
I reviewed the more modern-looking Gear S2, but there’s also a S2 Classic, which has a more traditional look and a chunkier bezel. The standard S2 doesn’t exactly look distinctive, but then again it doesn’t look much like anything else either. Its smooth lines, side buttons and neatly-integrated rubber strap are reminiscent of a slick digital watch, but then it has that round face, which instantly makes you think analogue. It’s not small at 42x50x11.4mm, but it doesn’t feel that big on your wrist either.
It’s certainly not trying to be a fancy watch and I really like that. The sleek design means it doesn’t catch on your clothes and the shape and strap make it incredibly comfortable to wear. In short, this is a watch I’d happily wear all the time. It’ll take the abuse too, with an IP68 rating meaning that it’s dust-proof and waterproof for at least 30min, at up to 1m in depth. That case is made out of stainless steel, not plastic as you might first think, and so it's tougher and feels more expensive than it looks.
Samsung has done an impressive job in creating a variety of circular watch faces to match the design. You can select these on the watch, but for the full customisations you’re better off pushing them to it from the Samsung Gear app. Here you can not only choose from a huge number of faces, in different colours, but also decide if you want to show the date, and select from a list of additional information, or complications as they’re called on real watches.
Complications range from battery level, weather, world clocks, alarm time, steps taken and many more. Some watch faces allow for more than one complication and I opted for battery and a fluids counter (Samsung say this is for water and caffeinated drinks, but it I think it’s far more useful to count alcohol units, especially with Christmas approaching). It’s a great piece of design and way ahead of anything that Google or Motorola supplies with the Moto 360 - though there are a huge number of watchfaces on offer via Google Play.
Those watch faces are displayed on a detailed AMOLED screen. It’s 1.2in and 360 pixels across, for 302 pixels-per-inch. The screen provides excellent contrast and vivid colours, making stuff easy to read. It’s bright too, when necessary, so you shouldn’t have any problems in direct sunlight (even though sunlight was lacking during my testing in murky November). With its slightly chunkier design, Samsung has managed to hide the screen connector under the bezel, so it doesn’t have the chopped-off look that the Moto 360 screens suffer from.
Inside it’s powered by Samsung's own Exynos 3250 chipset, which on paper isn’t much different from the Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 in the 2nd Gen Moto 360. Both are based on a 28nm process, backed up by 512MB of RAM and 4GB of local storage. The Exynos runs at 1GHz (compared to 1.2GHz from the Snapdragon in the Moto) but I had no complaints about performance, with everything running very smoothly indeed.
Speaking of running, it has the usual array of sensors - accelerometer, barometer, gyroscope - and an optical heart rate sensor too, so that it can track your personal fitness and improvement if that sort of thing motivates you. Personally I do the same amount of exercise whether I’m being harassed by watch or not, but that might be just me.
Gear S2 Classic 3G
We've also had a chance to look at the 3G version of the Gear S2, this time in its Classic form rather than the regular model. It's a fraction chunkier overall, but you don't really notice it much once you've got it on your wrist.
The more obvious change is the notched bezel, giving it a slightly more characterful look than its smooth counterpart. Admittedly, the glossy finish on the case makes it feel a bit cheap, particularly when it's so prone to picking up fingerprints, but at least you get a genuine leather strap with the Classic version to help it look a little bit more upmarket. On the whole, though, it's still pretty understated, and looks far more like a traditional watch than other wearables we've tested recently.
The 3G version of the Gear S2 Classic is currently exclusive to O2, and you can get one for £10 upfront and then a monthly cost of at least £22 thereafter depending on how much data you need. Of course, buying it with an eSIM makes it quite a bit more expensive than the Bluetooth-only version, as even the entry-level contract will cost you £538 over the course of two years.
That's more than double the price of the regular Gear S2, which is quite the hefty premium for the amount of convenience it offers. For instance, the main reason why you'd opt for the 3G version is so you could leave your phone at home when you go out for a run or go to the gym, for example, and still be able to receive calls and texts. You can also use apps like Maps without having your phone on you, as the 3G version has built-in GPS.
That's all well and good, and for the most part it works absolutely seamlessly. However, considering most of us now always have our phones with us anyway, I'm not sure it's worth paying nearly another £300 for unless you're a serious fitness fanatic.