Samsung Gear S: Australian Hands On

Samsung Gear S: Australian Hands On

The smartwatch is the coolest accessory of 2014. You’re not somebody if you don’t have a shiny screen hanging off your wrist and flashing notifications from your Samsung’s latest attempt at making its own bespoke smartwatch is an interesting one.

For one, the Gear S is big. It’s chunky on the wrist of anyone wearing it, even if that person is a red-blooded 6-foot male with biceps like Thor. The 2-inch curved Super AMOLED display is gorgeous, though, and at 360×480 pixels it’s one of the higher-resolution smartwatches available right now. Resolution isn’t a huge deal on a smartwatch — you’re not going to be watching a movie on it any time soon — but it’s a small part of the overall experience so it’s great to see Samsung staying ahead of the game.

The Gear S more generally is beautiful. It’s very solidly constructed, and I happen to think the white variant looks much cleaner and more attractive than the black. Samsung is sticking with its tried and tested rubberised plastic clasp bands, as we saw on the Gear 2, and while they don’t exactly look as beautiful as a nice leather strap you can opt for a bejeweled Swarovski edition if you are so inclined. Thankfully, the straps are also interchangeable.

While the Gear S can pair with a compatible Samsung smartphone (yes, only Samsung), it really sets itself apart from the crowd in having its own nanoSIM slot. Two different models will support Telstra’s and both Optus and Vodafone’s 3G networks (there’s a 850/2100MHz model and a 900/2100MHz model), and you can place and receive calls through the Gear S’ integrated speaker and microphone, as well as deal with SMSes and notifications over mobile data. Wi-Fi is built in as well, as is Bluetooth for a handsfree headset. It’s not entirely clear how Australian telcos will handle a second SIM card — whether it will be a completely different phone number — but it is at least an attempt at something new. Hey, it might catch on.

The fact that Samsung is still leaning on Tizen for the Gear S, though, is to me a little disappointing. I know it’s the battery life king for smartwatches, and that means I do believe the Samsung-stated figure of 2 days’ life from the relatively small 300mAh internal rechargeable lithium-ion, but using Tizen means you’re restricted to Samsung’s family of home-grown apps and services rather than the (eventual, if not yet already present) wider range of features offered by Android Wear and Google’s smartwatch platform.

Being a third- or fourth-generation Samsung wearable (depending on who you ask), the Gear S is flush with bespoke apps developed by third-party partners to use its internal sensors. Turn-by-turn navigation and Nike+ fitness uses the Gear S’ A-GPS chip, S Health on your paired smartphone uses the Gear S’ pedometer and heart rate monitor, and thankfully the smartwatch is IP67 water resistant and so will stand up to a sweaty workout.

Available for $449 in November through Samsung’s Experience Store and as-yet-unnamed retail partners, the Gear S may seem like a bit of a niche novelty to anyone with extensive knowledge of Android Wear and the Apple Watch. It gets points for inventiveness and ingenuity, though, and If you want that Dick Tracy speak-into-your-wristwatch experience, the Gear S begs your attention. [Samsung]