Samsung's new Gear S2 smartwatch has been officially introduced to the world, and it's actually pretty damn impressive. Google's Android Wear ecosystem is about to get its first true competitor outside of the Apple Watch -- it's going to be a hell of a fight.
In the hand, and on the wrist, the Gear S2 feels very slick. It's lightweight, and is actually made from stainless steel -- sturdier than aluminium. The rotating dial -- which doesn't have any hard stops, so it's infinite if you want it to be -- generally feels precise and easy to navigate with. It's not as thick as it looks in Samsung's marketing materials, which is important, since it does a great job of finely toeing the line between feminine and masculine.
Two different Gear S2 and one Gear S2 Classic colourways will be available. The two buttons -- there's a home button and a back button, a la the way everyone's used to an Android phone operating -- are pretty easy to find with your off-hand, although you won't be tapping them with your wrist or hand accidentally (or even intentionally). The vast majority of navigation is done with the dial, followed up by a quick tap on the touchscreen to confirm whichever option you've found your way to.
It's really quick, too. Flicking between different menus and settings using the Gear S2's dial and the Circular UX interface -- itself much faster than flicking on a touch-sensitive Android Wear smartwatch, and probably quicker than an Apple Watch due to the larger range of motion -- is smooth, and animations are clean and consistent. A wide range of apps like Here Maps, Uber, Nike, Yelp and the like will be available, mirroring the Apple Watch and recent updates to Android Wear.
The Gear S2's elastomer watchbands are interchangeable, although they're a Samsung-bespoke shape so you'll have to get a first-party replacement or wait for third-party versions to become available. The Gear S2 Classic takes regular watchbands, too, and there's already a massive range of those available. Alessandro Mendini, an Italian designer, has collaborated with Samsung on some specialised watchfaces and elastomer watchbands with bright colour swatches and simple interfaces -- no word on whether we'll be seeing these in Australia though.
Connectivity is handled via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi, with NFC one-tap connectivity making the initial connection simple. There's also a 3G eSIM variant of the more fitness-focused Gear S2, although it'll be launched in limited markets and we might not see it in Australia. As a general rule, any Gear S2 Classic you see won't have 3G, so that's an easy delineation between the two. NFC opens up the opportunity for things like Samsung Pay and tap'n'go payments.
Gorilla Glass 3 protects the 360x360pixel Super AMOLED display, so it should be relatively resistant to scratches and accidental drops, although as with any other smartwatch it will be possible to break it if you try hard enough. The watch itself is IP68 water resistant, so should stand up to a good amount of punishment -- the kind of heavy everyday usage that a peripheral that lives on your wrist and outside of the protection of your pocket might experience.
An advanced power saving mode means that Samsung is promising up to three days of battery life through energy saving methods like a grayscale display. If you go away for the weekend without your charger, you should be able to make it back home. Wireless charging through the Qi standard means Samsung says charging is fast -- this is entirely possible, because as with any other smartphone, the Gear S2's internal 250mAh (or 300mAh on the 3G model) battery is quite small.
Being Samsung's own open-source Tizen operating system means the Gear S2 isn't quite the familiar experience that any Android Wear user will already know. It is relatively straightforward though, although the range of apps and various menus and sub-menus might seem daunting to the novice user. Most important is the fact that it runs smoothly and apps load within a couple of seconds at most.
The app tray makes it easy to start up apps that run simple tasks; Samsung talked about using the Gear S2 to remotely hail a Uber car, or as a RFID transport card (in Korea and the UK, at least). Samsung Pay also makes it possible to access your credit cards via the Gear S2 (again, not in Australia -- yet). Since Tizen is open source, it's possible for any developer to put something together -- we'll see this happen more if the Gear S2 proves popular.
Samsung's SmartThings and Connected Car integration -- the stuff that Samsung announced earlier today -- via apps on the Gear S2 also means that, if you've already bought into the Samsung IoT ecosystem, you'll be able to use your watch to check your washing cycle or remotely charge your car. Again, this is a slow burn but it has potential. Just like the rest of the Gear S2.
Campbell Simpson travelled to IFA 2015 as a guest of Samsung Australia.