The Gear 2 is one of the most stylish, most comfortable, and most capable smartwatches we've reviewed. The one fatal flaw is that it is only compatible with a limited list of Samsung smartphones.
Samsung seems to have adopted the strategy that if you just throw enough stuff at the wall eventually something will stick. In a matter of just a few months Samsung launched the Galaxy Gear, Gear 2 Neo, Gear Fit, Gear Live, Gear S, and this watch—the Gear 2.
At Mobile World Congress 2015 just days before Apple’s big Apple Watch unveiling, Samsung announced that its smartwatch plans are being “paused”. It seems safe to assume the “pause” is intended to provide Samsung an opportunity to analyze what Apple brings to market, and see how well it works and how it’s received by consumers so it can respond appropriately.
I’ve had a chance to use a couple different Samsung smartwatch models, though, and the Gear 2 is arguably the best thing Samsung has developed so far. Let’s take a closer look at what Samsung gets right, and where there’s still some room for Samsung to improve.
The Samsung Gear 2 is housed in a relatively slim, rectangular metal body. Samsung says that the Gear 2 is IP 67 certified as dust and water resistant. That doesn’t mean you can wear it while swimming, or even in the shower, but a little rain or sweat isn’t going to destroy it.
The Gear 2 has a 1.63-inch super AMOLED display, accelerometer, gyroscope, and heart rate sensor. It also has Bluetooth 4.0 LE connectivity, and a 2 Megapixel autofocus camera built in to the top or front of the device. Samsung claims the battery will last 2 to 3 days under normal usage and possibly up to six days with light usage.
The watch itself comes in a few different versions. The one I tested is the brown gold model. It has a brown strap but one of the nice things about the Gear 2 is that the watchband can be changed so you can find a style that fits you best.
Setting aside all of the gadgets, apps, and functions embedded in the device for just a minute, the Samsung Gear 2 is one of the nicest watches I’ve tested. It is right up there with the Moto 360 as something I would wear just as a watch. It’s sleek and stylish and doesn’t look like you’re wearing a Dick Tracy / James Bond contraption on your wrist.
The Gear 2 has a single home button at the bottom of the display. It also automatically detects when your wrist moves and turns on the display. It’s sort of a cool feature because it enables you to look at your wrist to check the time—as one does with a watch—without having the display on constantly draining power or requiring an extra step of pressing a button. You can simply look and see what time it is.
The home button has another function as well, though. You can configure it so a double-tap of the home button opens an app of your choosing. It can be email, messages, weather, pedometer, heart rate, etc. Whatever you want. It just gives you quick access to get to that favorite app. I chose the S-Voice feature—the Samsung version of Siri or Google Now— because it’s very convenient to just double-tap the button and say “Call my wife,” or “What’s the weather like today?”.
There are a couple nice clock faces available—nice stylish ones that fit the style of the watch itself. There are also a couple red and blue ones that are a little hideous in my opinion. The nice thing is that you can completely customize the wallpaper background—or use a photo captured with the Gear 2—and choose that as your clock background as well.
I paired the Gear 2 with a Samsung Galaxy Note 4 smartphone. It connects via Bluetooth to enable the Gear 2 to make and receive phone calls through the associated smartphone. As with other smartwatches I’ve reviewed I’m still not a fan of engaging in a speakerphone conversation talking into my wrist.
I paired the watch with a Jawbone ERA Bluetooth ear piece and that worked fine for listening to music from the Gear 2, but I never did figure out how to use it for a call. It seems to be possible in theory. There is a Bluetooth headset icon in the phone menu along with the ability to mute or just send the call to the smartphone. The icon was grayed out for me, though, and wasn’t available as an option even though the Jawbone ERA was connected.
I wouldn’t plan on using the Gear 2 camera as your go-to device for taking pictures, but it comes in handy sometimes. You can take a picture or record up to 15 seconds of video. There are a surprising number of options available to control the focus, size, and location tagging on the images you capture. You can also enable voice control to take pictures or capture video with a verbal command—or you can just tap the display instead.
You can record voice memos on the Gear 2 and you can use S Voice through it as well. Samsung could take a hint from Apple or Microsoft and make the S Voice assistant a little more conversational and less computer robot voice.
It has a variety of health and fitness functions. There is a heart rate sensor on the bottom that can take your pulse. It has the semi-obligatory pedometer feature. It also has a sleep monitoring function and various exercise tracking modes for logging walking, running, hiking, or cycling sessions. In my experience the heart rate sensor was pretty fickle, though. I only got it to work about half the time and it required adjusting the watch from where I normally wear it on my wrist up my arm a little so the sensor wasn’t against my wrist bone.
One last feature that makes the Gear 2 really cool is the built-in TV remote. The watch is capable of pairing with televisions from hundreds of manufacturers as well as with cable TV or DVR boxes from most providers. Setting it up is a little tedious, but I had no problem configuring it work with my Westinghouse TV and my DirecTV box. It was nice to be able to turn the TV on, control the volume, and change the channel right from the Gear 2.
I really like the Gear 2. It is stylish and comfortable and it’s a watch I would wear just as a watch even if it didn’t have so many other tricks hidden inside.
At $300 it pushes the range of what I consider reasonable for a device like this, but the Samsung Gear 2 has an awesome display, and a smooth interface worthy of that amount. I would definitely consider buying the Gear 2 except that it has one fatal flaw—at least from my perspective—it requires a Samsung smartphone.
It doesn’t just require an Android phone—which would still be a fatal flaw for me—but specifically a Samsung smartphone. Samsung lists the compatible models as Samsung Galaxy S5 / Galaxy Grand 2 / Galaxy Note 3 / Galaxy Note 3 Neo / Galaxy Note 2 / Galaxy S4 / Galaxy S3 / Galaxy S4 Zoom / Galaxy S4 Active / Galaxy S4 mini / Galaxy Mega 6.3 / Galaxy Mega 5.8 / Galaxy Note 10.1 (2014 Edition) / Galaxy NotePRO (12.2) / Galaxy TabPRO (12.2/10.1/8.4). It also notes that the list may grow, which it apparently has because the Galaxy Note 4 Samsung sent me to test it with isn’t listed here.
Some of the functions still work just fine without pairing it at all. It will still tell time, count your steps, and capture pictures. You can still monitor your sleep or listen to music. Without the smartphone pairing, though, you lose things like your contacts, notifications, email, messages, S Voice and most of what make the Gear 2 really awesome.
For what it’s worth, I did also pair the Gear 2 with my iPhone 6. You don’t get most of the functionality still but I was able to make and receive calls using my iPhone through the Bluetooth connectivity of the Gear 2. I assume that same trick will work with other Android devices and possibly even Windows Phone smartphones.
If you have a compatible Samsung phone I highly recommend the Gear 2. If you don’t have a compatible Samsung smartphone, you might consider a different device. I’m not sure you can get $300 of value out of the Gear 2 without a compatible phone.