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Samsung Gear 2: If At First You Don't Succeed, Nail It On The 2nd Try!

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The race for your wrist is on fire right now! With so many manufacturers bringing products to market, and those who already have skin in the game can Samsung's second effort compete? It's hard to tell since the Gear 2 only works with Android Samsung devices- though with so many Galaxy faithful, that may not be an issue. In the time that I've had the second generation of Samsung's Gear smartwatch line, I've come to enjoy it! It's better than their first effort, the Galaxy Gear, in every way.

Samsung dropped the “Galaxy” moniker this go ‘round because the watch they put out is no longer running Android. Instead they've chosen to place their own operating system, Tizen at the helm. This doesn't diminish functionality though! This Tizen based Gear smartwatch is packed full of features and clearly shows that Samsung learned the first time around, listened to their customers, and refined a product that fell well short of its potential in its first release. This time around, the watch is IP67 water-resistant, still has the camera and speaker but they're built into the watch bezels and not the wristband. The charging is still done through pogo pongs on the backside of the watch and a charging dongle that, like the Gear Fit, is probably something you're going to lose at some point if you're not careful as it is small. Gone are the screws but the watch body is still a metal affair, with an injection molded bracelet that you can replace if you like. The side of the bracelet that sits against your skin is rippled so that it gives you some breathability. Speaking of things against your skin, you also get a heart-rate monitor on the underside of the watch.


Gear 2 Watch Design

One side of the bezel of the watch includes a “Home” button that can also be programmed to launch the app of your choice when you double-tap it and on the other side, you'll find the camera and IR port. The Gear 2 features a 1.63” Super AMOLED screen which is just beautiful but you should know that it can get a bit difficult to see in direct sunlight. The watch carries with it an IP67 dust and water resistance rating which means you don't have to worry about getting it wet when washing your hands but you won't be swimming laps while wearing it. IP67 means you can have it in up to 3' of water for up to 30 minutes before having to worry about your precious getting water logged. Unlike some of their competitors, the Gear 2 features metal bezels, not plastic, which are available in two different colors: silver and rose gold. The clasp uses no secondary loop to keep extra strap tamed because there is no extra. There is a metal clasp that slides up and down the length of the band where you push in two metal studs to set the size, then allows you to clamp the band closed. The fit has been just fine for me, nice and comfortable, easily adjustable for those times when I'm active and want a tighter fit or when I'm just chillin' and don't need the watch to hug my wrist. The IR port allows you to use the watch as a universal remote control using Samsung's WatchOn remote directly from the watch. Not a bad addition, but not something I found I used that often.

As a regular watch wearer, I like the look. I liked the look of the first version as well. Though it's a square face, as opposed to a round dial, I really appreciate the brushed metal look with the subtle “Home” button and camera lens. It has an industrial look to it and that's fine. Its look is well complimented by the batch of watch faces (essentially wallpapers) you can choose from. Don't like any of the included wallpapers? Get really fancy and upload your own images. Overall, I have to say that I'm pleased with the look of the watch and I'm good with wearing it in pretty much any setting.



Gear 2: What's Smart About The Watch?

Immediately, out of the box the Gear 2 is much more useful than Samsung's initial effort. From the watches touchscreen you will get notifications from: Facebook, Gmail, Hangouts, Twitter, Google Now and Google+. Not only that but you will get much more information in those notifications, without the need to install some third-party application to extend that functionality. This is by far, the most important feature to this watch in my opinion. The stage we're at with this technology places it pretty firmly in the area of being a second screen for your smartphone. No more pulling your phone out of your back pocket every few minutes, it all goes to your watch. In this case, there should be few times, other than viewing media, where you'll need to actually pull your phone out right at that moment. In some cases you can even respond with short, pre-programmed messages.

Personally, I found the volume of the Google Now notifications to be a bit overwhelming so I turned them off. Other than that, I really enjoyed the experience of using the Gear 2. I had mine tied into all of the above mentioned accounts as well as my Snapchat, Instagram, exchange email, Google Voice and text messages. When I was in the car, I also used my watch to control my music, which I play through my phone, using the AUX input to my car stereo system.This was a delight as the Gear 2 recognized all the different apps I was streaming from. I was able to pause, play and skip forward/backward using: Amazon Prime Music, Google Play Music and Soundcloud. Of course, the stock music player is also controllable from the watch.

During my time testing the Gear 2, I used it to workout as well and found the Heart Rate Monitor to be pretty accurate when compared to the HRM built into the treadmills I was running on. The sleep monitor was another function I took advantage of, though for most people I don't know how beneficial it will be. What was very beneficial during my time reviewing the watch was the software, Samsung's Gear Manager.

Though the watch does come with a speaker and microphone for hands-free calling, it isn't very practical unless you're in a very quiet area. What you may find more practical is the 4GB of storage which allows you to keep some music directly on the device instead of having to stream it from your phone. You can then connect to a pair of headphones over bluetooth and get your workout on without the need to be tethered to your phone.


Gear 2: Companion Software

The heart of the smartwatch functionality for the Gear 2 comes from the Gear Manager companion app for Android. Samsung has done a pretty good job with the user interface of the Gear Manager app, keeping things simple, easy to find and fairly straight forward. From the app, you can set up which apps on your phone will send you notifications, you can configure the watch faces and wallpapers and you can look at your workout stats (though that actually takes you to Samsung's “Fitness With Gear” app which is also well done). In the Gear Manager's “Settings” menu you get a really cool feature which I found really handy, “Auto lock.” Simply put, while connected via bluetooth it allows you to use swipe to unlock to get into your phone but if your phone and the watch lose their bluetooth connection, the phone defaults to the PIN lock, securing itself. Keeping your smartphone password protected is a must but always having to enter that password is a pain and Auto lock is a great way to ease that burden. I know, #firstworldproblems. Another feature in the Settings menu is the Wake-up gesture which, when activated, allows you to have the screen turn on when you raise the arm that your watch is on. It works great and the display will activate every time you raise that arm. That said, I eventually turned off the automatic wake because I grew tired of driving and the watch display just turning on all the time. What can I say? I live in southern California and we drive. A lot!

If manufacturers of wearable technologies want to be successful, they must be developer community friendly. People who write apps must have access to the tools they need to create awesome apps for smartwatches that extend their functionality beyond what the manufacturers intended. There's a lot of promise in the space, but so many products are arriving to market which are a great fit for interconnectivity with these wrist-worn devices that it just makes sense to welcome outside development with open arms. So, when I opened up the Gear Manager and tapped on the Samsung Gear Apps menu, I was pleased to see that there is actually a hearty market outlet for finding new apps for the watch.


The Conclusion

At the end of the day, the Gear 2 is a much improved product over the first Galaxy Gear but with Android having just released Android Wear, Apple's much anticipated entry into the fitness segment and rumors of Microsoft joining the frey, Samsung has a lot of competition for this product. Heck they'll even be competing with themselves having just released their Gear Live smartwatch that works with Android Wear platform. I give the folks at Samsung kudos for really answering much of the criticisms I had with their first effort and bringing to market a much improved product that I'd actually wear daily that would look nice with a suit or on a casual day out. If you're so inclined, you can pick one up for $299 but if you look around, you'll find it a little cheaper.



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