AT LONG LAST, a company may have figured out exactly how a smartwatch should act, how it should look, how it should feel, and ultimately what it should be. That company is Samsung, and that smartwatch is the Gear S2 Classic.
The S2 Classic’s act is a jarringly intuitive blend of old-school analog controls and new-school communication tools. The look and feel, in terms of size, weight, and materials, is that of a premium, round men’s watch. Ultimately, it adds up to a wearable computer that wants to be a watch first. It appeals to a traditional aesthetic, with a gunmetal stainless-steel case, a rotating ceramic bezel, and a black leather strap. It looks timeless, ironically, and it’s where smartwatch design should be heading.
New apps, new fitness integration and NFC smarts could make this a serious contender for your wrist space. Along with style and leather class looks this could be Samsung’s answer to Apple’s Watch.
We went hands-on with the new Samsung timepiece to find out more.
This is not a review. This is a first impression, the result of about 15 minutes of hands-on time with a very nice watch that wasn’t synced up to a maddening queue of notifications. It was also done inside, in a press briefing, without the chance to see if the screen could defeat bright sunlight. As for raw specs for the Classic and the two other styles of Gear S2 Sport, those were released earlier in the week by Samsung: Voice commands via S Voice, dual-core 1GHz processors, 4GB storage, music players on board, NFC and Samsung Pay compatibility, and two to three days of battery life being the most important points.
Gear S2 Classic design and hardware
The Gear S2 Classic is noticeably smaller than its predecessor from Samsung. In fact it’s a lot smaller than plenty of the Android competition. But of course this is Tizen operated.
The new bezel on the Gear S2 Classic acts as a control system. Not only does it look attractive but it also offers the ability to control the watch without touching the screen. We found this to be natural with some apps easier to swipe and others lending themselves to a bezel twist.
Finally, the Gear S2 Classic is IP68 rather than IP67 rated meaning slightly less protection but still enough for anyone not deep sea diving, essentially.
Battery life, from the 250mAh battery, couldn’t be tested here but Samsung says two to three days of usage can be expected. Charging is done using a magnetic wireless charger much like Apple has with its Watch. This attached easily and when the watch was side on the time flips so it could be used as a bedside clock.
We did notice a power saving mode option so perhaps that longer battery life is based on using it in this black and white, limited mode.
Gear S2 Classic Activity tracking
The big new sell on the Gear S2 Classic is smarter activity tracking. This should result in a watch that offers more for those looking for a notification-friendly smartwatch that also acts as a fitness tracker.
Samsung’s watches used to run off a flavor of Android but the company is now fully committed to its own Tizen operating system. Samsung stressed that the new watches will be compatible with Android phones, its own of course, but other Android models too. The main requirement is that your handset is running Android 4.4 or higher.
To encourage activity, watch screens change as you move. As you move more the screen changes or even alerts the wearer to keep him or her doing more. So on a screen with stars in the background more appear as more activity is achieved, for example.
Gear S2 Classic connectivity
NFC is built-in so that Samsung Pay can be used as well as transportation and loyalty cards in the near future.
The Gear S2 Classic uses Bluetooth primarily but thanks to Wi-Fi, via the Samsung cloud, connection can be made from the phone using Wi-Fi to update apps.
Gear S2 Classic apps
Initially the Gear S2 Classic, running Tizen OS, will launch with up to 1,000 applications.
They’ll also grab their own data over Wi-Fi. Samsung says that each watch’s standalone Wi-Fi mode will support all connected functions other than phone calls. There will be 1,000 apps for the watch available at launch, including Uber, ESPN, Nike, and Bloomberg news headlines.
However, even though you can’t use the S2 Classic as a standalone phone, Samsung has a few surprises to add to the initial launch information. All the new Samsung watches are Tizen-based, and in the past that meant they wouldn’t play nice with anything other than Samsung’s newer Galaxy phones. That isn’t the case with this latest batch of Tizen watches: Samsung says they are compatible with any phone running Android 4.4 or later that has at least 1.5GB RAM. They aren’t Android Wear watches, but they’ll sync with Android devices.
The Samsung Gear S2 Classic is a giant leap forward for Samsung. Not only is the watch slimmer and more attractive but it also has a better user interface.
Back to the Gear S2 Classic itself: Its control scheme is so intuitive and pleasant that it’s hard to believe nobody did it before. The ceramic coin-edge bezel rotates, which means you literally dial in the app you want or use it to scroll from screen to screen. It’s not a free-scrolling wheel; there’s a pleasant, machine-like weight as the rotary bezel locks into each step. It feels like you’re adjusting the diver’s bezel on a watch, albeit without the clicky noise. The watch reacts quickly, too.
I don’t expect as much of a learning curve as there was when I first starting playing around with the Apple Watch, or for that matter, Android Wear.
Rotating the dial to the left reveals notifications, rotating in the other direction brings up widgets and apps. You can also tap or swipe the screen or press one of the two buttons: one for home, the other a back button.
As with the Apple Watch, you’ll only have to enter a password once, in theory, when you strap it on.
The watches are water and dust resistant.
Battery life is still limited to a few days but with wireless charging that shouldn’t be much of an issue.
For those wanting 3G and GPS there is a variant for that but at the cost of battery life and money, many will be more than happy with the Gear S2 Classic offering.