Samsung's latest takes on wearables, the Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo, were among the flurry of announcements from the electronics company at Mobile World Congress this year. Representing a refinement on last year's Galaxy Gear, the Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo are thinner, lighter, more comfortable and longer lasting than Samsung's first attempt.
Both watches offer significant improvements on the outside — they are more comfortable to wear and provide the option to change the wristband with a standard 22mm watch strap, something that the first Galaxy Gear couldn't do. It's a small change, but in addition to the variety of colors that the new watches come in, it makes the devices much more personal and customizable. Samsung removed all of the electronic components from the wrist strap, so the camera (on the Gear 2), microphone, and speaker are now on the watch's body itself. A new home key is situated below the familiar touchscreen display, replacing the clumsy swiping gesture that was previously required to return to the home screen.
Internally, the Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo have been significantly upgraded, as well. They are faster and more responsive than the first Gear, which we found to be frustratingly slow to respond at times. Samsung also claims that the battery life has been improved to two to three days of normal usage, a considerable step up from the daily recharge required with the first Gear.
Though Samsung has switched the software platform for its wearables from Android to Tizen, the interface on the new Gears looks and feels almost exactly the same as the prior model. They do gain some offline functions, however — you can listen to music saved on their internal storage and count steps and monitor your heart rate without requiring your phone to be connected at the same time. The heart-rate tracker (located on the underside of the watch) worked surprisingly well in our brief tests; it was able to pick up my pulse and report it in real time in just a few seconds.
Between the two, the major differences are the camera on the Gear 2 (the Gear 2 Neo does without the camera) and its metallic finish, which contributes to an overall more expensive look for the watch. Samsung isn't yet talking exact pricing for the devices, though it has said that the Gear 2 Neo will be available at a lower cost and it does look down-market compared to its counterpart.
Are Samsung's improvements enough to make the Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo hits?
Samsung's first smartwatch was largely a miss, but it's clear that the company has been listening to critics and applied at least some of what it has learned to its new devices. We'll be giving the new Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo the full review treatments when they launch later this year where we'll see if Samsung's litany of improvements are enough to make these smartwatches a hit.