Samsung’s shown itself to be entirely unafraid when it comes to smartwatches. It’s willing to try any size, any spec, any combination of features in an attempt to figure out what consumers want in a wearable. Its latest try, the Gear S, is a combination of Samsung’s newest and best ideas — and a couple of ideas it’ll soon leave by the roadside as well.
Read next: The Samsung Gear S2 review. The Gear S is not designed to replace your smartphone, I’m told. It’s designed to let you leave it at home, though, or in the other room. Its built-in connectivity means that even when it’s far away from your phone it can still send and receive messages, and get turn-by-turn directions. The Gear S runs Tizen — Samsung says the Gear Store has 1,000 apps in it — and can do almost everything without a phone. The Gear Manager app still requires your phone, and you’re not exactly going to want to send emails on the tiny QWERTY keys on the Gear S, but this device generally has no need for your smartphone.
The watch itself is impressively made, with a 2-inch curved OLED display that looks great from any angle. Waterproof, black or white, thick and heavy, it’s like a larger Gear Fit. A much larger Gear Fit. It’s designed to curl around your wrist, and it’s long enough that it does exactly that; it doesn’t feel like a watch so much as a cuff. It’s a computer on your wrist, and it feels like one. The big, thick bands that come with the device make it feel even larger, but thankfully the Gear S has swappable bands so you can slim it down a little.
In a few minutes of using it, the Gear S felt fast and responsive. Its 1.0GHz processor is clearly up to the task of swiping through notifications, and even tapping out quick responses and tracking steps. It’s also remarkably more powerful than your average smartwatch, able to actually read entire emails and see all your workout and sleep information in one place. This is the rare smartwatch that’s truly independent, not always punting you back to your phone. Samsung offers a handful of nice-looking watchfaces, a heart-rate sensor, and a battery it claims will last two days.
This isn't quite what a smartwatch could be, but it's closer
The Gear S will be available in October in Korea, though its US fate is still very much uncertain. And this almost certainly isn’t the pinnacle of smartwatch design, for Samsung or the market at large. It’s still too big for most people, and still a little awkward to use. But curved screens feel ever more like a good idea, and it’s exciting to see wearables become more and more independently functional. There’s a lot for Samsung to take away from its latest adventure in smartwatches — and a lot left to improve upon.
Photos by Sean O'Kane, who also contributed reporting.