Samsung has launched six smartwatches in just over 12 months. Seems like the South Korean multinational conglomerate company’s policy is to throw everything at the wall and see what sticks. Apparently, nothing has stuck as yet.
The good thing is that Samsung has introduced a lot of variety to the nascent wearable market. Their recent smartwatch, the Samsung Gear S has an extremely unique personality as it’s the first standalone Gear watch that can make calls on its own.
But are you willing to shell out $350 for a smartwatch that tries to replace your smartphone? More importantly, are you even willing to get rid of your phone?
- Price : $349 (off contract)
- Display : 480 x 360 resolution 2-inch curved AMOLED screen
- Compatible with : Samsung Galaxy® smartphones select models
- Battery: 300mAh Li-ion
- Operating system : Tizen
- Chipset : Dual core 1.0 GHz
- Memory : 512 MB RAM
- Storage : 4 GB
- Dimensions/Weight : 39.8 x 58.3 x 12.5 mm/66 g
- Connectivity : Bluetooth low energy, 3G, WIFI, USB 2.0, 802.11n A-GPS, GLONASS
- Sensors : Accelerometer, Gyroscope, Compass, Heart Rate, Ambient Light, UV, Barometer
- Colors : Black, white
In-depth Samsung Gear S Review
The Gear S is for those who don’t want a companion device, but would rather like to get rid of their phone either for a short while (for example when going for a run) or for good.
Luckily for Samsung, when it comes to smartwatches that also act as phones, there are not too many to choose from. A potent alternative could be the Neptune Pine which comes with 512MB RAM and 16 or 32GB mass storage/ Qualcomm Snapdragon S4 1.2GHz Dual-Core ARM Cortex-A5 processor and costs under $300 on Amazon. Oh, and it runs on Android (Jelly Bean).
But the Pine has its own downsides, read our Neptune Pine review here.
Since the Gear S runs on Tizen, Samsung’s Linux-based platform on which all the Gear smartwatches including the original Gear, Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo run. So, the user experience and interface is pretty much the same as the rest of the Gear watches. Swiping right shows notifications, swiping left shows widgets, swiping down gives access to quick settings such as volume control, brightness control etc. and swiping up launches full app drawer.
The Gear S has been criticized for its massive size, but that’s because of a big screen – the small screen is a major drawback, especially for smartwatches that support a touchscreen display. The extra screen has its own merits. Tapping the icons and swapping through different widgets and apps felt pretty smooth and intuitive. On top of that, seeing more menu options on a smartwatch was a nice feeling.
Beneath the display is the solitary home button. By default, if you double-tap the button, it fires up S Voice, and a long-press brings up quick menu such as power off the watch, restart the watch, mute, turn Wi-Fi on/off, or toggle between airplane mode.
The watch is equipped with a dual core 1.0 GHz processor coupled with 512 MB RAM and 4 GB internal storage. As for connectivity, the watch supports Bluetooth 4.1, Wi-Fi, GPS and, of course, 3G.
Design and display
Fair enough, almost every smartwatch available on the market these days is bulky, but the Gear S takes it to a whole new level. With the thick housing, bulky metal clasp and rubber strap, the smartwatch is decidedly more geek than chic.
Still, the smartwatch is comfortable, and the curved shape wraps smoothly around the wrist. The watch only supports proprietary wristbands, and you can only choose from Samsung’s offerings available in blue, black, red and white.
The Samsung Gear S comes with a 2-inch curved AMOLED screen framed by metal sides. The display comes with 480 x 360 resolution, so the text is easy to read and the images are bright and colorful. The display looks pretty washed out in direct sunlight but it’s comparatively more readable.
The display remains dark most of the time, and lightens only when there’s an incoming call or notification. When you lift your wrist to read time, the accelerometer brings the display to life. There’s also an ambient light sensor that adjusts the brightness.
Charging and battery life
Nothing groundbreaking about charging mechanism or battery life of the Gear S.
Bundled along with the watch is its portable charging cradle, which has unique pins that let you attach the watch to it while the cradle itself can be charged via a micro-USB cable. Though, having to carry the additional hardware is a hassle but it can act as a backup charger as it houses a 350Mah battery.
A moderate use, with the watch paired to your phone, and notifications turned on, the Gear S will last a little less than two days on a single charge. Tax a little more and the watch will need a charge after about a day and half. There is also a power-saving mode which disables everything except the basic time-telling and phone functions.
Dust and water resistance
The smartwatch is rated IP67 water and dust resistant. So, getting it wet with an occasional splash won’t do any harm but don’t take shower or swim with it. Yeah, that’s pretty much the same story as Samsung’s other Gear smartwatches.
But you still need your phone
If you’ve just ordered the Gear S and are planning to auction your phone on eBay, hold it. Although the smartwatch works on its own, it needs a Galaxy Smartphone for the initial setup.
So, when you first turn your Gear S on, it’ll ask you to connect it to a Galaxy phone which has Gear Manager app installed. Otherwise, all you can do with the watch is make an emergency call. That nearly kills the purpose of a “standalone” watch. Unlike the Gear S, Neptune Pine doesn’t need such a complex setup.
Once you have “unlocked” your watch, you can divorce it from your phone permanently… if you so choose. Not to mention the smartwatch will have its own number, but when you connect it with a phone, it will make and receive calls using your smartphone’s number instead.
Features and apps
The watch has a wide variety of features, but you won’t find an app or feature that makes it a must-have gadget.
There are built-in speakers and mic to let you make calls, you can also pair the watch with Bluetooth headphones. To alert you of the incoming calls, or other notifications, the watch vibrates.
The watch features an ambient light sensor and UV detector, which reside alongside the home button, and a heart rate monitor which is present just beside the charging pins on the watch’s rear.
The most notable feature, however, is the phone dialer and a native app for text messaging. The dialer is pretty similar to what you see on a Samsung smartphone. For text messaging, you can either dictate using S Voice – which is pretty accurate – or even use an on-screen keyboard to type.
Obviously, if you want to use the watch as a phone, you’ll have to pay the additional monthly fee on top of your regular phone bill. T-Mobile and Verizon charge $5 per month whereas Sprint and AT&T charge $10 a month. In case your plan has 20GB data or higher, the carrier will waive the fee through December 2015.
Having said that, making phone calls via your smartphone is easy and efficient. Considering the audio quality of the voice calls, the speaker and mic seem to be of fairly good quality. This has become a cliché, but you’ll communicate through your watch just like the detective Dick Tracy used to do.
As for the preinstalled apps, the notable ones are Samsung’s S Health, music player, news headlines, weather info etc. The fitness tracking features such as heart rate monitor, sleep tracker, and UV index are far from perfect – just as we’ve seen in other Gear smartwatches.
Unfortunately, there are no dedicated apps for some of our favorite services including Gmail, Facebook, Twitter etc. The best you can do is get notifications from these apps by pairing the watch to your phone.
All in all, the bulky design, small app collection and high price tag make the smartwatch pretty difficult to recommend. Unless you can’t suppress the urge to get a hang of the watch-phone technology, the safest bet is to either wait for a while when we have more and better options or, better yet, get a companion smartwatch.
DESIGN & DISPLAY6/10
COMPATIBILITY & CONNECTIVITY5/10
FEATURES & APPS6/10
- Standalone smartwatch phone
- Bright, colorful AMOLED display
- Decent battery life
- The charging dock is also a portable charger
- Requires a Galaxy phone for activation and loading apps
- Limited app collection
- Inelegant, bulky design
- Proprietary wrist straps