Samsung's new Gear watches add features, but only one has a camera

BARCELONA—Junior Detective Jon Phillips was correct in his deductions based on the leaked images of Samsung’s updated Gear smartwatches. The company on Sunday officially announced the Samsung Gear 2 and Geo 2 Neo, the next generation of what was previously called the Galaxy Gear, shipping worldwide in April.

Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo

Among other changes to the smartwatch platform, Samsung has replaced Android for the Tizen OS, and extended battery life beyond a paltry 25 hours of use.

We won’t get our hands on the new watches until Monday’s Samsung Unpacked event, but now that rumors have morphed into confirmed facts, let’s run down what we’ve learned and how it compares to our wish list.

Scrapped the camera strap

Gear 2

Samsung’s Gear 2 has a camera, on the top of the watch face.

As we saw in the leaked images, the camera has been moved. The original Galaxy Gear had it on the strap, which made taking pictures convenient, but also made it impossible to change the strap. With the camera on the top of the main watch face, users will be able switch out the strap for other colors: what Samsung is calling “charcoal black, gold brown, and wild orange” for the Gear 2, and “charcoal black, mocha gray, and wild orange” for the Gear 2 Neo.

We’d asked for “less polarizing aesthetics” in our list of recommendations, and the swappable straps help a little bit. But aside from that, these new Gear watches don’t really shake up the Galaxy Gear’s design.

Hello Neo

Samsung Gear 2 Neo

The Neo doesn’t have a camera—that little dot above the watch face must be the IR sensor.

Samsung uses “Neo” branding on its lower-end products. And while the release doesn’t specify the materials used, from the official images it does appear that the Gear 2 is all metal, like the original Galaxy Gear, while the Gear 2 Neo has a plastic body.

Curiously, it also lacks a camera—which could doom it to obscurity, since taking pictures was one of the only things we really liked doing with the Galaxy Gear.

Under the hood

Indeed, Samsung ditched the old Galaxy Gear’s Android OS for its own open-source Tizen platform, as rumored last week.

This will let developers write apps for the smartwatches in HTML5, for cross-platform flexibility with other mobile devices from phones to tablets to smart TVs. Using Tizen also gives Samsung more control over its watches’ OS, instead of having to react to whatever Google does with Android.

Each watch has a 1.63-inch Super AMOLED display with 320x320 resolution and a 1.0GHz dual-core processor. That’s the same screen as the Galaxy Gear, but the older watch had a slightly slower 800MHz chip.

Both watches have 512MB of RAM and 4GB of storage, and the 300mAh lithium-ion battery should last two to three days of “typical usage,” according to Samsung. We were disappointed in the original Galaxy Gear’s battery life, so it will be interesting to see if the new watches are an improvement.

New features

After we dinged the original Galaxy Gear for not doing enough, Samsung added some more features to the new generation. If you’re willing to wear the Gear 2 or Gear 2 Neo during a workout, it can sense your heart rate, count your steps, and “offer personal fitness coaching in real time,” says Samsung.

Samsung Gear 2

It’s also got standalone Running and Walking modes and companion Cycling and Hiking modes to track your activities. There’s also a downloadable Sleep & Stress app, but we don’t have any further detail about these features just yet. Hopefully Samsung will demo them at the Unpacked event Monday.

The addition of an IrLED sensor and WatchON Remote app will allow the watch to control other electronics like a TV or set-top box. And the watches have their own built-in music player and Bluetooth headset, should you want to listen to tunes stored on the watch itself—even if your smartphone isn’t around.

The compatability question

Perhaps the biggest issue with the original Galaxy Gear is that at launch it only worked with the gargantuan Samsung Galaxy Note 3 phone, although Samsung added compatibility with the Galaxy S4, Note II, and even the SIII and some other Samsung phones later on.

Samsung Gear 2 Neo

Today’s press release doesn’t list which phones the new Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo will work with, just that they “let users connect to a wide variety of Samsung devices,” so that’s one data point we’ll be scrutinizing when more info is available.

We don’t have pricing information yet either. The original Galaxy Gear was $300, and was plagued by an abnormally high return rate. So if Samsung can keep the price down while adding value (and the standalone remote-control and music-playback features are a good start), perhaps the new models will find their way to more users’ wrists…and stay there.

Stay tuned for more details as they are announced.

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