As we dive deeper into a connected world, wearables are becoming a product category that we can no longer ignore. My first foray into the world of wearables was the much loved and widely used Pebble. Although I never wrote a proper review of the device, I felt the interface was decent, the interactions were archaic, and the feature set provided by the factory software was limited. One of the main gripes I had was the inconsistency of the experience, which required jumping from first party to third party apps to gain full functionality. Although the experience improved following a major update, it was still lacking. While the Pebble was one of the first to bring wearables to the mass market, it still felt like an empty, unrefined, and unpolished experience.
It has been nearly six months since I had a Pebble on my wrist, and now I have the chance to revisit the wearables world with a brand new device, the Samsung Gear 2 Neo . The Gear 2 Neo is the economy model of the Gear 2 that is priced a $100 USD less, but does not have a camera and replaces the premium materials found on the Gear 2 with standard plastics. Although the original Galaxy Gear was a commercial failure, this second iteration could be a tipping point for Samsung.
|Samsung Gear Neo 2|
320 x 320
|Ports||charging cradle with microUSB|
IR LED Remote Control
Our unit is the base model of the current Gear watches and is available in three colors. The Gear 2 Neo follows the standard design for watches and has a face, wristbands, and a clasp. The watch is constructed out of plastic, which keeps the watch light, but still manages to feel sturdy. The charcoal black model has a brushed gunmetal grey bezel that surrounds the screen and brings a nice contrast to the device.
Under the screen there is a single button that acts as a on/off and home button. The button can also be configured to respond to double and triple presses, which can be set with different actions like: recent apps, contacts, controls, dialer, email, exercise, find my device, gallery, and more. Above the screen there is a discrete IR blaster that can be used to control peripherals that are responsive to infrared.
The watchbands are supple to the touch and feel excellent in hand and around the wrist. The outer portion of the band has a microscopic brick design that adds a small touch of finesse to an otherwise muted watch. The inside of the band has a ribbed texture that keeps the watch in place by gently hugging the wrist. The two bands are held together with a metal clasp that can be locked into place with a snapping motion. Although the clasp does not have a secondary lock, it never came undone during the weeks that I wore it. I thought this would become a concern, but the amount of force that it takes to snap the clasp into place reassures the wearer that this clasp will not come undone during even the roughest scenarios.
Finally, on the underside of the device, hidden from view, are the charging contacts and heart rate monitor. Perhaps the only quibble I have about the design of the Gear 2 Neo is that clasp has the potential to scratch surfaces that it rubs against. But, this is a universal issue that plagues all watches with a metal clasp and is not unique to the Gear 2 Neo.
The Gear 2 Neo features a 1.63" 320 x 320 Super AMOLED display. The small display is surrounded by a brushed gunmetal bezel that transitions the display nicely from the surrounding charcoal black exterior. The screen is protected with Corning's Gorilla Glass 3, which prevents damage to the exposed area. Unlike a mobile device that can rest in your pocket for hours at a time, the Gear 2 Neo is always exposed to the outside world and has a better chance of becoming scratched or damaged. While I did not have any incidents with the device, its good to know that Samsung is utilizing the latest available display technology to protect its device.
The Super AMOLED display looks excellent in most conditions with vibrant colors and excellent black levels. For the most part text on the device looks good, with only a slight case of pixelation that is barely noticeable. Overall, I was fairly impressed with how the display worked indoors and outdoors. The display does not have an ambient light sensor but the default settings seems to work well in both environments. The display does suffer some fading under direct sunlight, but due to the watches position on the wrist it is less evident than what you might see on a mobile phone. There were a couple of times that I felt I wanted a bit more brightness from the watch, and luckily Samsung has included a quick access option that will adjust the brightness to its maximum setting. This setting remains for five minutes before reducing itself back to its default brightness level.
The tiny display also has multi-touch support and uses the feature to allow quick access to some critical features. For example, you can double tap the screen with two fingers to access volume and brightness settings, also tapping and holding two fingers will allow users to access recent applications. These are extremely useful and clever shortcut commands that become handy when using the device over a long period. The actions become second nature, reducing the amount of time spent fiddling with the settings.
The Gear 2 Neo runs Tizen, a proprietary OS created by Samsung for mobile devices. While Tizen has struggled to gain mainstream traction, it is being utilized on all of Samsung's current Gear 2 devices. The Gear 2 Neo I am using has been updated to the latest version and is running version R381XXU0BND8. Overall, the Neo interface mimics what we are used to on our mobile devices. The home screen can be set with several different options, with a wide assortment of built-in and downloadable applications. Since the Gear 2 Neo does not have an internet connection, it relies on, and must be paired to a fairly recent Samsung Android device. For my testing purposes I am using a Galaxy S4, which is also running the latest version of Android.
To begin using the Gear Neo 2, the watch must be paired with a compatible device. Users must download the Gear Manager application, which can be found in the Samsung Apps hub. Once you open the application for the first time it will try and find a compatible Gear device and pair it with the phone. After confirming the pairing and agreeing to a couple of terms, you'll be ready to go. You'll be greeted with a vibrant multi-colored watch screen with the time and a couple of shortcuts.
The watch can function on its own, but as mentioned previously, it gains most of its strengths when paired. Although there isn't a built-in walkthrough of how to use the Gear 2 Neo, there is a help tab in the Gear Manager app that will be able to provide instructions on how to operate and setup the device. I opted not to read any of this and dove right in. The applications and settings area are straight forward with a list of things that you might want to change, customize, or interact with. While there are a lot of options, it's important to take the time to set everything up how you want it.
The Gear 2 Neo works fairly well out of the box, but it works even better when you customize it with what you want to see, when you want to see it, and how. If you treat this watch like a mobile device and get things set up to your liking, it will become a beneficial tool that will make things a bit more efficient in your daily life. While the options are plentiful and might look daunting, this is one part of the process you don't want to glance over.
So how does the watch perform? As far as I'm concerned it works very well. It is powered by a 1GHz processor, 512MB RAM, and has 4GB's of space for installed applications. The interface is functional, smooth, and intuitive. The experience is similar to a phone, with the same actions like swipe, drag, and click all being utilized to command the device with actions. This modern means of interaction is definitely the way to go when it comes to using a smartwatch. It perfectly compliments what we are already used to with our mobile devices.
Perhaps, the only performance issue that I encountered was with the heart rate monitor. The sensor sometimes required a bit of fiddling to get it to read my heart rate, which can become annoying if you are using the device in exercise mode. In exercise mode, the watch tries to measure your heart rate constantly while you begin your regiment. While not the most consistent experience, Samsung has started working on improving the sensors to make the experience seamless and more accurate in its future iterations.
While using the device I even had my own "Dick Tracy" moment when I received a call while on the road. I was easily able to accept the call, and speak with the caller from my watch. The call quality was clear, the speaker on the device was loud, and experience was flawless. I didn't miss a beat during the whole interaction, which actually caught me by surprise considering I didn't even remember that the Gear 2 Neo could make and receive phone calls. Overall, this is a fairly stable device and works well with the things that it's tasked with. I believe that the app store could use better support, but for a watch that's supposed to be a companion / extension of your mobile device, it works well and Samsung has the fundamental applications in place to make this a worthwhile investment. Similar, to a mobile phone though, it could benefit by having more developers with a wider variety of applications that take advantage of the unique device.
The Neo 2 is powered by a 300mAh battery that surprisingly allowed me to use the device for two and a half days. This was a lot longer than I had anticipated. My day-to-day usage included starting my morning at 8am and ending at night around 10-11pm. During this time I had the watch synced with the Galaxy S4 receiving texts, calls, Twitter alerts, emails, and using a couple of the health applications. The way it maintains its efficiency is by turning off the display after a pre-determined amount of time. I had my watch set to turn off the display after 10 seconds, but you can set it for a maximum of five minutes. Some might argue that having a watch that isn't constantly displaying the time is pointless. The Gear 2 Neo surpasses this hurdle with the built-in accelerometer that will turn on the screen when it senses the wrist is being moved. I will say that 90% of the time that I went to check my watch for the time, it was on the screen and available. While I understand that this might not appeal to people tha need an "always on" solution, I found that it worked well and also allowed the device to be used off the charger for over two days.
While the Gear Neo 2 is far from perfect, it exceeds my expectations of a smart watch. The screen is bright, vibrant, responsive, and the touch screen functions like an extension of my mobile phone. While I do wish everything was integrated a bit better, the Gear Manager application does a good job of giving the user the ability to customize the experience. For example, not everyone will want to use the health features, so not having this as a mandatory part of the experiences allows it to become a flexible tool.
While I'm not quite convinced that the Gear 2 Neo will be for everyone, I do think that people, who currently wear watches and want to be connected, should give the Gear 2 Neo a try. With an asking price of $200 USD, I think it's a fair price for something that can bring a less intrusive means of interacting with your mobile device. Overall, the Gear 2 Neo is an excellent piece of hardware that works seamlessly with your Samsung mobile device and further integrates with some of Samsung's proprietary software. Since this is a second generation product, I give Samsung a lot of credit for being persistent and continuously pushing the wearables category forward by introducing new smart watches that are consumer friendly.
The Gear 2 Neo is available in three colors: Charcoal Black, Mocka Gray, and Wild Orange and is priced at $199 USD and available now.