Samsung Gear S2 3G review: Samsung knows wearables and whilst this isn’t the first offering to pack a cellular radio, adding 3G to the company’s best smartwatch to date seems like a pretty good idea on paper.
We tested the Classic variant, but you can pick up the S2 3G in it’s more contemporary form too if that’s more your style. For the most part, it looks and feels like its Bluetooth-only counterpart, almost passing itself off as a regular wristwatch if it weren’t for a couple of obvious alterations.
Packing a cellular radio also means bigger power demands and a bigger battery as a result. When it first comes out the box, it’s hard not to notice how disproportionately chunky it appears, especially compared to the standard model, but slap it on your wrist and it’s markedly less of an issue, so you don’t have to worry about catching it on anything when you’re walking or gesticulating.
Around the watch’s circular screen sits the primary means of physical interaction, a knurled metal ring that like the rest of the watch’s front offers a premium look and feel with a high-shine finish that’s impressively resistant to bumps and scrapes (but less repellant of fingerprints).
On the smooth, rounded plastic back you’ll find an optical heart rate sensor and cut-outs for the microphones and speakers. There aren’t any ports on the S2 3G, as it exchanges data with your smartphone via Bluetooth or cellular and charges wirelessly when sat in a proprietary magnetic dock.
As well as the rotating bezel, the watch also features back and action buttons which serve a multitude of functions, whilst the comfortable stitched leather straps use quick release pins, so you can swap them out for suitable material choices during workouts or simply when you want to change its look.
Screen and interaction
Whilst you can easily navigate the Gear S2 using the physical controls alone, you have the option of a responsive touchscreen too. It’s good for swiping and tapping, but also offers a great visual experience as well.
Whilst the 3G model is thicker than the standard Gear S2, it boasts the same 1.2-inch circular Super AMOLED display, which is smaller than the majority of the Android Wear offerings out there, meaning it’s better proportioned on daintier wrists.
The screen technology paired to its 360×360 resolution also mean that it’s pin sharp and packs vibrant colours, great contrast, strong overall brightness and some of the best viewing angles of any smartwatch we’ve ever come across.
OS and functionality
With the exception of Pebble OS and Apple’s watchOS, pretty much every other smartwatch worth considering runs Android Wear, unless of course we’re talking about the Gear S2, which is one of the only Tizen-powered wearables out there.
Despite the exotic OS, it isn’t only compatible with Samsung’s smartphones and actually offers tight integration with a variety of Android handsets (running 4.4 and up with at least 1.5GB of RAM). The only caveat is that it requires three separate apps before you can start using the thing.
You have access to a ton of watch faces out the box, most of which pack some level of customisation, letting you alter the colour of elements or by adding complications for things like battery levels and weather. Samsung has teamed up with big brands and fashion names to offer Gear S2 users exclusive third-party faces too, with everything from Snoopy to Keith Haring up for grabs.
Beyond the versatile watch faces, you have quick access to your phone’s notifications as well as a host of widgets. Twist the bezel clockwise and you can instantly access your health data, media controls, calendar information and more.
By default, the Gear S2 comes with a broad selection of apps, which you can navigate through using a pretty intuitive radial menu. You’ll find preinstalled services like Flipboard Briefing and CNN (for news headlines), as well as ESPN for the latest sports information, but you can also download options from other big names like Uber, for convenient cab requests right on your wrist, we only wish there were even more notable third-party experience up for grabs.
Performance and battery life
Part of what makes the Gear S2 such an appealing smartwatch is how responsive it is. There are plenty of wearables that look good but fall down when it comes to fluidity and the quad-core Snapdragon S4 Play chipset inside the S2 3G (backed up by 512MB of RAM) ensures that it seldom falters.
As much of the watch experience can operate locally (it also packs 4GB of non-expandable storage), you don’t have to wait for apps to load or pull additional information from you phone all that often either, and jumping between a direct connection to your device via Bluetooth and a cellular connection (when the watch is set to ‘automatic’ switching) is pretty seamless as well.
Naturally the whole reason to buy the eSIM-toting 3G version of the Gear S2 is the extra freedom a mobile connection affords you. It’s great if you need to leave your phone on charge when stepping out of the office for a while, safe in the knowledge that you won’t miss any important calls or notifications, and for the most part it offers reliable continued interaction with your smartphone, even if you plan on leaving it at home all day.
Over the standard S2, the 3G model gets a 50mAh bump in battery size (bringing the capacity to 300mAh), which certainly results in better longevity if you’re pulling a like-for-like comparison, but a 3G connection affects how you use this smartwatch. Treating it like the standard S2, with Bluetooth as the only connection type gave us an impressive three days of use on a single charge, but jump to cellular-only and it’ll last just over a day, depending on whether or not you take many calls or stream music.
You can pair Bluetooth headphones to it so you don’t look like Dick Tracy or Michael Knight, respond to messages via voice or by using an on-screen keyboard and even though HERE Maps isn’t as intuitive or reliable as Google Maps, it can leverage on-board GPS to provide a decent navigation experience. Integrated fitness tracking is also on the cards courtesy of Samsung’s own S Health app or using third-party options like the Nike+ Running app.
You could argue that the Samsung Gear S2 3G is the best smartwatch around right now, with its balance of attractive hardware, intelligent user interface, performance, and functionality, but smartwatches are still a niche product category and the 3G component adds the additional expense of a monthly contract on top of an already high (although not quite Apple Watch-high) price tag.
There are undoubtedly users out there who would find the added freedom and convenience that the Samsung Gear S2 3G affords a blessing, but as to how many are willing to fork out the cash required to own one is another matter entirely.
If you are interested in taking the plunge, the Samsung Gear S2 3G is available on-contract exclusively at O2 for £9.99 upfront, with 24-month tariffs starting at £22 a month (includes 100MB data, 4G ready, unlimited texts and 100 minutes). Alternatively, you can pay for the entirety of the watch in full, shifting that same base plan to £321 upfront and a £9.99 a month, 24-month tariff. Find out more here.