Samsung Gear S2 Classic Review: We review this smart and unique Tizen smartwatch, which boasts an intuitive dial interface and a vibrant Super AMOLED screen.
Samsung was one of the first manufacturers to start churning out smartwatches, over two years ago now, which means that the Korean giant has had plenty of time to perfect its wearable tech. Well, after a week of rocking the Gear S2 Classic, I can happily say that it’s one of the best watches I’ve tested in those two years, standing up well to rivals like the Moto 360 as well as Apple’s Watch – although it isn’t perfect. Here’s why.
Like other big smartwatches right now (check out our full Moto 360 and Huawei Watch reviews), the Gear S2 Classic sports a shiny stainless steel finish. Samsung’s wearable is one of the smallest of recent times with a dinky 1.2-inch screen, which means it looks good even on dainty wrists. And while it’s still quite chunky, the Gear S2 is light enough (42g) that you’ll barely feel it on your wrist.
After a solid week of wear, that stainless steel body and the circular screen still aren’t showing any signs of fatigue. Despite taking a bit of a battering, the glossy surfaces are still scratch-free and looking pretty (although they do get smudged quite easily with finger grease). The screen is tough enough to take some abuse too, while the Gear S2’s water resistance means you can keep it on in the shower or pool – although the leather strap may spoil.
That strap adds an extra air of class to Samsung’s watch, but can also be quickly and easily removed (provided you don’t bite all of your fingernails to bits) and swapped for any standard 20mm affair. So if you want to add a splash of colour, it’s easy enough to do.
Personally, I prefer the design of the Gear S2 Classic compared with Samsung’s Gear S2. While the Gear S2 looks like your typical smartwatch, with a joined-on strap and rather plain design, the Gear S2 Classic stands out with a more traditional appearance. And both watches pack the same specs, so your preference will be dictated by the look and feel – or the fact that the Classic is £50 more expensive than the standard Gear.
The Gear S2’s 1.2-inch screen may be a bit more compact than rival displays (Moto 360 and Huawei Watch included), but that makes it all the sharper with a very crisp 301 pixels-per-inch. And as it’s a Super AMOLED panel, it’s also incredibly vibrant with strong contrast levels.
I also love the screen’s super-wide viewing angles, which means you can quickly glance at the watch as you’re typing or clutching a coffee to see the time or your latest notification. You don’t need to twist your arm to see the watch face head-on. You don’t have to worry about sunny days either, as the screen is brilliantly bright, even on lower settings.
As a touchscreen, the Gear S2’s display works perfectly too. It’s responsive to every poke and swipe and still big enough to make mis-taps a rare thing. However, you’ll likely find yourself rarely touching the screen thanks to Samsung’s excellent bezel control. More on this in the next section.
Interface and OS
Pairing your Gear S2 to your Android phone is simple enough via Bluetooth, although you do need to install three separate apps onto your phone to fully customise your watch (plus Samsung’s S Health app for tracking your stats). With that done, your Gear S2 automatically connects whenever the two are in range.
We tested the Gear S2 Classic with the OnePlus X, Blackberry Priv and Sony’s Xperia Z5 and it worked perfectly with all three phones. Samsung says that any Android 4.4 or higher should be compatible. However, as this isn’t an Android Wear watch, iPhone users will have to look elsewhere for their wearable fix.
Samsung’s own Tizen OS is a marvel, packing in loads of features and yet still proving fast and intuitive to navigate. From the main watch face (which of course can be fully customised, with plenty of alternative designs to download), simply flick left to access your notifications or right to get to your apps and widgets.
Notifications are well presented, with the ability to read a large portion of a new message before deciding how to respond – although you can’t reply with a quick sentence or two without pulling out your phone. Thankfully you can at least get rid of unwanted spam, right there on the watch – something the Pebble Time still needs to sort out.
The Gear S2 comes with plenty of widgets pre-installed, so you can quickly check your daily schedule and health stats as well as control your media, all by flicking to the relevant screen. Of course, you can quickly and easily remove any widgets you don’t want, to get rid of the clutter, while adding in preferred widgets.
And while other smartwatches have you swiping the screen to navigate through the interface, Samsung’s cool twisty bezel is an alternative means of skipping through features and menus. This system works beautifully and is genuinely faster than simply swiping.
In fact, the Gear S2 on the whole makes life nice and easy. For instance, if you’re playing media on your phone using any kind of app, such as BBC’s iPlayer Radio or VLC Player, your S2 immediately gives you full controls – just flick to the media widget and you can pause, play and skip, as well as change the volume if your headphone don’t have their own controls.
Unfortunately, not everything is so smooth and stress-free sadly. The Here Maps app, for instance, is not only slow at finding your location but also falls over quite often when you’re trying to pull up directions. If you’re always on the go, we’d recommend an Android Wear device which comes with excellent Google Maps support.
It’s apparently obligatory for modern watches to come packing a heart rate sensor, and the Gear S2 Classic is true to form. The watch can automatically check your pulse every so often to give you an idea of how massively unhealthy you are, or – more usefully – you can manually take readings during and after a bout of exercise. All of the readings are automatically recorded by S Health, so you can check your progress using the phone app. And if you’d rather use an alternative tracker, Nike+ Running also comes pre-installed for jogging types.
The built-in sensors do a respectable job of tracking your movements throughout the day, although anyone who’s serious about fitness should look to a specialised piece of kit like the Jawbone UP3. Still, the Gear S2 Classic does the job in a pinch and S Health boasts more features than many rival casual trackers.
Samsung’s Gear S2 Classic also has WiFi connectivity built in (handy if your phone dies), as well as NFC support.
Performance and battery life
Battery life is solid for a smartwatch, matching the Huawei Watch’s day and a half of life between charges if you keep the watch face permanently displaying the time. If you allow the watch to hibernate, you’ll get around two days of life.
And like the Huawei Watch and the Moto 360, Samsung’s Gear S2 Classic charges wirelessly using a bundled dock. The dock sits the watch upright so you can still see the time while it charges and a full power-up takes roughly an hour. Of course, you’ll need to remember to take the dock with you when you go travelling, which is a minor ballache.
As for performance, the Gear S2 is usually a smooth operator but I discovered that using the specially-designed Alessandro Mendini watch faces made the Gear stutter when flicking through the interface. Switching to a different watch face solved the problem, thankfully, and I didn’t see another stumble after that.
Samsung’s Gear S2 Classic is one of the best wearables of 2015, boasting slick design, a smart and intuitive interface and perfectly tuned controls. Aside from a couple of little issues such as frustrating mapping, the Tizen OS is a solid alternative to Android Wear that supports all of the features you’d expect, with an ever-expanding library of apps to download.
Of course, the Gear S2 Classic isn’t cheap, with a steep £300 asking price almost matching the Apple Watch. Maybe stick it on your Christmas wish list if you have rich relatives, or try one out in a store first to make sure Tizen suits your needs.