Samsung Gear 2 smartwatch attracts lacklustre reviews

Feb 24, 2014

Reviewers unmoved by new design, features and operating system for Samsung's Gear 2 smartwatch

AFTER poor reviews for the Galaxy Gear smartwatch last year, Samsung has announced two new models at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

The new watches still allow users to make calls, view text messages and emails and run third-party apps, but the company has undertaken a complete redesign and abandoned the old Android-based interface, relying instead on its own Tizen OS.

The phones can now house music locally, rather than streaming it from a paired Samsung mobile phone or tablet. The Gear 2 also retains its forebear's two-megapixel camera but has relocated the lens into its chassis rather than integrating it into the band. The Gear 2 Neo does away with the camera altogether, to offer a streamlined alternative to the Gear 2 that is both slimmer and 13 grams lighter.

The watches also feature an infrared (IR) blaster that can be used to change channels on a television set.

Simon Stanford, Vice President of IT & Mobile division, Samsung Electronics UK & Ireland described the new watches as "innovative, creative and stylish" claiming that they both improved on the original Galaxy Gear in a number of ways.

He described the new products as "innovative, creative devices that are completely integrated into the lives of our customers". He told TechWeek: "We have enhanced everything that people love about the original Galaxy Gear to create a second generation of wearable devices that offer unparalleled smart freedom."

So is it any better than the unpopular Galaxy Gear?

Early commentators have offered faint praise for the new design changes, noting that they may not be perfect, but the new watches are at least an improvement on the original Galaxy Gear. Brad Molen, writing for Engadget, says that in his view the camera is now in a better location: "The first thing we noticed was that the camera is now built into the front of the watch alongside the IR blaster, which is much better than the original Gear's distracting wart on the wristband."

The BBC's Mark Gregory, on the other hand, is unmoved by the new design: "Samsung has heralded both devices as offering 'freedom and style' - but despite bringing in extra design expertise, the watch still looks very much a technology product, rather than a fashion accessory," Gregory says.

Many commentators were interested that Samsung had opted to use its own operating system rather than continuing with Android. Forbes technology writer Ewan Spence says that the move away from Android is "curious" but "should not be read too deeply". Spence believes that the move is likely to be to do with battery life and code optimisation, rather than a "political statement" about Samsung's OS being better than Android.

In Spence's view, the real obstacle for the new smartwatches will be much larger than their tweaks to design or operating system. "The biggest problem the Gear 2 [faces] is not going to be the operating system, the specs, or the styling," he says. "The problem Samsung's follow up will have is countering the lack of goodwill that has built up around their 2013 smartwatch, the Galaxy Gear... [which suffered from] poor battery life, insipid design, a clunky user interface, and a lack of software."

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