Samsung Gear S Review: Neither Here, Nor There

Ditto inventor Bob Olodort, who had worked with Samsung as a consulting designer for years much before the iPhone time has rightly put the major concern with Samsung in words for all of us. In his opinion, Samsung crams every damn feature in it mobile phones and then toss out the device to users. And now, as the company has entered into wearable market, its research and manufacturing strategy seems to be, “Let-us-make-stuff-and-see-how-it goes.” The focus is on “making” and no wonder, in the short span of about 12 months, the OEM has launched six different wearables in the market. No, these are not the extensions to the existing wearable but are separate wearable wrist devices that are as different as chalk and cheese from each other. The latest to join the wannabe league is Samsung Gear S that claims to be the most ambitious wearable device and in some aspects, we could not help but agree to it.

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The device has in-built 3G modem that lets you to receive and make calls without the help of a phone. The modem can be connected via GPS radios, Bluetooth and WiFi. There is a cute-looking miniature keyboard that can be used to respond to urgent emails. Yes, it is impressive that Samsung Gear S doubles up as a phone and watch. But does it succeed? Let us figure out!

Design and Hardware:

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It is a bulky design and if we say bulky, we do not mean, every other smartwear wrist watch bulky. We mean Samsung-kind-of-bulky. Since the Samsung Gear S has to manage some of the phone features too, it has to be large in size. The 2-inch curved AMOLED screen has metal on the sides and has smooth looks. For some of us, the design may be a reminiscent of Samsung Galaxy S5 that has been wedged into a plastic-y body. The watch is terribly down on style quotient and looks absurd to the point when tied upon to the wrist. People, who have dainty wrist, may want to avoid this style mishap. The metal clasp is also chunky and rubber strap also does not help the case. Even if you are a geek, you would not like the thick bezels all around the display that makes the screen looks bigger but chunkier. Even though, the watch is comfortable and its curves make it easy to wrap around the wrist. The extra screen plays spoilsport to the aesthetics but has some pros of its own such as navigation ease. Samsung Gear S earns an extra edge over its competitors due to its bulky and large screen size as it provides you with ease of usage and navigational benefits. Going through the apps and responding to message becomes very smooth and intuitive, given its large size.

Samsung Gear S eludes the premium feel its counterparts and older siblings are too proud to possess. The metal straps are proprietary and are available in the color options of red, white and black. The display comes to 480×360 or 300ppi, making for an easy reading and brighter images. The dark background of the text or image gets all mixed up with the thick bezel layout and becomes indistinguishable. The display remains dark for most of the time and lights up for incoming notification. The smartwatch also features internal accelerometer that lights it up whenever you lift your wrist. Taking a cue from the available light, the ambient sensor will light it up or dim it to darker itself if the watch is left in idle mode for a few moments.  The ambient sensor and physical home button find a place underneath the display. A UV detector also finds a place to stay here. On the rear panel, you can find the heart rate monitor to track your heartbeat and charging point to juice the smartwatch.  The GSM models of Samsung Gear S have slots for nano-SIM cards above the heart rate sensors. To activate the S Voice, you need to double tap on the physical home button. Similarly, to power the device off, mute it or restart it, you need to press the home button for quite some time. Samsung Gear S comes bundled with the proprietary charging cradle, the one and only way to power the device’s 300mAh battery. The cradle, which itself houses a 350mAh battery, needs to be charged first and can be used as a backup in case the device runs out of juice.

Software

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Apart from the 350mAh battery and the 3G modem, the Samsung Gear S also houses an accelerometer, 512MB RAM, dual-core 1GHz processor, 4GB storage, GPS, WiFi, gyroscope and Bluetoooth. As similar to its predecessors Samsung Gear and Gear 2, Samsung Gear S runs on Samsung-made Linux-based OS, Tizen. Those, who have operated any of these two, might have no problem with the navigation of Gear S. Everything from the left swipe for widgets to down swipe to volume control and right swipe to notifications, it is all the same. If you want to come out of any app, you need to swipe down. A few apps like weather forecast, music player, S Health are pre-installed. Gear S’s claim to fame apps are phone dialer and text messaging app that lets you access the call logs or make calls and allows you to dictate voice message via S Voice respectively. The S Voice is pretty good and can even recognize punctuation marks or go to ‘All CAPITAL’ mode when it feels that you are yelling to it. Other than the S Voice, you can also switch to the touch keyboard for texting or emailing. Covering the chunk of on-screen space, you are left with too little place to figure out what exactly you have typed. The keyboard utilizes the usual pecking method or line-drawing method as SWYPE. The auto-correct needs to be “corrected” and typing can be tedious as well as troublesome if you are responding to an official mail. So, Samsung S Voice seems like a wonderful option over these any given day.

To pack the Samsung smartwatch with new apps, you need to connect the watch to a Samsung smartphone that is compatible with it and download the app, Gear Manager. The app remains unchanged and can be used to manage the apps or customize the watch face as well as wall paper. This app is very useful for you if you plan to use this gear as this will help you to sync your fitness related data to your smartphone’s S Health and transfer files.

When In Use

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Yes, I know. You think that there is a mistake because just somewhere up above I said that this watch is a standalone so, why does it need a compatible phone to download apps or function? Exactly my sentiments! If we need to connect it to a phone to sync the data or download the phone, what is the use of such hullaballoo?

Wait while you have been pondering over these questions; let me give you one more shocker. Without the help of a compatible Samsung smartphone, you won’t be able to start using the smartwatch at all! So, the first thing you should be doing after taking the watch out of the box is to connect it to a Samsung phone and download the Gear Manager app to unlock it because without it, you will end up using the watch for mere emergency dialer services. And here I leave it up to you to decide if we should just write it off or not.

After you have unlocked it, the watch can be used and can function independently as it has its own number. It is also a little odd to have two phone numbers functioning at two different places but as you can forward the calls to both the devices with or without the Bluetooth, you can manage this for a while. You need to talk into your wrist watch to respond to the calls, which in my opinion, is very funny! To others, it may feel like as if you are some sort of maniac to talk to your wrist. The chest level wrist holding is good enough for the time when you are indoors and have some silence. Outside, amidst chaos and noise, you may need to hold it closer to lips. The speaker is nice, though. You can connect a headset via Bluetooth for comfort.

As far as the fitness features of Samsung Gear S are concerned, these tend to disappoint a lot. On this front, S Health app covers pedometer-cum-location tracker, heart rate monitor, sleep monitor and UV sensor. When the app is working, it works nicely and lets you know the number of steps covered or your heartbeat per minute. The UV sensor will show you the UV index when you are out and what not! But when it does not work, it won’t even budge. The heart rate monitor would not work at all and to buzz it, you may need to restart the device all over again. On this level, Samsung’s Gear Store is not great either. It does not have a dedicated Gmail app for the smartwatch or no social media widget for Facebook or Twitter. When you are connected to phone, you can receive notifications but when you are using Samsung Gear S as a standalone, be prepared to face a multitude of problems.

Though, there are numbers of apps that straighten out the navigation and make working seamless to some extent. You can use pre-installed Navigator app, which is the rehash version of Nokia’s ‘Here’ maps, to get directions and surf the web on the miniature version of Opera browser. The calculator is also very nice and easy to use.

The Battery:

Upon moderate usage, the battery lasts about 2 days. On heavy use by keeping the notifications on and using the device for making calls, it lasts about one and a half day. Strain it more by accessing emails, browsing the web, using it for fitness as well as navigation and the battery will give in and will need to be charged almost daily. Switch between toggle mode that limits the device to basic phone functions and time-telling to save energy.

Price of Samsung Gear S:

The Samsung Gear S is available for a whopping $350. Moreover, an additional fee will be levied if you do not intend to use Gear S as a phone. T-Mobile and Verizon will charge you $5 monthly and for AT&T and Sprint, it is $10 per month. For Sprint, it is free till December 2015, if your plan rolls in 20GB data or more.

Competition of Samsung Gear S

Samsung Gear S is not going to have it easy. Both in terms of features and price, there are many Android based smartwear in this relatively young market to eat into its share. From Samsung’s very own Samsung Gear Live to Moto 360, LG G Watch R and Asus Zenwatch, there are several options to choose from that are far more stylish and feature-rich. Also, the Android console has more support and apps than its Linux based OS. Though, these are only smartwatches and not phones.

As Samsung Gear S also works as a phone to some extent, it does have an upper hand over a few versions. In this segment of smartwatch-meets-smartphone, Neptune Pine can take the lead. It is to be noted that the Pine is an Android based smartphone that is reduced to the size of a watch. With 1.2 GHz smartphone and internal storage of 16GB, it has a better chance to grab eyeballs than its counterpart Gear S. Originally priced at $349; it is available on Amazon for $300. Though, the battery of Neptune Pine lasts for a day and needs to be charged on a daily basis.

Our Take:

Samsung Gear S allows you to make calls and gives you the freedom to leave your phone at home. Its battery life is also better than the many contenders we see out there but using a compatible Samsung smartphone to activate it or managing apps via a phone, was a deal breaker for me. If you do not mind a big metal piece of the size of a small rock on your wrist or can deal with apps that need a device restart to work or would love to get away from the clutches of smartphone at certain points or do not mind shelling out $350 plus the monthly carrier fee, you can have it by all means! Rest of people like me will skip it and will watch out this space for more! 🙂

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