Samsung Gear S2 Smartwatch Review: Tizen Excels

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Hardware: Design, Comfort, and Battery Life

The Gear S and Gear S2 look completely different. The former was a rectangular, blocky affair, resembling a monitor affixed to a watchband. The latter looks like any mainstream watch that you'd find in a jewelry or department store. More and more, we're seeing smartwatch manufacturers leaning towards cleaner, rounder designs. Evidently, consumers are more willing to replace their existing watch with a smart version (or buy a watch at all) if it actually looks like a traditional watch. The Gear S2 simply fits on the wrist. The original Gear S and the Apple Watch, for instance, look like tiny machines that just so happen to be strapped around a wrist.

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It's a subtle difference, but particularly for mainstream consumers who don't want a piece of technology cramping their style, the form factor ends up being significant. The Gear S2 puts a 1.2-inch fully circular sAMOLED display front and center, boasting a 360 x 360 resolution, that works out to 302ppi of pixel density. That's a lot of technical jargon, but here's the layman's translation: the Gear S2 has a great screen. It's crisp, dense, and simply looks great. Even when sat beside a high-end smartphone panel, it holds its own. Blacks are exceptionally deep, and it's important to note that it looks classy even when there's nothing onscreen.

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Our dark gray test model is an understated affair with next to no accents. That's very much unlike Samsung, but we love it. The grey and black motif is suitable for both the workplace and a night out, and even the stock rubber band on the base $250 model is pretty sharp. Those overly concerned with style can opt for the Gear S2 Classic ($300+), which swaps in a leather band. Failing that, all Gear S2 models support interchangeable bands, but unfortunately, they have proprietary connectors. In other words, the only band shopping you'll be doing is from Samsung's own store.

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Unlike most of its rivals, the band doesn't sit square on the Gear S2. In other words, you cannot lay the watch flat on a table. The band's connectors curve downward, which is actually quite helpful when it comes to putting the watch on with a single hand, but it'll be a problem for those who like to have their watches sitting flush on their desk or nightstand when removed. Samsung throws in a wireless charging base, and the shape of said base makes it clear why the band was designed in such a way. As it is, it's impossible to drop the watch into the charging base the wrong way.

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The casing is metal, which provides a solid, robust feel that we're big fans of. The unit is IP68 water resistant, which will be great news for swimmers and outdoor types. In terms of physical buttons, there are just two. There's a Back button at the 2 'o clock position and a Home button at the 4 'o clock position, with a single microphone hole in between. (Of note, there's no onboard speaker, so the Gear S2 can't emit bleeps, bloops, rings, or chimes.)

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The most important hardware feature is the spinning ring around the bezel. On conventional wristwatches, these bezels are used in diving to calculate how much oxygen one has left in a tank, or to keep track of a secondary time zone when traveling. On the Gear S2, the bezel is used to scroll through notifications, settings, and apps. It spins with a highly satisfying click, and once you've arrived on the app or screen you want to dive into, taps on the screen take you in further.

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We want to be clear: this is the single best control mechanism we've ever used on any smartwatch, bar none. We're big fans of Apple's Digital Crown + Force Touch combo on the Apple Watch, but the Gear S2's spinning bezel is a major improvement. It instills confidence, and it's the most natural and intuitive control scheme we've seen to date on a smartwatch. You know you're a fan when you find yourself spinning the dial for the fun of it while waiting in line at the grocery store.

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On the topic of battery life: our non-3G test model was fitted with a 250mAh cell, while 3G models get a 300mAh cell. With a litany of notifications enabled, brightness set to 70 percent, and plenty of poking and prodding during testing, we were able to squeeze two full days of life out of the Gear S2. That's a feat worthy of praise when most other smartwatches struggle to last 24 hours with heavy use. We aren't particularly fond of sleeping with a watch on, so charging each night isn't much of an issue, but those who'd prefer the luxury of two days without the need for a charger finally have their watch.

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