The Gear 2 is the Samsung smartwatch with all the bells and whistles. Through Bluetooth, the watch can show notifications about texts and emails from your mobile device, as well as send and receive calls. It also includes fitness-tracking features, such as a pedometer, a heart-rate monitor and an app to track workouts. You can download additional apps to the Gear 2, and the device even comes with a built-in camera.
At $299, the Gear 2 is $100 more expensive than the Gear 2 Neo and the Gear Fit, two other smartwatches from Samsung. The Gear 2 is nearly identical to the Gear 2 Neo, but the Neo lacks a camera, and the Gear Fit lacks the ability to download apps. But is the Gear 2 worth the extra bucks? Here's our breakdown of the device.
The Gear 2's design resembles that of a digital wristwatch. It has a square screen within a metal frame, and a firm rubber strap with a textured surface. The strap is adjustable, and also has a clasp — its design ensures the two ends of the strap never come apart. I was able to adjust the strap so it fit snuggly on my wrist, but I thought the clasp was a bit overcomplicated — there's no need to reinvent the wristwatch strap.
What's more, to snap the clasp in place, you must push it from underneath (the side of the strap next to your skin), which is counterintuitive, and a little difficult. But the Gear 2 can also be worn with any watch strap, so you can replace it if you want.
The Gear 2 is a bit bulkier than the Gear Fit, which has a slim, rectangular screen. But for the most part, the Gear 2 felt comfortable.
The device has a bright, colorful screen, and a number of wallpapers to choose from. You can also change the wallpaper to a photo you take with the device's camera, and you can change the clock face from a digital watch to one with a hand dial if you choose.
The device's camera is placed on the outer edge of the screen frame, so you get a view of the world in front of you. Unfortunately, the placement of the camera makes it almost impossible to take selfies — and, believe me, I tried. (Why else would you want a camera on your wrist?)
I found the menus on the Gear 2 pretty easy to navigate. You swipe the screen from left to right to access features, like your contacts, or apps such as a pedometer or heart-rate monitor. There is a separate section just for apps, where you can access a weather app, your photo gallery (which syncs with the gallery on your phone) and a stopwatch/timer, along with many other Samsung apps or others you choose to download. To go back to a previous screen, you swipe down. The device has a single on/off button that also takes you back to the home screen.
You'll need a Samsung phone or tablet with which to pair the Gear 2 (there are 17 compatible devices). I paired mine with the Galaxy S5smartphone. You'll also need to download the Gear Manager app on your mobile device. This app lets you set which notifications you see on the smartwatch (such as alarms, voicemails and emails), and download apps you want to use on the Gear 2.
On the Gear 2, the Gear Manager app has the S Health app (Samsung's health/wellness app) included within it, which is an improvement over the Gear Fit, which treats the two apps separately.
I set my Gear 2 to notify me when I got text messages or emails. You can see a preview of the text message or email when it arrives, and even respond to texts on the Gear 2. You can't type on the Gear 2, but there are several template responses, such as "Yes," "No," "How's it going?" and "I'll call you later." You can edit these templates within the Settings of the Gear Manager app.
I have to admit, it was neat to be notified on my smartwatch when I got an email — I could see when an email arrived, even if I was carrying groceries. You can also make calls directly from the watch itself (through Bluetooth) — you speak into the watch, and hear the other person through the speakers. This is an advantage over the Pebble smartwatch, which can't make calls.
The Gear 2 also has an exercise app that tracks walking, running, cycling or hiking, and shows you your workout stats, such as how far you went and how many calories you burned. The device can also track your heart rate during exercise, but it doesn't do this by default — you have to first select the activity (such as walking), and then select a menu icon in the upper-right-hand corner. From there, you check Heart Rate, and the device will continuously monitor your heart rate throughout the activity. You can see additional information about your workout in the S Health app, such as your average speed and average heart rate.
One flaw with the S Health app is that it does not by default show your steps from the Gear 2 pedometer. You need to go to the Pedometer section of the S Health app, then select the three dots in the upper-right-hand corner, then select "Device data to view" and then choose the Gear 2.
Value of Information: ★★★☆☆
The Gear 2 is a smartwatch, not a fitness tracker, so it's not fully devoted to getting you fit. It tracks your activity, but does not really explain what your data means — for example, there's no explanation for why knowing your heart rate is useful (such as how you could use it to improve your exercise habits).
But the Coach section of the S Health app on the Galaxy S5 does provide some information to put your data into context. In this area, you can perform an assessment of your exercise, food and sleep habits, as well as your stress level and weight. For example, if the assessment finds that you are not exercising very often, Coach will suggest that you increase the number of times per week you exercise, and also will offer specific "missions" that you can carry out to accomplish your goal, such as taking a speedy, 20-minute walk twice a week or upping your steps to 10,000 per day.
The device will look at the information from the workouts you track with the Gear 2 or the Galaxy S5, to see if you are completing your missions/exercise goals, or you can simply tell Coach that you completed a goal that day.
As for the nonfitness features of the watch, the Gear 2 can't do anything the average smartphone can't do. And apps available for download on the device are limited — for example, Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare apps are not available.
The pictures and videos you take with the camera are decent for a mobile device, but they come out square, and it can sometimes be difficult to frame shots.
The colorful display and interactive screen make the Gear 2 a fun device to use, even just as a wristwatch. And the ability to read incoming texts and emails just by glancing at your wrist may be attractive to some people.
However, the Gear 2 doesn't seem to fill any new function that isn't already offered by a smartphone, so I'm not sure I would continue to use it as anything more than a watch. And $299 is a lot to pay for a watch, especially considering that there are other, cheaper smartwatches out there. As a fitness tracker, the Gear 2 also falls a bit short — it tracks information well, but unlike some other fitness trackers, it doesn't provide you with motivational messages or tell you when you're close to completing your goals.
Conclusion: 12 out of 20 stars
If you must have a smartwatch with a camera and a sleek design, the Gear 2 may be worth considering. But other than the ability to make calls from the wrist, the Gear 2 has few other features that separate it from other smartwatches, and it's pricier. And if you only want the fitness-tracker features, you'd probably be better off with another device that offers more insight and motivational messaging.