Samsung is using the Mobile World Congress that is being held in Barcelona this week to reveal its latest line of innovative products. First up was an update on their Galaxy Gear Smartwatch. Introduced in 2013, the original version was mostly greeted with indifference by the general press but found a lot of admirers among a growing user-base of dedicated fans. Samsung has shown that there is a viable market out there for smartwatches. These latest entries, the Gear 2 and the Gear 2 Neo, should help to further add to their level of acceptance.
By Any Other Name… and Oh, and What’s Tizen?
The first thing that gave an indication that serious changes were to be found was that Samsung has dropped “Galaxy” from the name. The two new smartwatches go simply by the names Samsung Gear 2 and Samsung Gear 2 Neo. This is most likely because Samsung wants to differentiate them from the rest of the Galaxy line up, like the S4 and new S5 smartphones. The reason, and perhaps the most important thing to know, is that these watches are no longer Android-based devices. Instead, Samsung has opted to switch to the open source, Linux-based mobile operating system known as Tizen.
Tizen isn’t that well-known outside of developers’ circles yet, but it is a very promising platform that may attract app developers who do not want to work within the constraints set by Apple for iOS or Google for Android. This will also help Samsung move yet one step further away from those two companies who are in effect their rivals. Samsung has been experimenting with smartphones based on Tizen, but they are smart enough not to release a phone to the market until there is enough of an ecosystem of apps to support it. Android and iOS have millions of apps, many of them free. Any phone attempting to compete will need to have a full complement of full featured, powerful apps. A lack of app choices is one of the main things holding back Windows and Blackberry phones from finding more of an audience. App development for these two new smartwatches may be Samsung’s way of laying the perfect foundation for building a Tizen-based ecosystem. We’ll see how things develop over the next year or two, but this move could prove very forward-thinking on the part of Samsung. However, users of the Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo will not notice this switch. The nature of a smartwatch is much different than a phone. Wearable technology tends to focus on doing a limited number of tasks really well and Samsung already has this covered with over 100 available apps. It is also going to release an SDK (software developers kit) so third party developers can get in on the action.
What’s the Difference Between the Gear 2 and the Gear 2 Neo?
There are really only two differences between the Samsung Gear 2 and the Gear 2 Neo. The Gear 2 has a camera and the Gear 2 Neo does not. The Gear 2 has a brushed metal body and the Gear 2 Neo has a plastic body.
What Makes the Samsung Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo Different from the Original Galaxy Gear?
Well first, let’s start off with what’s the same: The display is still a 1.6-inch Super AMOLED screen with a 320×320 pixel resolution, the RAM is still at 512MB, internal storage remains at 4GB, and they still work on Bluetooth 4.0. Just about everything else has changed.
The biggest improvement came from listening to the feedback of users of the the original Galaxy Gear. The camera, microphone, and antennae were all originally located on the strap. For the camera, this meant that shooting pictures required holding your wrist and arm at an odd angle. In order to speak into the device, the user had to flip their wrist over away from the watch face and the speaker because the microphone was located on the clasp of the strap. And because the camera, microphone, and antennae needed to maintain their electronic connections to the body of the watch, this setup prohibited the wearer from changing out the strap for different styles. The Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo have moved all of these components to the body of the watch itself. This has made for a much improved shooting angle for the camera on the Gear 2 and, for both models, an easier time using the microphone while listening to the speaker and the ability to swap out the straps for any traditional watch wristbands on the market. This will help the user to truly customize the look of the watch. Plus, they’ve also added a couple of new watch body colors into the mix.
What else has changed besides the OS and the interchangeable straps? Processors have been improved from an 800MHz single core to a 1GHz dual core. A Bluetooth music player is included so that the user can stream music stored on their watch to any Bluetooth compatible audio system without the need for their phone. This could be handy for working out without worrying about carrying a phone. They also come with a built-in infrared projector which allows the included app to turn your watch into a remote for TVs and other entertainment systems. Because it is one of the most used functions of any existing wrist-mounted wearable tech, a heart rate monitor and its accompanying app are also included. The screen glows when you tell it to check your vitals, pulsing every 90 seconds. If you use it with one of the personal coaching apps it will use haptic feedback, otherwise known as a vibration alarm, plus on-screen notifications to let you know you should pick up the pace.
The size of these devices has also gotten a little smaller. Because it lacks a camera, the Gear 2 Neo is slightly smaller than the Gear 2. Both of the new units are also smaller than the original Galaxy Gear. This is due in part to the fact that the new versions have a slightly smaller battery. This has caused some to be concerned about battery life and how often they will need to be recharged. The original Galaxy Gear initially had issues with short battery life until a software update increased the average time to about a day to a day and a half. However, Samsung promises that the new devices will last between two and a half to five days between charges. this is most likely because of the new Tizen operating system. The smaller sizes also mean less weight. The Gear 2 is about 10% lighter and the Gear 2 Neo is about 25% lighter than the original Galaxy Gear. This should help improve comfort and their long term wearability.
The body of both versions is IP67 certified for dust and water resistance. This means that they can be submerged in water for up to 30 minutes at a depth of 3 feet/1 meter and should suffer no ill effects. This isn’t foolproof, but it is a great improvement and helps safeguard against one of the most common threats to electronics that no one likes to talk about or even think about… landing in a toilet. It also means that showering with it on should be okay.
In addition to the new Samsung Galaxy S5, the Gear 2 series will work with Samsung’s Galaxy S III, Galaxy S4, Galaxy S4 Mini, Galaxy S4 Active, Galaxy S4 Zoom, Galaxy Mega, Galaxy Note 2, Galaxy Note 3, Galaxy Note 10.1 2014 Edition, Galaxy Note Pro, and Galaxy Tab Pro (12.2, 10.1, 8.4).
How much will the Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo Cost?
Samsung hasn’t released any final pricing on these yet, but consensus says that the Gear 2 will probably be about the same as the current Galaxy Gear at $299 and the Gear 2 Neo is expected to be about $100 less. Although a specific date hasn’t been released, Samsung says that both models will be available for sale in April.
Do I Need a Gear 2 or a Gear 2 Neo Smartwatch?
This is a question many people are asking, even those who make these things! Traditional watches have fallen out of widespread use in general. We have clocks everywhere, on our car dashboards, on our appliances, and especially on our computers, tablets and phones. However, there are still quite a few people who do wear them, and the added functionality that a smartwatch provides may entice a few more to start wearing them again. They may never gain as much market share as a smartphone, but they do have their place and only time will tell how big the audience is. No matter what the answer ends up being, smartwatches will most likely be here to stay, in some form or another.