Samsung’s first "smartwatch"—the Galaxy Gear—was a mistake. Samsung is now making up for that mistake with a whole new line of wearables in 2014.
See also: 5 Things To Know About The Galaxy S5
Samsung’s new Gear 2, Gear Neo and Gear Fit are attractive and functional devices. The Gear 2 is more slender than the original Galaxy Gear, has better hardware and battery life and more functionality. It actually looks and feels like a watch, whereas last year's Galaxy Gear was more like strapping a metal brick to your wrist.
The curved screen on the Gear Fit is both vibrant and touch responsive. The wrist strap (an essential element in a watch) is a normal, adjustable band. It is incredibly light at 27 grams (a little less than an ounce) but doesn’t feel flimsy. The Neo is essentially the Gear 2 without a camera.
The build quality and design of the Gear 2 and the Gear Fit make up for that fact that the first Galaxy Gear was an abomination of epic proportions. The battery life on that device was about 24 hours or less, while the metal casing and strap were both obscenely large—the strap was part of the device, housing a camera. The applets were wonky and bug-filled. It was not a pleasant device to use.
At first blush, the Gear and Gear Fit seem to have eliminated some of the user experience problems. But that doesn’t mean these devices lack imperfections.
Unlike other manufacturers of smartwatches, Samsung insists on loading the Gear 2 and Neo with hardware specs that may drive performance, but limit battery life. The Gear 2 has a 1 GHz Snapdragon dual-core processor and a 1.63-inch Super AMOLED screen (320-by-320 pixels). In comparison, the Qualcomm Toq uses a super power-efficient display called Mirasol that preserves battery life and lasts seven to 10 days between charges. Samsung really wants its watches to mimic phones as much as possible.
But this is not yet the all-in-one, stand-alone smartwatch we are pining for. The Gear 2 and Gear Neo still need to attach to smartphone (an Android-based Galaxy smartphone) to perform most functions. You can make a phone call from the Gear 2, but it is being routed through the phone, not from the local hardware on the accessory. The Gear 2 will support apps that are not tied to the phone, but the most useful and functional apps have to be attached to the smartphone.
The Peculiarities Of Running On Tizen
Samsung decided to ditch Android for the Tizen operating system for its new lineup of wearables. Tizen is a Linux-based operating system that runs packaged Web apps built in JQuery with HTML (with the capability to use C++ programing language as well). Apps for the Gear 2 will, by necessity, come in two forms: Android and Tizen.
On Wednesday at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Samsung announced new Health, Gear and Fit software developer kits (SDKs) hoping to entice developers; some will surely build for the platform. But a developer that wants to build for the Gear 2 must build an Android app that works on the smartphone and a Tizen app that works on the Gear 2. This creates a degree of complication that many developers won’t want to deal with, especially considering there is no guarantee that the smartwatch industry will ever get off the ground.
The user experience of the Gear 2 and Gear Neo may also scare away potential developers. As of right now, the only apps available on the Gear 2/Neo/Fit are Samsung’s own fitness apps through S Health, ChatOn, a remote control (on the Gear 2/Neo), notifications, calls and so on. These are all made and controlled by Samsung and the company will push hard to have Gear owners use its own apps. Therefore, there is little motivation for developers to actually try competing with Samsung when Samsung ultimately controls the interface. This is most pertinent to fitness apps going against S Health, but WatchOn and ChatOn are both integrated into the device as well.
The Fit is a bit different in terms of development than the Gear 2. The Fit doesn’t have a large screen and its navigation is limited to horizontal swipes. To build apps for the Gear Fit, developers must build an Android app and then run it through Samsung’s tools to use Tizen libraries for user interaction. So, a developer doesn’t need two integrated developer environments for the Fit the way they do with apps for the Gear 2/Neo.
The peculiarities of development for the Samsung wearables and the nascent market share means apps for the Gear 2 and Fit will be few and far between at launch. Samsung will have some partner apps that launch with the Gear 2 on April 11—OnStar has already announced a car remote and notable Samsung partner apps like RunKeeper (which was on the original Gear) will likely make the jump.
Samsung will send review units out shortly before the launch date, so we don't yet have a good idea of what it'll be like to wear the Gear 2 and Gear Fit for an extended period of time, but the first impression from Mobile World Congress is certainly a good one.