When we reviewed the original Galaxy Gear, we lauded Samsung’s ambitions, but criticised its execution.
The device was too expensive, its camera protruded like an unsightly nubbin, and it came with an annoying cradle that you had to take with you if you wanted to charge it.
To make matters worse, the battery life was abysmal.
Now the sequel has landed, and it’s better in every way than the original – it’s sleeker, cheaper, and easier to use.
But with a host of smartwatch rivals just around the corner, does Samsung’s techy timepiece do enough to earn a place on your wrist? It’s time to find out.
First impressions and design
While the original Galaxy Gear was quite a chunky piece of kit, the Gear 2 is much slimmer and better designed.
Crucially, Samsung has managed to integrate the camera into the strap, shaving off the original’s annoying nubbin.
We’re still not massive fans of the strap.
It’s a bit plasticky, but it’s very easy to adjust. It’s better than the strap on the original. And if you don’t like it, you can swap it for another.
Still, we’d expect better for this kind of money.
The other big design change is the new home button below the screen. You use this to turn on the watch and to wake it from sleep.
You can wake the watch by turning your wrist too, although this is a bit hit and miss. But more on that later.
On the back you’ll see a set of pins where the watch slots into its charging cradle.
The original cradle was a hulking beast which was a pain to lug around, but this time Samsung has shrunk it down, making it much more portable.
It’s still a pain to need it at all though. We’d much rather you could charge the Gear 2 by plugging it into the wall or a computer’s USB socket.
The Gear 2 comes in three colour options: black, brown or orange. If you want the Gear 2 Neo – the only difference is it doesn’t have a camera – it comes in black, grey or orange.
Samsung has dropped the word ‘Galaxy’ for the Gear 2. That’s because it uses the Tizen operating system instead of Android.
Rumours have been building for a while now that Samsung wants to break from Android, but it’s still using Google’s operating system for its flagship handsets and tablets.
Tizen isn’t as different from Android on a watch as you might think.
It still shows four icons on each page, and you still flip between pages by swiping left or right. Swiping down takes you back a page.
But if all this sounds familiar from last time around, there are some new tricks too.
You can now double tap the home button to launch your favourite app (which you can set).
And there’s a heart rate monitor built into the back, so you can take your pulse at any time.
Other than that, it’s business as usual. You can read messages on the Gear 2, take pictures with the 2-megapixel camera, and change channels on a TV.
There’s 4GB of onboard storage too, so you can load it up with songs and listen on the go, even if you’ve left your phone at home.
The Galaxy Gear was no slouch, and the Gear 2 has been beefed up a notch.
It packs a slightly more powerful processor (a dual-core 1GHz chip to its predecessor’s single-core 800MHz one), so it still flies through menus.
The screen is very responsive too. It’s the same size and resolution as its predecessor (1.63 inches, 320x320 pixels), which is big enough to prod.
Bright colours pop from it, and it’s fine – if a little cramped – for reading messages.
The Gear can be a bit of a pain to use though.
You still can’t type replies to messages. Instead, you have to dictate your responses using Samsung’s S Voice, which is far from perfect.
Sensors detect when you turn your wrist and power on the screen so you can check the time. That’s the theory, anyway.
In reality, the sensor doesn’t work all the time, so you end up jerking your wrist like you’re having a fit before giving in and pressing the home button.
Motorola’s Moto X uses a similar feature to show notifications when you take the phone out of your pocket, and that worked every time we tried it.
Samsung’s system pales in comparison.
The shutter on the 2-megapixel camera is a bit slow, and there’s no flash. It’s fine for messing around, but you’re not going to win any awards with it.
While a nice touch, the heart rate monitor is a bit fiddly. We had to reposition the watch on our wrist a few times before it worked.
The device is a doddle to pair with your phone. We tried it with the Galaxy S5 and the Galaxy Note 3, and it went without a hitch both times.
One slight bugbear is that the Gear 2 performs a factory reset when you pair it with a new device.
It seems a bit unnecessary, seeing as other Bluetooth devices don’t do the same.
The downside is it only works with Samsung’s devices. You can pair it with 17 of Sammy’s phones and tablets.
That’s admittedly a lot more than the original Galaxy Gear when it launched, but it’s still very restrictive seeing as other smartwatches work with any Android device.
Some – like the Pebble – work with iOS devices as well.
The battery is much improved. Samsung claims it’ll last between two and three days, but in our test, we got just over a day out of it.
That’s much better than the original Galaxy Gear, which was ready to give up the ghost by dinner time.
The Gear 2 improves in every way over the Galaxy Gear. It’s sleeker, quicker, compatible with more devices, and has more features.
There are still some usability issues, however. And while it’s cheaper than the original, £250 is still a lot of money.
More pressingly, the competition has come on a long way since the original Galaxy Gear was released at the end of last year.
Motorola and LG have announced smartwatches as part of the Android Wear programme, and while details remain scarce, they both look like decent proposals.
LG’s, for example, will reportedly cost just £180.
As such, we recommend the Gear 2 with a note of caution. If you have to have a smartwatch right now, and don’t want the Pebble, this is one of the best you can get.
But if you’re in no great rush, we’d recommend waiting a few weeks to see what Motorola and LG have up their sleeves.