2014 was supposed to be the year of the wearable. While 2014 did see a whole slew of wearables hit the market and to a lesser degree, gain some mainstream acceptance, wearables didnít take off like many thought they would.
One reason is that even though thereís a lot of momentum in the category - for many people, they just found that the trade offs of having a wearable didnít outweigh the benefit having one would bring to their daily lives.
Hereís the Samsung Gear S, one of the first wearables from a mainstream manufacturer that has a built-in SIM card slot which allows it to get a data connection even when your phone isnít around.
Is built in wireless the killer feature that wearables have been waiting for? Letís check it out:
Front and center is the 2Ē, curved SuperAMOLED display. It has a resolution of 480x360 with a pixel density of 290PPI.
While large for a wearable, the 2Ē screen is much smaller than a typical smartphone screen so you tend to hold it closer when youíre looking at it. With that in mind, the 290PPI doesnít look quite as sharp as it would if the screen were 5Ē and holding it further away.
Otherwise, itís a good looking display with excellent viewing angles and pleasing colour. By default, itís usually white text on a black background with some coloured icons. Since AMOLED displays light each pixel individually, a mostly black display draws less power than a display thatís all white.
Unlike the Note Edge, the curved display on the Gear S fits the design perfectly. Itís really sleek and makes the Gear S feel much smaller than it really is.
I think it also makes the Gear S more comfortable to wear.
Below the screen is the home button which is flanked by a UV and light sensor.
You have to use an attachment that snaps on to charge the Gear. The attachment has a MicroUSB plug on it.
I found that it usually took a bit of fighting to get the charger snapped in. Ditto for when I tried to take it off. This makes it hard to charge the Gear S if the lights are off like they would be before you go to sleep.
I wish Samsung had put a charging coil on the back like Motorola did with the Moto 360.
Aside for the charging contacts, there is also a heart rate sensor on the back along with the Nano SIM slot.
Samsung includes a spudger which youíll need to pop the Nano SIM card out.
The Gear S itself pops into the included watch band like the Gear Fit does.
That means it doesnít take Ďregularí watch straps.
While not much to look at, the included strap is comfortable.
The metal clasp adds a touch of class.
I donít know about you, but I think that while the Gear S is a sleek device, itís not a looker. Yeah, the curved screen is striking but in the end, itís still looks geeky in a bad way. Given the choice Iíd pick something with a round face. For me, form goes over function when it comes to a watch.
Inside is a Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 SoC running at 1Ghz, with 512MB RAM, 4GB of storage with support for Bluetooth 4.0 and the PiŤce de rťsistance, a built-in HSPA phone.
I noticed that Samsung has removed the infrared blaster and camera from the Gear S. Both these features can be found on the older Gear 2. This is not a big loss as theyíre not features Iíd typically use on a watch anyways.
If you get the Gear S wet donít worry, itís water resistant.
Using the Gear S:
By default, the Gear S screen has a 10 second timeout plus it leaves the HSPA off. If youíre used to wearing a watch then youíll want to change the screen time out so that it never shuts off. You see the Gear S uses the gesture of you whipping out your arm and twisting it towards you to figure out when to turn the screen on. The problem with this is that a) it almost never works and b) when it does work, you need to wait a second or 2 before the screen turns on.
Despite all the hardware crammed into the Gear S, it has just enough juice to make it through the day. If youíre wondering how the Gear S can manage this with the screen on 100% of the time itís because it uses a simple wire frame watch face when youíre not using it.
Since AMOLED screens only draw power when theyíre lit and since each pixel is lit individually the simple watch face doesnít draw too much power. When the screen turns on the watch face fills into a fancier looking one.
Speaking of watch faces, while I donít think the Gear S is a looker, the included watch faces are pretty interesting. I like how the pedometer goal shows up as a watch complication.
Youíd think that having HSPA built-in would be a big drain on the battery but the Gear S rarely uses it so the impact of having it on is minimal. Really, the only thing the Gear S uses HSPA for is for making calls, sending and receiving texts, grabbing news and weather (on demand) and for voice commands when your phone isnít around.
The menus basically work like this: On the clock screen, pulling down from the top brings up status screen where you can also adjust volumes.
Pulling up from the bottom brings up the main menu. When you do this thereís a link to view running programs.
On all other screens pull down from the top goes takes a step back while you tap to choose.
Itís not a difficult device to use but I occasionally got Ďlostí where Iíd lose track of where I am in the menus.
Included with the Gear S are the following apps:
- S Health
- Music Player
- News Briefing
- S Voice
- Find My Device
To use the Gear S, you must have a supported Samsung Android phone because you need Samsungís Gear Manager which is only found in their app store to set it up.
If you donít have a supported phone handy, you wonít be able to use most of the Gearís functions plus it's needed to customize certain functions.
The Gear S connects to your phone via Bluetooth - I used a Galaxy Note 4.
Once you do set it up, the built-in HSPA modem does allow for a little bit more autonomy from your phone than other smart watches.
You can make calls and send and receive texts straight from the Gear S. Since the Gear S is meant to be paired to a phone, youíre probably wondering how itís able to reconcile calls and texts between it and your regular phone.
Well, if your phone is close by and you make calls with the Gear, then the Gear acts as a Bluetooth headset.
Thereís actually a built-in speaker. While itís not extremely powerful, itís loud enough to be usable indoors if itís not too loud. It also has decent RF performance. I guess a wrist is a more RF friendly environment than a pocket.
If your phone isnít around, you can still make calls with the Gear S but those calls wonít show up on your phoneís call history.
You can actually type out texts using an on-screen keyboard. It actually works better than I thought it would but given the size, you're better off using it only in emergencies.
Anyways, if you want to send a text you're better off using the built-in S-Voice speech recognition. As far as I know, S-Voice takes your commands and sends them to Samsung for processing - Ergo, if you don't have a data connection it won't work.
It seems to work well enough but I found it would activate for no reason at times.
S Health allows you to view information collected by the built-in pedometer.
While thereís an email program built-into the Gear S, you have to have your phone close by to use it. Itís not able to fetch or send emails on its own.
There is 4GB of storage so if youíre going to go out running, you can connect a pair of Bluetooth headphones and use the Gear S as a music player. While changing songs or adjusting the volume with the Gear is a pain, you can always use your headphones to do this. If youíre desperate you can also use the built-in speaker to listen to music.
While you can download new apps to the Gear S, I didnít find any that interested me. All I used it for was to get notifications, and for the pedometer.
Do you need the Gear S?
The way I see, a Smartwatch is pointless if you have to touch it more than two or three times. After all, if it takes you this long to get to your information, you might as well whip your phone out of your pocket.
To me, a Smartwatch is just there to help me decide whether I should leave my phone in my pocket or take it out. I think Samsung realizes this and has designed the Gear S to be more of a smartphone companion that can spend short periods of time away from a phone, not something thatís trying to replace it.
While the built-in HSPA allows some autonomy from your phone, you lose out on some key functionality so you donít want to stay untethered for too long.
When it comes to technology, I want it to simplify my life. Having to get a second SIM card just for my watch has the opposite effect.
In the end, while the Gear S is an interesting piece of hardware, itís not able to use its extra hardware to make itself more useful. If youíre thinking of a Gear S, you might as well just pick up a different wearable that can give you notifications and function as a pedometer like the Gear Fit or even the older Gear 2 which has a metal body to boot.
2.5 Howies out of 5.
- Large curved display
- Display looks nice
- built in HSPA is cool
- Charger is a pain to attach
- Too complicated