Samsung Gear 2 Neo Review

The Samsung Galaxy S5 and Samsung Gear 2 (+Neo/Fit versions) released in Q2 this year, with high expectation. The Galaxy series of phones is one of the best selling in the world, and a product update to the Gear smartwatch had many consumers eagerly awaiting the release. The Samsung Galaxy S5 is a decent update to the Galaxy line (I’ll echo the phrase “evolution not revolution”), but the Gear 2 I believe still has a long way to go.

I’ve been playing with the combination of the Samsung Galaxy S5 mobile phone and Samsung Gear 2 Neo for the last few weeks. I really wanted to like these complementary devices, I had been waiting for weeks on their arrival. Disappointingly I’m not convinced about the usefulness of smart watches, and I’ll explain why.

First to clarify for those wondering – there are three versions of the Samsung Gear 2. The Neo version is similar to the vanilla Gear 2, but is missing the camera. I’d suggest to avoid confusion they call the Neo the Samsung Gear 2, and the Gear 2 the Gear 2 Cam… but I’m not in marketing so maybe that didn’t test well with focus groups. The third version is the Samsung Gear 2 Fit, which is a longer and skinner version, missing the camera and IR sensor.

Feature Samsung Gear 2 Samsung Gear 2 Neo Samsung Gear 2 Fit
Camera Yes No No
Screen 1.84-inch narrow 1.63-inch square 1.63-inch square
IR Sensor Yes Yes No

To start with, the Neo has a strange clipping mechanism on the strap. It just pushes in, and actually works quite well but took me a moment to work out due to requiring enough force to make me worried I was about to break something.

Once on my wrist, I found it to be very comfortable and sleek. It feels reasonably natural to wear, and the wrist strap doesn’t dig in. I was feeling good about this watch… until I turned it on.

There was a bit more of a process to get the watch up and running than I expected. On the Samsung Galaxy S5, I had to go into the Samsung Store (not the Google Play Store) to find the Gear Manager app. With all the pre-installed apps already from Samsung, it was a bit annoying to not find it already installed. I think this is because Samsung want to get you into their own App store to buy all the extra applications and watch faces, or I could just be a bit cynical.

Being a watch, I started by wanting to find the nicest watch face possible. The default was rather brightly coloured face, so I changed it to a much more sensible inbuilt time/date/applications display, with a very unexciting black background:

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I thought this looked rather smart. I played around with the apps for a bit, checked the weather and came to the realisation that battery life was still a big issue, which meant this smartwatch was a backwards step in telling time.

There’s the obvious annoyance of having to charge your watch every few days, rather than changing the batteries every few years (or never if you’ve got a fancy kinetic watch). Putting that aside, the usability of a smartwatch that’s trying really hard to preserve battery life is frustratingly annoying.

The watch display on the Gear 2 Neo is off by default. Completely black. When you make a motion with your arm to look at the time, it usually detects the movement and turns on the display for you. That’s great, but it takes half a second. If you have a normal watch, you’re used to a half second glance and you’re on your way. With this watch, you’re waiting that half a second that feels a lot longer for the display to light up. Sometimes it doesn’t even work, and you’ll have to press the button below the display with your other hand. You might as well have pulled your phone out of your pocket at this stage.

Your standard watch doesn’t have a pedometer. This smartwatch does, but you have to turn it on and off. It doesn’t just continually keep track. On the flip size, at night it will continually buzz or beep when anything happens on your phone such as a email or notification. This can be turned off by enabling sleep mode, but again this seemed to be a manual function. I had a brief look and couldn’t find a way to automate this (such as setting the times 10pm to 6am for sleep mode), which was another frustration.

To me, this is a watch that is the start of a good idea. Battery life needs to be improved vastly, and so does the flexibility around how you choose use the watch. I ended up concluding that this didn’t do as good of a job at being a watch as my analog watch, and until that’s fixed, the Samsung Gear 2 smart functions are icing on a stale cake.