Technology firms have been trying to persuade us we need smartwatches for quite some time. However, a number of niggling flaws in past smartwatches – including their need to be tethered to a smartphone to work and woefully small displays – have stopped many people, including us here at V3, from getting excited about them.
Samsung claims to have gone back to the drawing board to design its Gear S smartwatch, and has worked to fix all our past qualms and finally offer users the wearable wrist companion they've been waiting for.
Design and build
The Gear S's curved screen and metallic design features make it look about as slick as a smartwatch can be.
As well as making the wearable look slick, the curved chassis also makes the device feel significantly more comfortable to wear than many of the other smartwatches we've experienced, for example the LG G Watch, which has a flat back.
The one potential design flaw we noticed is that, like most smartwatches, the Gear S is noticeably larger than most regular watches. We're used to wearing big watches, so we found the 40x58x12.5mm Gear S' dimensions weren't too much of an issue, but people used to regularly sized watches may find it slightly cumbersome.
Despite being large the Gear S is fairly well built regarding its specs, and it meets IP67 certification standards. This means the Gear S should be dust and water resistant and should be able to survive submersions in up to one metre of water for 30 minutes.
Sadly the Samsung spokesperson on hand at the event declined our request to test the Gear S's water resiliency and all but tore it off our wrist when asked we if we could pour our bottle of water over it.
During our hands on we found the Gear S's 2in, 360x480 pixels, 300ppi Super Amoled capacitive touchscreen was one of the best we'd ever seen on a smartwatch. Using Samsung's Super Amoled screen tech, colours on the Gear S display were wonderfully vibrant and it was brilliantly bright. We'll be interested to see if our positive impressions remain when we test the Gear S in more adverse lighting conditions, such as direct sunlight, which has rendered all past smartwatches close to unusable.
Unlike most 2014 smartwatches the Gear S runs using Samsung's own Tizen operating system, not Google's newly launched Android Wear. Scrolling through various menus we found Tizen offers a significantly different user experience to Android Wear and has a completely different menu and application system.
Unlike Android Wear, Tizen's user interface (UI) requires you to swipe left or right to switch between applications and services. Google's OS by comparison requires you to scoll up and down. Tizen applications' individual interfaces are also far more varied than those seen on Android Wear, which have a uniform card-like design similar to that seen on Google Now.
For example, moving from a weather app, which featured a familiar UI to Android's to a Tizen news aggregator we were met with a completely different tiled design reminiscent of HTC's BlinkFeed that had its own set of shortcuts and colour palette.
While we initially found the experience a little jarring and disjointed, we soon became accustomed and began to notice a number of positive points about Tizen.
For one, many of the apps we used had noticeably more advanced functionality than their Android Wear equivalents. For example, entering the calendar app, we could not only see incoming notifications, but we could also tweak or create new ones directly from the Gear S, which we couldn't do on Android Wear smartwatches.
Productivity perks are aided by the fact it has standalone 3G and WiFi connectivity. This means, after requiring you to pair the smartwatch with a smartphone on setup, the Gear S can function independently and doesn't require a constant Bluetooth connection to an Android handset.
The Gear S is powered by an unspecified dual-core 1GHz processor and 512MB of RAM. While we found these features were more than good enough in past smartwatches, during our hands on we noticed the Gear S did occasionally chug and stutter.
For example, going through the news feed on an aggregator app, the Gear S occasionally stalled for a fraction of a second when we tried to scroll up or down. Though being fair to Samsung, the Gear S we tried was a pre-production model and this issue could equally be due to poor coding on the app itself and in general the Gear S performed very well during our hands on.
Battery power is a constant issue on all the smartwatches we've encountered, with most barely lasting a full day's use before needing a top-up charge. Sadly we didn't get a chance to test the Gear S battery life. However, if Samsung's claim the Gear S 300mAh battery will offer users "two full days of typical usage", it will be above average for a smartwatch.
While the Gear S doesn't follow the common path of most manufacturers and uses Samsung's Tizen OS, as opposed to the increasingly common Android Wear, it did impress us.
Featuring a curved design that makes the Gear S look nice and feel comfortable on your wrist, a sizable 2in display and standalone 3G connectivity, there is plenty to like about Samsung's latest smartwatch.
Hopefully the minor performance issues we noticed during our hands on will have disappeared by the time the Gear S arrives in the UK later this year, and tech aficionados across the globe will finally have the smart smartwatch they've been waiting for.
Check back with V3 later for a full review of the Samsung Gear S.
By V3's Alastair Stevenson
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