25 February 2014

Samsung unveils trio of Gear 2, Gear 2 Neo, and Gear Fit smartwatches – none run Android

Samsung smartwatches: Gear 2, Gear 2 Neo, and Gear Fit
Doubling down is so 2013: at its Unpacked event in Barcelona, Samsung has tripled down on smartwatches, unveiling the Gear 2, Gear 2 Neo, and Gear Fit. There’s no “Galaxy” in their names because they don’t run Android; the first two run Tizen (and are therefore the world’s first commercial Tizen devices), and the Fit runs Samsung’s proprietary RTOS (real-time OS). Samsung says all three watches will last up to three days between charges a massive improvement over the original Gear’s 24-hour battery life.

The Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo leaked out a few days ago. They’re similar to the original Gear, but the strap is now replaceable, and as a result they feel a lot less bulky. The Gear 2 Neo lacks a camera, but is otherwise very similar to the Gear 2. Despite the shift to Tizen, the Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo still look and feel like the original Gear, with the same 1.63-inch 320×320 Super AMOLED screen. Samsung says there will be third-party apps, but there weren’t any loaded onto our demo devices. In terms of new functionality, you get a heart rate sensor on the back, which is in constant contact with your skin, and regularly feeds data back to built-in mobile health app. The fact that both the Galaxy S5 and the Gear smartwatches have a heart rate sensor built in would imply that Samsung is trying to reduce the interdependence that we saw with the S4, Note, and the original Galaxy Gear.

Samsung Gear 2 and Gear Fit

The Gear Fit is a big departure from the original Gear. As you can see in the photos, the Fit is wider and thinner, and also slightly curved. As the name implies, this smartwatch is all about fitness and activity. The heart rate sensor on the back will keep track of your pulse while you exercise, and tell you whether you need to speed up or slow down to maintain the desired rate. The display is a 1.84-inch 432×138 Super AMOLED unit, which can display notifications from your smartphone (via Bluetooth 4.0) but unlike the Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo, there’s no microphone on the Fit. In terms of sensors, there’s a gyro, accelerometer, and the heart rate sensor and that’s it. It is probably more of a digital watch for people with an active lifestyle, rather than a bona fide smartwatch. The long, thin, sleek look of the Gear Fit will probably be seen as a good thing, too the squareish, bulky smartwatches are still quite a hard sell, if you’re somewhat fashion conscious.

Samsung Gear smartwatch straps

The new Gear smartwatches have replaceable straps: cue a range of (stylish?) replacement straps.

The big story here (well, big in the nascent and still unproven field of smartwatches) is that Samsung has moved away from Android. This was almost certainly to boost the battery life of all three devices (which all now last 3-4 days, rather than the Gear’s 1-2 days). The Fit uses Samsung’s RTOS, which is probably based on or derived from the Nucleus RTOS (which is basically a very light real-time OS that is suited to low-power embedded devices). The Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo are the first commercially shipping devices to run Tizen.

Strangely, I was at Tizen’s MWC event yesterday, and they had absolutely no information at all about the Tizen implementation on Samsung’s smartwatches. The Tizen guys had no idea whether existing Tizen apps would run on the smartwatches, or if they’d have to be ported or modified. There’s clearly something odd going on, but we haven’t quite worked it out yet.

And now, time to watch the rest of Samsung’s rather theatrical Unpacked 5 event. We’ll be back later with some more hands-on coverage of the Gear smartwatches and Galaxy S5 smartphone.


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