Samsung Gear S 00 640x427Wearables are the hot trend right now and 2014 will certainly be the year of the smartwatch at IFA  Samsung has already released an impressive number of Smartwatches in the past year, the original Samsung Gear was announced at IFA 2013, then we saw the Tizen-operated Gear 2, Gear 2 Neo and GearFit at Mobile World Congress and most recently, we reviewed the Samsung Gear Live that runs Android Wear right after Goolge I/O.

Today, Samsung launched its new Tizen Smartwatch, a.k.a. the Gear S and I have to admit, I was quite impressed by the improvements on both the design and the hardware sides.

Some people would say that the Gear S looks quite similar to the rest of the Gear family, however, I see it as quite different, most importantly, its large band combined with the curved display makes it in a sense a more ‘feminine” device, specifically the white version. The black version remains very “masculine” even more so when a sporty watch face is selected. Although I am not a big fan of strict gender codes, they are still quite important in the fashion world, and I am particularly happy to see that Samsung managed to deliver for both genders in a unique device.

Samsung is expected to roll out the Gear S in October and we expect the price to be announced during the press conference today. (Stay tuned for this article update)

Specifications

  • Product size 39.8 x 58.3 x 12.5 mm (1.57 x 2.30 x 0.49 in)
  • Product weight
  • Display Type  Super AMOLED capacitive touchscreen
  • Resolution 360 x 480 pixels, (300 ppi)
  • Diagonal 2.0 inches
  • Processor Dual-core 1 GHz Snapdragon 8226
  • OS Tizen
  • Camera No
  • Connectivity 3G, WiFi, Bluetooth 4.1
  • Internal storage 4GB
  • RAM 0.5 GB
  • Battery Capacity 300mAh
  • Sensors: Accelerometer, gyro, proximity, compass, heart rate, barometer, UV light
  • GPS yes

What’s new?

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3G Connectivity

First, of all the main difference with the rest of the lineup is the 3G connectivity that turns the Gear S into a standalone device which, among other things, is able to take calls without the need to be connected to the Smartphone. In the photo gallery you can notice the SIM card holder on the back of the device.

Processor

The processor is a dual-core 1 GHz Snapdragon 400 (8226).

No Camera

Unlike the Gear 2 and like the Gear Live, there is no camera on board.

Additional sensors: GPS, Barometer, light sensor, UV sensor and improved Heart Rate monitor

The whole wearable “revolution” started with the term “Quantify Self” coined by Wired Editors Gary Wolf and Kevin Kelly in 2007. Now it is you and your environment, and the sensor arms race is on. As we discussed in a recent panel at wearable world, the future of wearable will be new user experiences where information and tangible actions will be triggered by the environment itself.

So now we are at the stage where we need to pack the beast with tons of sensors, and Samsung did a quite good job at that: you can track your runs and hikes more accurately thanks to the GPS while you will know how much UV you were exposed to and how the atmosphere is like with the barometer. The heart rate monitor has been improved which is great news for a device primarily dedicated to self-quantification.

New design

The Gear S gets a curved display probably inspired by the success of the Gear Fit, with a slightly larger size than previous models. The flexible plastic band is larger and retain the Gear 2 lock system which I found easier to use than the one on the Gear Live. Additionally and counter-intuitively, this large band can make it look like a real fashion accessory for women.

Virtual keyboard

It is always easier to use the voice dictation to write and send messages from a watch, however, Samsung dare to add a virtual keyboard in the messaging and email apps, which is quite bold on such tiny device.

Industrial Design

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I have always been a fan of the Samsung Gear lineup industrial design, probably for the quality of the display, the use of elegant metallic frames. The looks is not all and the major downside of the gear family is its lack of comfort compared to other less good looking smartwatches. The flexible band is key in offering more comfort, and its larger size makes it more fashionable in a sense.

The home button is located on the front below the display and on both sides you can see the light sensor on the left and the UV sensor on the right. The charging pins are placed on the back with the heart monitor and the speaker. The microphone is on the side.

Display

The 2.0-inch curved Super AMOLED display is gorgeous and deliver a great image quality. The 360×480 resolution is slightly higher than the Gear live which features a 1.63-inch 320×320 display.

User Interface & software

The user interface is a little more complex than the one you will find in Android Wear, however, it offers much more features right from the first level of interaction, which avoids too much scrolling.

The user interface takes advantage of 4 directions swiping

1) Swipe toward the left

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Swiping toward the left gives access to the Samsung action widget with remote control functions to play music on an external device, and the Health widget on the second screen.

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Health Widget with improved heart rate monitoring

The heart rate monitor and the UV monitor are accessible from there, alongside the sleep monitor, the step activity tracker and the runs tracker. (See photo below)

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I was also very happy to hear Samsung confirmed that the heart rate monitor has been improved for the model in the Gear Live. The manufacturer selected a sensor with a stronger light which allows for a higher sensitivity for pulse detection through the skin. I had a hard time making the Gear Live heart monitor work from my wrist, it worked better on the other side of my arm, and a few times I had to use the tip of my finger to get a result. When I tried the heart rate monitor several times during the briefing it worked perfectly each time. (See photos)

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2) Swipe toward the right

Swiping toward the right gives access to the list of notifications sorted by applications, which I found more convenient (and less aesthetically pleasing) than the constant scrolling you need to perform on Android Wear to get to each application notification. Once you tap on the message menu for example, you can see the list of notifications from this application.

3) Swipe up

The swipe up gives access to the applications menu, from there you can easily select an application. The applications primarily accessible are the phone, the contacts, the messages, the emails the calendar and the settings.

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4) Swipe down

The swipe down is the equivalent of the back button.

Software and application highlights

Nike+ application

I was able to briefly flip through the beautiful user interface of the Nike app, although it was not really making any sense to try it without running (see the video).

Message application with virtual keyboard

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Samsung took a bold bet by introducing a virtual keyboard on a tiny touch screen. From there you can access the voice dictation by pressing on the microphone icon located on the space bar. The keys work well and it is good to have small fingers like mines to type on the Gear S.

I did not really have the time to explore more the applications, I may be able to do that later during IFA, stay tuned.

Conclusion

The Smartwatch battle is raging and Samsung is certainly among the leaders, the Gear S is a quite improved model in the Gear lineup, both design-wise and hardware-wise.

The manufacturer has surely learned from the numerous wearables it has launched in less than a year, improving key features such as the heart rate monitor and the ergonomics with a flexible band and a curved display that perfectly matches the human body.

The first standalone smartwatch on the “Gear” line with 3G connectivity, the Gear S is packed with sensors and offers unique features such as a virtual keyboard and UV monitoring. We know that the user retention rate of wearable devices is quite low, so there is a need to try more things to see which features do bring real added-value to people’s daily lives.

Filed in Cellphones >Reviews. Read more about , , Samsung, smartwatch and Wearable Tech.

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