Hands-on with the Samsung Gear S2 smartwatch: Can this really be my perfect smartwatch?

In my quest for the perfect smartwatch, the Samsung Gear S2 is the stand-out candidate that may just earn that title. It's too early to decide as the battery is not yet performing as promised, but everything else is compelling so far.

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I'm a huge fan of wearables, but continue to search out for the one device that can do it all. I have found great products for specific functions, such as the Polar V800 for running, Apple Watch for calls, apps, and motivating me to move, and the Pebble Time for providing great notification triage for about a week between charges.

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I read reviews of the Samsung Gear S2, such as the one by CNET, and thought it looked like a great smartwatch candidate. However, the base model doesn't include GPS so it can't serve as my running watch. I then saw the new Gear S2 3G appear on T-Mobile and bought one this past weekend since it ticked off all the boxes and has the chance to be my perfect smartwatch, activity tracker, and GPS running watch.

For my personal needs, I want a watch that lets me go on runs and tracks my route via GPS, lets me play music to my Bluetooth waterproof earbuds, has cellular service so I can signal my family if I go down or have a safety issue, provide decent notification triage, track the other 23 hours of my day, last at least a full day, and look good on my wrist. No single wearable has yet met these criteria, but the Samsung Gear S2 looks like it may just be the one.

I just read ZDNet's David Chernicoff's excellent post on his experiences using the Gear S2 3G for the past two weeks and was very encouraged to see his long battery life and read about the upcoming NumberSync functionality.

Retail packaging

I picked up the Gear S2 3G in dark gray from my local T-Mobile store as the online store was backordered at least a week. It is available for $359.99 and has a $5/month service fee for 500MB of data, unlimited calls, and unlimited text messages. It's actually $15/month, but if you have qualifying wireless service then you will see a $10 credit appear each month.

The Gear S2 3G comes in a round white box, reminiscient of the Moto 360. You will find an A/C adapter, USB cable, extra smaller watch band, and a wireless cradle in the package. The wireless cradle again reminds me of the Moto 360 since the watch sits up in a near vertical position with the two physical buttons facing upwards. I read that it's a Qi charging cradle, but did not have success charging the watch with any of my other Qi chargers. Wireless charging is very nice and the cradle works well on the nightstand.

Hardware

I touched the Samsung Gear S2 in the store before I purchased it and was very impressed with the fit and finish of the watch and subtle watch band. I thought I would prefer the Gear S2 Classic looks, but with my desire for a watch to run with the leather is not a good option.

The Gear S2 3G is made of metal with matte finish silicone bands. The S2 3G is a bit thick at 13.4mm with a weight of 51 grams. This is a couple mm thicker and includes a 300 mAh battery, compared to a 250 mAh capacity on the non-3G model.

It looks classy and feels premium so I have no complaints on the form and design. The display looks great, which is no surprise given it's a Samsung product. The display is round measuring 1.2 inches in diameter and consists of AMOLED screen with 360 x 360 pixels resolution.

There are two buttons on one side of the Gear S2 3G. The top button serves as a back button while the bottom button is a home button. The bezel also rotates 360 degrees to help you scroll through the UI and through lists. You can also navigate via the touch screen, but the rotating bezel is slick. It's a different feature than we have seen on other smartwatches and so far I am thoroughly enjoying it.

There is a heart rate sensor on the back of the Gear S2 as well and so far it seems to be tracking my heart rate fairly accurately.

Software

The Gear S2 3G runs the Tizen operating system and to be honest I really don't care what OS a smartwatch runs as long as it provides the features and apps I want to use on the small screen. I have 20 apps installed on the Gear S2 at this time and haven't found anything missing so far.

I am enjoying the Buddy app that lets you easily call or text your favorites, the S Health app that activates walking mode tracking automatically while I walk the mile to and from the train to the office, the calendar that gives me a quick view of what is planned for my day, the cool weather app that shows me what to expect outside, and the handy water and coffee tracker in S Health.

It was easy to find apps on my Galaxy Note 5 and sync them to the Gear S2 via the Gear Manager utility. There is a ton of settings in the Gear Manager app and on the Gear S2 and I plan to go through all of them over the next week.

The UI is optimized for the watch and so far has performed flawlessly. I love that the watch can stand alone without my phone too and plan to test this out much more over the next several days.First couple of days

It's clear already to me that the Samsung Gear S2 is the best Samsung smartwatch to date. However, if I can't get the battery to last me more than the 10-11 hours it is so far, then it's worthless to me. I have the screen brightness set to a very low 3 level so the display shouldn't be killing the battery. I also had my Galaxy Note 5 paired to the Gear S2 90 percent of the time so far so the cellular connectivity shouldn't be killing the battery either.

Every review of the non-3G version praises the two to three day battery life so I am hoping this is just associated with the break-in period. If not, maybe there is a defect in my S2 as it should be able to get through at least one full day.

I'm thrilled with the Tizen OS and functionality provided by the Gear S2 3G so far and cannot wait to take it out for a run where I will really put it to the test. The OS is smartly designed with notification appearing to the "left" of the watch face and apps to the "right". You can swipe down to access some quick settings such as brightness, vibrate/ring, and more.

There are a ton of available watchfaces and an easy tool in the Gear Manager app to customize them to your preference.

You can take screenshots and easily send them to your phone (just check out my image gallery), you can navigate to destinations right from your watch using GPS, you can call and text people with your voice, and so much more with the Gear S2.

Testing plans over the next week

I've only spent a couple of days with the Gear S2 3G so far and have a lot more to test before I hit the 14-day expiration of the return period. I would likely not even consider the return period after even my limited experiences, but the extremely short battery life seriously concerns me.

Here is what else I plan to test. Please let me know in the comments if there are other things you would like to see me cover in my full review next week.

  • Cellular service as a stand-alone smartwatch
  • Bluetooth headset performance
  • Run tracking performance with Nike+ and the ability to export that data to RunKeeper
  • 3rd party applications
  • Can I create a memo while running? I often have good ideas when I run and would love to record them
  • S Voice performance
  • Daily activity tracking
  • Sleep tracking
  • Can I play music via a streaming service via the T-Mobile service on the watch? If so, which ones?