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Samsung Gear 2 Neo review

When the first Samsung Gear came out it was hugely limited by the number of phones that it was supported on. Along comes the second generation of Gear the Gear 2. They eliminated the camera (on the Neo) and ditched the custom wrist band as well as increased the number of phones that supported it. When I bought the Sony Smart watch 2 I looked at the Neo but decided on the Sony instead. I had a chance to pickup the Gear 2 Neo for a reasonable price so I decided to give it a whirl. Comparisons with the Sony are inevitable so I won’t try and not do that. The Sony is definitely heavier, more square and more solidly built. The Neo is much more typical Samsung, plasticy. The screen on the Neo is much brighter and more vivid, but is harder to read in the sun. And thus the trade off. Both devices have one button on the front but they do different things. On both they wake up the screen, but on the Samsung a double tap launches a predetermined app (you choose). The screen on the Sony is always on in a dimmed state, and anytime there is any movement at all it comes on brighter. The Neo uses a light sensor as well as a motion sensor to determine when to turn the screen on. The Sony is on more consistently but in terms or waking up the Neo did a better job of detecting when I wanted to read the time.

In terms of base functionality on the watch (without the phone) the Neo has stopwatch, timer, pedometer, and a heart rate monitor (more in a bit on the heart rate monitor). Samsung forgot to include an alarm (really, that’s a pretty obvious one) as well as a calculator. Both can be added for free from the Samsung store. Once connected to the phone there are lots apps out there to add additional functionality. Including a watch faces, calendar apps, notifications apps and more. The Neo does a much better job of the box of being able to pass notifications than the Sony (out of the box). For the Sony I had to add secondary app called watchit to pass notifications from any app to the watch. This is the default (send all notifications to the watch) but you can customize it and turn off whatever notifications you don’t want. The vibrate on the Sony is noticeably stronger. Text messages can be replied to on the watch using canned responses but I don’t see a way to customize the canned responses. You can also click on a button on the watch and have the text message opened on the phone at that message. A nice touch. Other notifications can be clicked on and open the app that created the notification on the phone.

Once setup the watch can exist disconnected from the phone other than for apps that require the phone. A weakness of Sony’s original smart watch.

The app that you use to interface with the watch and get the pedometer, heart rate, exercise and sleep data off the phone is called S.Health. The Neo has been in the marketplace for months. The S4 is on the list of devices that supports the Neo. But until recently the S.Health app did not work at all with the gear. In fact I had this blog post all written up commenting about this issue and before I published bam up came an update to S.Health. It now supports the Neo on the S4. Better late than never I guess but this to me is typical of Samsung just not properly finishing things before they ship.

The Pedometer is an odd beast. It is an additional pedometer to the one on the phone. And they detect differently. So regularly the number of foot steps it records are different.

The sleep monitor once engaged tracks how long you sleep, as well as how motionless you were during your sleep. You can even see when you moved around. It also puts the Gear into what it calls blocking mode to insure the watch does not turn on and no notifications come through while your sleeping. Of course to use this you need to wear the watch. Thanks Captain Obvious 🙂 Oddly even in sleep mode the pedometer continues recording steps?

There is an exercise mode that allows you to track Running, Walking, Cycling and Hiking. Cycling and hiking interface through the Gear app with your phone to get your GPS location and track distance more accurately. Running/Walking end up only using your heart rate and can be used as a heart rate monitor, a function missing from the watch (the heart rate monitor app that comes with the watch gives you only your heart rate at that moment and stops). While in Walking/running the Gear records your heart rate, oddly when you use this function it does not automatically pause the pedometer? The sleep mode and exercise mode can not be used at the same time which I guess makes sense. But Samsung could have used the heart rate monitor with the sleep monitor to give you a better snapshot of how well you slept.

All this data can also be backed up to the Samsung cloud. As with past Samsung fitness apps there is no web portal for you to share or see the data off the phone. There’s also no Social network integration. Oddly there is a share icon on the watch that always seems to be greyed out. Another thing I guess Samsung didn’t bother finishing. And of course just to round out the unfinished thought there is also no export either. So at best a partially thought through app. I went out for a short walk with Endomondo to compare. Endomondo showed 670m. S.Health (this was wtih the older S.Health 2) showed 726 and the Gear showed 690. So S.health was off by 8.1% and the Gear a measly 3.7%. Impressive. Calorie wise S.health showed 29, and the gear 30. So pretty darn close. So all in all the Gear works well as a pedometer. And the pedometer works completely disconnected from the phone.

The watch has a Heart rate monitor but don’t get too excited. It’s a one time (rather than constant) HRM which you need to hold still for to get a reading as well as have the watch pretty tight. Even with that it’s only moderately accurate. Back on the exercise app for a minute, it then uses the heart rate monitor in continuous mode to create a calorie count. But this of course given there is no GPS (in Walk/Run mode) means it depends solely on the heart rate data to be accurate. So I went out for a little stroll. I used RunGPS along with a my Scosche Rythm+ heart rate monitor (which I’ve extensively tested it’s accuracy on) for comparison. In a short walk RunGPS recorded Max HR 110, avg 101.8 in 8.5 mins for a calorie count of 65. The Neo came in at Max heart rate of 179, avg 126 and an odd number of 25 calories? So to say the heart rate monitor is inaccurate is an understatement. Especially when moving around, but then again I’ve found wrist based ones for me anyway are just not accurate.

There’s an Endomondo app that integrates nicely with the Neo. There was one for the Sony as well, but the Neo one just seems a whole lot more polished. The Endomondo app integrates with the heart rate monitor on the Neo and is able to log heart rate data from the device. A nice touch. You can even start/stop etc Endomondo from your watch without ever taking your phone out.

The Neo is supported on a number of Samsung devices, but not all. And is not supported on Non-Samsung devices. My S4 works well with it, my Samsung Note 8 is not supported. So before you buy one be sure and check your device’s compatibility with it. I loaded the Neo up with my S4. Then used an app called File Expert to dump all the APKs that had anything to do with the Gear. Took them all over to the Note 8 and was able to get it working with the Note 8. So I thought I was off to the races. But Samsung even block you in the Samsung Marketplace for unsupported devices limiting your ability to use and customize the watch on unsupported devices. A really stupid and limiting move. Likely one of the reasons I suspect Neo’s are not getting far in the marketplace. Not to mention I can only imagine their return rate.
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Samsung really do expect you to get all of the apps for the Gear from the Samsung Apps marketplace. I tried a few from the Google Playstore but they really are no where near as smoothly loaded requiring a separate step. Samsung from their Gear app make it easy to add and delete apps from the watch.

Sony had a flexible and extensible way to make a watch face and for third parties to make widgets. It meant you had a ton of flexibility on your watch faces. Sadly no such beast exists on Samsung. There are set watch faces, and a good number of them (although a lot of them are not free) but there’s no ability for you to design your own. I found one called Styler that seemed like it would offer similar functionality and flexibility but it did not. Very few widgets. A nice start but way off the mark. No weather widgets etc.

You can store pictures and music on the 4G storage of the Gear. According to the gear you are suppose to be able to send them using Gear manager. I couldn’t get it to work (wirelessly). I read you can do it by plugging it into USB. There is an app you can add called TransGear (for free) that adds the ability to send them wirelessly over bluetooth. No idea why Samsung didn’t include this. Another unfinished gap. Music put on the watch can be played on the watch. Not that I can think of a purpose to that. There’s no headset or bluetooth support so your listening to it off the watch? Sure let’s do that.

The Neo actually does have a speaker (the Sony did not) and it can be used for notifications. Notifications can be be sound, vibrate, but oddly not sound and vibrate. An odd miss … Their own phones have this combination. When a call comes in if you take the call from the watch the watch speaker and mic are used and you can talk to your watch. Think Dick Tracey. Of course this is not the most privat thing to be doing but it does work.

The Sony had an excellent design in that it took a standard micro-USB charger right on the watch. This meant that you could charge it anywhere. Sadly the Neo does not. You need a proprietary dock that snaps on the back of the watch then you plug in a standard micro USB charger. Fortunately these docks are readily available and cheap on ebay so you can keep a few around.

Battery life on the watch is pretty important. On the Sony I found 2-3 days pretty typical. Which for me was acceptable. The Neo is very similar. And luckily unlike the Sony the Neo tells you the current state of charge in detail on the settings screen. On day one I ran both watches and after 12 hours the Sony was 82% and the Neo was 71%. And in all honesty I used the Neo to do a few more things so in the end the battery life on the Neo in spite of having a much brighter screen was similar. A nice surprise! I expected the Neo to be much worse, it isn’t. At 15% (which was 2.5 days for me) the Neo turned bluetooth off to preserve battery life. A nice choice. Recharging the battery is not a quick feat. It took 2 hours to go from 15% to 100% using the stock charger. About twice as much as the Sony :(. Disconnected from the phone and the battery life is about 4-5 days.

Like the Sony, Samsung do not allow you to see the status of the watch from the phone (eg battery life or memory etc).

Like the Sony the way to move the watch between two devices is a simple reset of the device. It takes about 5 minutes to complete. Of couse all that exercise, pedometer, sleep data etc are all lost.

At this point there are now four generations of smart watch from Samsung. The original Gear, the Neo (and Gear 2), the Gear live and the Gear S. Samsung have waffled on the tech running the watch. This means apps written for one device do not support the others. This is a huge disadvantage for Samsung (compared to Sony). Google have now come out with a standard set of APIs to allow hardware and software vendors for smart watches to have a more common look and feel as well as broader support. The Samsung Gear Live and Gear S are that generation. At this point the Neo (as well as the original Gear) would be considered obsolete, orphans (as is the Sony by the way), Google has set the direction. So going forward this watch is unlikely to see a whole lot of support. This is important to note. From an app point of view I have loaded a calculator, an alarm, Endomondo, transgear, Starlight (flashlight), and DMA Navi watch. The last one allows Google Maps directions to show on the watch. Very handy when walking. And of course a number of custom watch faces. My point is there is not a lot out there for the Gear 2.

I have to say, I quite like the Gear 2 Neo. And I would even go so far as to say I like it better than the Sony Smartwatch 2. Mostly because of the brighter more vivid screen. But the Sony has more of a hacker feel to the software and what you can do with it. While the Samsung has more of a polished feel (outside of the late to the game S.Health app). The limited device support of the Neo may in fact mean you as a user have little to no choice on which watch you can use. But all that said, given the Gear Live is here and has a future, I’m not sure I can recommend the Neo. Right now reports are that the Gear live barely gets a day of battery life which is totally unacceptable. This segment of the market is moving fast. On the positive side the Gear 2 Neo can be picked up pretty inexpensively so it’s not a lot you are investing. As with the Sony, the most disappointing thing about this watch is all the things it could be that will never be developed. It has a ton of unrealized potential. Simple things like a constant heart rate monitor. Or a simple compass (even if it has to pull it from the phone). And so much more. But it is what it is. Set your expectations. First and foremost it’s a watch. Second it acts as a secondary notification device to insure you don’t miss stuff. And lastly there are a few apps you can use on the watch like the built in pedometer. If you have realistic expectations you won’t be disappointed. I look forward to seeing where this market segment goes next. The Moto360 is already out there and is round. Now it looks more like a watch, but most of the things you want on the display messages, weather info etc all suit a square device better anyway so I am not convinced that round is the way to go. Time will tell … pun intended 🙂

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And here is the Sony for your reference:
$_35

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November 21, 2014 - Posted by | Android

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