Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Galaxy Gear S2 3G: Samsung reinvigorates the wristwatch

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Since the industry seems to agree that two weeks is make-or-break time for a wearable device, I decided that I would give the new $300 Samsung Galaxy Gear S2 3G a full fortnight of use before I decided if it was: money well spent; a toy I would keep; or a product that was going back to AT&T.
So after just over two weeks of everyday use, here we are.
Let me first say that unlike coverage we will see from our esteemedMatthew Miller, I'm not looking to determine where the G2 S3 fits in the pantheon of mobile devices. I'm not the hard core mobile addict that he is, despite never leaving home without two mobile phones. For me that's a function of separating my work and personal lives, something that can be difficult to do when you are self-employed. And my decision to purchase the latest wearable technology simply coincided with a personal interest: I like wristwatches.
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Citizen
To a degree, I believe that wristwatches are a generation-defining thing: To those of us well into middle age, a wristwatch is an item of attire, something that is worn daily with little thought unless one is an aficionado of time pieces. To more recent generations, the wristwatch is an affectation, because everyone knows that you can tell the time by looking at your phone. To me, well, every few years I buy a new mid-range watch. I'm not looking for Rolex, Brietling, or Tag Heuer; I buy a watch that catches my interest for something different, at a moderate ($500 or so) price point. While I've bought other watches, for most of the last decade, my go-to timepiece has been the Citizen AV0021-52H, a solar powered chronograph with titanium case and band.
A large, easy-to-read face, accurate timekeeping, and a built-in alarm, combined with excellent durability and light weight, have kept me coming back to this timepiece. But the G2 S3 may well push this watch off the top of the hill.
For those of you who think I should be using the Apple Watch or the Moto 360 or one of the other Android-based devices, I freely admit to being a Samsung phone user for the last few generations, after giving up on the iPhone. One of the major attractions to the Gear S2 was the advertised easy integration with the phone I would be pairing with it, a Samsung Galaxy s6 edge+. And since I was interested in the Gear S2 3G, which includes cellular connectivity and telephony, my AT&T rep talking about the upcoming NumberSync feature also caught my attention.

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With NumberSync, my primary phone number will be available from any supported device -- which includes the Gear 2 3G. This basically means that even if I don't have my phone with me, as long as I have my watch, (which has its own phone number and eSIM) I will be able to text and call as if I was using that phone. That being said, for me, the bottom line was going to be "does the Gear S2 G3 add value over my traditional wristwatch?"
(If you're looking for a detailed technical review of the watch, check with Mr. Miller here or our compatriots at CNET.)
Being a bit of a gadget geek, I admit that I at first succumbed to the bane of all smart devices; the "let's see what apps we can download" fallacy. While there are far fewer Tizen specific apps than Android apps, I did download a bunch of the news apps as well as navigation, music, and a few others. I also looked through the extensive collection of installable watch faces, downloading a few, and customizing some of the standard ones. A short time with the Tizen software and the rotating watch bezel interface was all that was necessary to master navigation through the UI and to feel comfortable with the circular aspect of the hardware and software.
Keep in mind, however, that the Gear S2 3G is not the same as the basic Gear 2. It has its own GPS and its own cellular connectivity, which means it doesn't require you to have your cell phone in hand as well to make use of all its features. It does have microphone and speakerphone capabilities, and in my experience, does not have the voice recognition issues that some reviewers have been complaining about.
I shortly realized that what I was looking for was not to let the watch change the way I worked but rather to see if it could actually enhance my life. And with that approach in mind I've found, after two weeks, that the Gear S2 3G is definitely a keeper.
First, it's a nice watch. While I would have preferred the Classic model because of its looks and the fact it uses standard 20mm watchbands, the 3G version is not available in Classic. I've managed to get past the feeling I'm wearing an updated 1980's Swatch, and while I'm looking forward to replacing the band with one of the third party bands that have been announced but are not yet available, the grey plastic has grown on me.
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The ability to select and customize the watch face also allowed me to go through a number of different appearances and eventually led me to purchasing a design that I've now had in place for the last week, the Excalibur from Mordred. It's an attractive, clean design that also incorporates day, date, and remaining power displays in a classic, easy-to-read screen.
Second, it has greatly simplified my process in dealing with emails when not at my desk. I get a lot of business-related email, from clients, vendors, and PR people. And being self-employed with those clients in time zones from California to the UK means that I get a lot of email starting about 4 AM and running through 10 PM. My work ethic is that I check my email regularly to make sure I'm not missing anything critical.
In the past that has meant that I pull out my phone, unlock it, drag down the notification menu and then open the appropriate email app if there is more than one waiting, which is usually the case. With the 3G, which I've configured to notify for my primary email accounts, I get an audible or vibration notification, glance at my wrist, and know immediately if I need take further action. This may not sound significant, but even my family noticed that my phone was staying in my pocket and no longer sitting on the dining room table or in my hand, something that happened much too often.
Additionally, that quick glance reduced my temptation to pull my phone out while stopped at a traffic light to determine who was emailing me. And with my hands on the steering wheel the notifications appear in my line of sight while driving normally, which I feel is an enhancement of the way my Bluetooth enabled car handles text messages, for example, which involves a notification and the need to tap a virtual button on a screen in the center of the dash.
Replying to text messages has also become much simpler, since I can quickly read them on the watch, then respond using the text-to-voice functionality. My phone stays in my pocket.
I've had no connectivity issues when moving in or out of Bluetooth range of my primary phone, with the Gear properly disconnecting and reconnecting when it discovered the phone was in range. Twenty-hour days have not been a problem; I drop the Gear in its charging cradle before bed, which, granted, is a learned behavior and one that I had to work on, and it is ready to go when I awake. From zero percent to fully charged took two hours in the cradle, a more than acceptable rate. Additional cradles are expensive, at $50, and availability is spotty, but I plan to pick up a second one for travel or to leave on my desk.
Samsung has been aggressive with software updates as well. There have been no fewer than two for the phone side Gear management application and the first major watch update, which includes additional features, bug fixes, and performance improvements, is in the process of rolling out now. Also note that for full functionality AT&T requires that the watch be added to one of their mobile data plans at a cost of $10 per month. When NumberSync becomes available that additional capability will come at no additional charge.