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Want a smartwatch with longer battery life? Check out the Samsung Gear 2 Neo ($199, Amazon) – little brother of the Samsung Gear 2. It offers most of the features of the Gear 2, minus the camera and smartphone independent data capabilities. As opposed to the $199 Samsung Gear Live or LG G Watch (our review) and the $250 Moto 360 (our review), the $199 Samsung Gear 2 Neo runs the Tizen operating system, instead of Android Wear.
Tizen offers a number of advantages over Android Wear (read about the various smartwatch operating systems), but does not employ any kind of touchless voice-activation. While some apps don’t use the touchless controls anyway, the majority of wearables consumers would find this omission a deal-breaker. That said, for those seeking to get started with a smartwatch, the Gear 2 Neo offers a potential alternative to the now dominant Android Wear.
The external appearance of the Neo reflects the – now standard – Samsung design philosophy: The watchband comes in black plastic, textured with cross-hatching. The rectangular screen emanates a svelte design, sporting rubber, rounded edges. A gray, brushed bezel surrounds the AMOLED screen, accenting the black with a subtle metallic sheen. Don’t let appearances fool you – the Neo’s construction features very little metal.
The watchband’s clasp sizes onto the wrist better than devices from either LG or Motorola. The Neo’s adjustable strap, once fitted, clips onto the arm without any additional adjustments. Unlike the Moto 360 or G Watch, the Neo takes less time to adjust, and the fit feels more snug and comfortable. Also, the plastic strap gives it far greater water resistance than the leather band, used in the 360.
The aesthetic design makes the Samsung Gear 2 Neo a near dead-ringer for the Samsung Gear 2. And it only differs from the Samsung Gear Live in its all-plastic construction.
The Gear 2 Neo runs on much lower specced hardware than its Android Wear competitors. It lacks gesture-activated voice activation and all its software features require manual activation.
Samsung remains among the most vertically integrated of all modern corporations – almost every component of a Samsung smartwatch originates with Samsung. To my knowledge, no other electronics company can match this degree vertical integration. With its powerful hardware-design firepower, I’d expect the Neo to offer more polished features than it actually does:
Features and Specifications
- IR Blaster
- Sleep tracking
- 310 mAh Li-Ion battery
- 1.63-inch AMOLED display
- Exyno 3250, dual-core processor clocked at 1 GHz
- Bluetooth 4.0
- IP67 dust and water resistance
Samsung leverages its AMOLED screen technology with its Cortex-M4 Exynos 3250 – the same chipset in the Samsung Gear 2. The term “chipset” or “system-on-a-chip” (SoC) refers to the merging of multiple processors (and other components) onto a single chip. SoCs often require less power than when the individual components existed separately on the same printed circuit board.
The Exynos 3250 possesses two dual-core CPUs – clocked at 1 GHz each. Cortex-M4 cores do not compare on a clock-per-clock basis to Cortex-A cores. Neither does the internal graphics processor. Even so, the 3250 runs Tizen in a fluid, seamless fashion. At no point will users complain about performance.
- Samsung Gear 2 Neo
- MicroUSB cable
- Proprietary charging cradle
- Instruction manual
- Warranty manual
Making Use of the Samsung Gear 2 Neo
The Gear 2 Neo doesn’t require much effort to set up or operate. I’ll try to cover some of its major features, including its battery life, performance and operation.
Simply swing your arm up to view the screen and the accelerometer inside the device lights the screen. Unlike Android Wear devices, you can’t issue voice-commands automatically. Once the gorgeous AMOLED screen lights up, you can then manually activate apps, turn on sensors and adjust settings. Some of the apps and settings include:
- Sleep detection: This feature tracks how long the user slept and how long they remained motionless. It falls vastly short of the high-water mark left by the Basis B1 Health Tracker (our review of the Basis B1).
- Pedometer: This feature is the only always-on sensor of the Gear 2 Neo. It’s extremely accurate (like all pedometers) and seems to drain very little.
- Voice recognition: The Neo includes weak support — in the shape of the S-Voice app — for voice recognition. It offers few commands, relative to Google Now. Overall, it’s less impressive than the voice recognition support offered by competitors in accuracy and flexibility.
- Locate my device: By activating this, your phone begins ringing. It’s useful and efficient.
- Brightness control: The AMOLED screen – on the second setting – offers complete visibility in even bright light. It’s also even possible to switch on outdoor mode, which maxes out the AMOLED screen’s light emissions.
- Infrared Remote: Users can control their televisions/set-top-boxes using the WatchON [Broken URL Removed] app. The app offers additional controls for SmartTVs by Samsung. For non-Samsung TVs/set-tops, users can only access basic functions.
The button button doubles as both a home-screen menu and as a power-on/off switch. Users just need to hold the button down to power-on or off the device. A single press returns the user to the home screen.
The Neo’s battery life trounces its competitors. Users can expect around three to four days of uptime with light use. To achieve this degree of battery life, however, Samsung streamlined the Gear 2 Neo’s design. Three key features enable the long battery life: a low-drain Cortex-M4 chipset; an AMOLED screen; and manual activation of its sensor suite. Together, these features make the 310 mAh battery last a very long time.
Heavy users – who constantly use high-drain features – will find themselves getting two days of battery life out of the device. The sleep feature alone drains 25 percent overnight. The other features seem to consume significantly less power.
As a side-note, Samsung sacrificed graphics and automated exercise detection for better battery life. I expect wearable tech to provide both a seamless means of accessing the device’s internal features and killer battery life. Unfortunately, wearable tech at present only offers one or the other; the Samsung Gear 2 Neo being offering the latter.
A flick of the wrist should give users access to all of the smartwatch’s features. As it stands, the Gear 2 Neo requires an annoying amount of manual interaction. Users will find that the Neo complicates smartphone interaction, rather than simplifying it.
The Neo runs fast and fluid. Swiping from menu to menu feels snappy and – despite its text interface – looks great on Samsung AMOLED screen. While Tizen doesn’t offer the visual splendor of Android Wear, its own distinct visual architecture achieves both beauty and minimalism – Google could learn a thing or two from Samsung.
Like all Android Wear and Tizen heart sensors, the Neo requires manual activation. In this regard, it falls short of the automagic of the Basis B1 Health Tracker. As a health-tracking device, it’s practically useless. Users must turn the app on – which requires stumbling through a handful of menus and sub-menus. They also must remember to turn it off. And – worst of all – it doesn’t track heart-rate when active. Even the slightest amount of physical exertion gums up the heart-rate sensor.
Samsung hasn’t revealed what sensor it uses, although I have rarely heard of Samsung paying licensing patents for tech they already developed internally. The mobility restriction on heart-rate sensors seems to plague device on the market now. One of the best technologies for pulse-watching is the Mio sensor – Samsung could improve on its wearable tech immensely by licensing out Mio’s technology and using a fully-sealed wrist strap.
While there’s a lot of features Samsung absolutely nailed, the software experience leaves much to be desired. First of all, there’s a relatively narrow number of smartphones that work with the Gear 2 Neo. I actually purchased a Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini — specifically because it should have worked with the Gear 2 Neo. In reality, only specific sub-models of S4 Mini will work with the Gear 2 Neo. I ended up having to borrow a phone to write this review.
Second, the menus and submenus are poorly structured and designed. It’s tiresome having to dig through multiple menus before finding the app or feature that you need.
Third, Samsung needs to allow all Android smartphones the ability to sync with its Tizen operating system. It also needs to let users install apps from a desktop directly onto a Tizen smartwatch. As mentioned earlier, users need a very specific model of Samsung smartphone before they can even use their smartwatch.
Fourth, modern smartwatches do three things extremely well — they act as excellent navigation devices, they offer notifications and they provide health metrics. The Neo does not offer navigation (none that Ic ould discern anyway), and it fares poorly at health metrics (except for pedometer, a fairly useless feature). It does offer solid notifications, but so does every 90% of smartwatches on today’s market. So out of three categories, the Neo scores a single point.
Last — and most important — the Samsung Gear 2 Neo’s great failure: not having voice-detection begin immediately after activating the screen using its accelerometer. This would have eliminated the hassle experienced experienced digging through menus. Better implementation of voice recognition would have given it a leg up over Android Wear.
I’m not sure why Samsung missed this opportunity — likely because of our wretched patent system — but the combination of low-drain components, an IR blaster and an AMOLED screen seems commonsensical. With it, the Neo would have given the Tizen operating system its first design win. The omission of this single feature leaves the device looking anemic compared to any Android Wear device.
The Gear 2 Neo fails in a lot of areas. It doesn’t offer touchless voice-control; it forces users to install a small army of apps in order to access deeper health metrics; the Tizen app store is bare; the Neo requires manual activation for its sensor suite – there’s actually a lot more issues with Tizen, but that’s a separate discussion. However, the Gear 2 Neo doesn’t fail as bad as the Samsung Gear Fit (a fitness tracker that sucks at fitness metrics). The Neo offers a lot of solid, baked-in features, such as pedometer, notification system and display quality.
The battery life beats out comparable wearables; its hardware efficiency places it among the best of wearables; and it includes an IR blaster. Overall, it might meet your needs, if battery life, infrared capabilities and smartphone notifications fall among your primary needs. My impression so far of all wearables remains unchanged though – these are first generation devices and not worth your investment. Others might want a wearable just to see what all the fuss is about — in that case, you may want to try out the Samsung Gear 2 Neo.
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