Samsung has added a new stablemate to the Gear smartwatch range -- the 3G-enabled Gear S. Can the sixth smartwatch in a year be the charm? I had a chance to try one up close, and...it's hard to tell. Beyond its eye-catching big curved screen, its success might hinge on price and whether or not anyone feels the need for 3G on a watch. But, it's a sign that curved smartwatches might be here to stay, at least for Samsung.
Where this Gear is different from others before is it's also a full-featured 3G and Wi-Fi-enabled device: it can make calls, receive calls, check messages and be connected to GPS even without a phone nearby. But hold your horses: you'll need a Samsung phone running Android 4.3 or later to download and install apps. Strangely, it's not a totally self-sufficient smartwatch after all...but it comes close.
Design-wise, the Gear S doesn't seem wildly different from the rest of the Gear family. It features a 2-inch curved Super AMOLED screen, with a 360x480 resolution, and runs on a 1GHz dual core processor. It's like an ultra-wide Gear Fit in a lot of ways: the rectangular screen is longer than it is wide, offering a sort of curved-portrait display.
The vivid AMOLED screen is eye-popping, although the stock collection of Samsung watch faces didn't excite me. Scrolling through news headlines with photos almost felt like I was using a mini-smartphone. The extra pixel space does push this watch into uncharted wrist-worn screen-real-estate territory.
On the underside is a SIM card slot, along with an optical heart rate monitor -- the same as on the Gear Fit, Gear 2, Gear 2 Neo and Gear Live watches. The Gear S is IP67 water resistant like its 2014 Gear brethren, meaning it could be showered with, but isn't meant for swimming.
Like the Gear Fit, the Gear S pops out of its band. The rubber white band I tried had a sporty feel, but a seriously wide band. You'd need specialized Gear S accessories, as opposed to any readily-available watchbands like the Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo.
An onboard 300 mAh battery should provide up to two days of run time, give or take, depending on whether you have your screen always on: much like Gear Live for Android Wear, this Gear can power down into a low-light clock display that stays on constantly.
The included snap-on battery charger has a bonus though: an extra 350 mAh battery built in that offers an extra boost on the go, for quick recharging while in a bag. Smart move, Samsung.
The Gear S has an accelerometer, gyroscope, compass, heart rate monitor, and ambient light, UV and barometric sensors. It also has 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.1, A-GPS, and can store music files downloaded locally on its 4GB of storage.
Except for the added Wi-Fi, 3G and bigger screen, it comes closest to the Gear 2 Neo in terms of features: S Voice for voice commands, a speakerphone for making and receiving calls, a home button, and heart rate monitor...but no camera.
3G and calling
The Gear S has both 3G and 2G connectivity, but both supported carriers and pricing plans for data aren't confirmed yet. It could work like other 3G-connected watches: as a separate device to folded into a connected data plan.
The Gear S supports phone calls over 3G, 2G and Bluetooth while paired to your phone, but not over Wi-Fi. There's also a QWERTY keyboard that can help while writing short emails or messages, but that'll get frustrating in a hurry. Hopefully S Voice might be enabled to help aid with dictation, but I didn't get to try that out.
The Gear S feels a little more fitness oriented than the Gear 2 watches: its sleeker design, rubberized band, and ability to track runs with GPS without a phone make it feel like an answer to the recent Timex Ironman One GPS+.
There's more good news, too: the Gear S runs a Nike+ Running App to turn it into a fuel-compatible fitness gadget. Or, you can use Samsung S Health, which is your conduit into checking and tracking heart rate.
Samsung promises 1,000 apps on Tizen that will run on the Gear S when it launches. Unclear, however, is how many of them will actually be optimized for that extra-long display.
The built-in collection of apps is already pretty comprehensive, though, including turn-by-turn navigation from HERE, and a 24-hour news service provided by The Financial Times.
Will it fit in?
A 3G-connected smartwatch might be a bridge too far for a lot of people, unless Samsung shows how this device can be affordably linked into the average person's phone plan. Still, the Gear S shows that Samsung isn't giving up: on design tweaking, software, or Tizen.
The average person might start to get tired, though. How many smartwatches can we hear about before we get watch fatigue before even buying one? That's a delicate path Samsung needs to walk right now with the Gear S and future watches: aggressiveness versus numbing overload. The Gear S feels like one of the best-designed Gears yet, but it might be way too sub-specialized for those not knee-deep in wearable tech to care.
The Gear S isn't planned for U.S. release yet, but stay tuned for more details. We might hear more soon.