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Roundup Wearable Tech

Samsung Gear S4 smartwatch: Rumored specs, price and release date

Samsung's next watch could lean on health features and better battery life. Could it also get a new name?

Sarah Tew/CNET

Samsung's next big event is coming soon, and the Note 9 is expected to make its official debut there. But Samsung might also reveal a new smartwatch, too.

It's been a while since Samsung had a new, big watch release. The Gear S3 arrived late in 2016, while a sport-oriented smaller model, the Samsung Gear Sport, launched last fall alongside a slimmer curved-display fitness tracker, the Gear Fit 2 Pro, with many of the same features. It could also leapfrog other hot watches this fall by being announced ahead of the next Apple Watch, and Google's expected Wear OS smartwatch.

Aug. 9 is Samsung's Unpacked 2018 in New York City, and CNET will be there. If there is a new smartwatch, it might look a little something like this.

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The massive Samsung Gear S3 had decent battery life, but the Gear S4 could be sleeker.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Will it run Tizen, or Google's Wear OS software?

Samsung has followed its own smartwatch path with proprietary software, a whole unique Tizen-based OS and apps that's run separately from Google's Android Wear/Wear OS watch ecosystem, but that might change this year. Recent rumors from noted Samsung leaker Ice Universe say that the next Samsung watch will run Google's Wear OS. That could also mean a name change to "Galaxy Watch."

Earlier reports of Samsung's next watch running Google's Wear OS seem to agree.

That would be a surprising shift, but not impossible. Samsung makes Windows 10 PCs, Google Chromebooks, and Gear VR headsets running Oculus mobile software. It's not afraid to play with other company's OSes. Also, Samsung made one of the first Android Wear watches, Gear Live.

Another possibility: Samsung has a Gear S4 that runs Tizen, and another variant of the watch designed for Wear OS. Google's expected to launch a new set of redesigned Wear OS watches this fall, but those watches will have Qualcomm processors, while Samsung's watches will likely use Samsung-made Exynos processors like previous models.

A new name, or names?

Maybe it won't be called the Gear S4, then, after all. If the watch's next name is Samsung Galaxy Watch, it would fit into Samsung's existing galaxy of Galaxy products. Or, maybe the "Galaxy Watch" name is referring to a separate Google Wear OS version of the watch that would coexist alongside the Gear S4.

The latest reports over the last few days strengthen the Galaxy Watch name shift. It still seems possible that Samsung could be working on two separate versions of the same watch, in Wear OS and Tizen flavors.

Better battery life

Whether it's a bigger battery or a more efficient processor, expect the next Gear S4 watch to improve on past performance. Samsung's watches have actually done better than average, and the Gear S3 released in 2016 could already handle several days on a charge. But the Gear S3 is a big watch. Last year's Gear Sport traded out some features like speakerphone calling for a smaller size. Samsung's watches already have onboard sleep tracking much like Fitbit and Garmin watches do, but better battery life would still help.

Ice Universe's recent tweet (above) claims the new battery is 470 mAh. The Samsung Gear S3 Frontier from 2016 (pictured above) has a battery capacity of 380mAh, and the Samsung Gear Sport's battery is 300mAh.

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Samsung's already done curved-screen smartwatches (Gear Fit 2 Pro). What's next?

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

A sleeker design and a wild new display?

Last year's Gear Sport brought Samsung's smartwatches into a slimmer, more universally appealing design range instead of the Gear S3's mega-watch feel. Lots of reports point to some crazy new display ideas which would be very Samsung. The new watch could have a second display in the rotating bezel, indicating modes or extra features. A frequently-linked-to patent from 2017 shows a second-screen curved edge that could offer second readouts on the sides, like the curved OLED edges Samsung's Galaxy and Note phones have had for years.

Samsung's prowess is in its OLED display tech, and previous smartwatches like the Gear Fit have explored curved displays, so this is not outside the realm of possibility.

A new type of UX, indicated by the Ice Universe tweets, could come along with a new display innovation.

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Samsung watches could make calls years before the Apple Watch.

Sarah Tew/CNET

LTE calling should be back

Samsung made phone-enabled smartwatches before anyone else, and while last year's Gear Sport left the feature out, it's likely to return now that Apple Watch S3 has been featuring cellular calling for months.

Added health features

Samsung added telemedicine into the company's Samsung Health phone app in 2017 via a partnership with Amwell, a US-based telemedicine service. There's a strong chance that Samsung's next watch would introduce new sensors, too: perhaps enhanced heart-rate sensors that could aspire to tracking atrial fibrillation or sleep apnea like Apple and Fitbit are aiming for. Perhaps it could measure blood pressure: Samsung's latest Galaxy S9 phones have an experimental blood-pressure-measuring sensor on the back that's been in trials over the last few months, and more recent rumors suggest blood pressure sensing of some sort onboard the next watch.

Samsung Gear Sport

Last year's Samsung Gear Sport was fitness-focused, with added water resistance for swimming.

Sarah Tew/CNET

...What about Bixby?

Well, what about it? Samsung's onboard AI on its phones and a growing halo of products seems inevitable on the Gear S4, especially since Gear watches run Samsung's own software ecosystem. Bixby would be a step up from S-Voice, but Google Assistant would be nicer.

Price?

Last year's Gear Sport cost $300 (£299, or AU$499) when it debuted last fall, and the more full-featured Gear S3 Frontier cost around $350, £350 or AU$589 for the cellular-equipped version in 2016. This seems like a reasonable territory to expect for the next model, with or without cellular onboard.

Will it arrive alongside the Note 9? Maybe. But either way, it's coming soon

Recent reports say a new Samsung watch has already been certified in Europe, indicating something imminent. It could be unveiled in late August in Berlin at IFA, not at Samsung's upcoming Aug. 9 event in New York. But we don't know yet. However, it might make sense for Samsung to discuss it alongside a new phone if new onboard health features tie into S Health feature on phones.

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