Samsung Gear 2 Neo review: Stepdown Samsung smartwatch is a better deal

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Sarah Tew

In practice, though, the execution of these features falls short. The simple pedometer app does the trick but needs to be activated in order to keep count: it's not automatic all the time unless you tell it to be. Sleep tracking works using the accelerometer, but the app's readings are too simplistic compared to other health trackers. Coaching software that tells you to slow down or speed up based on heart rate ends up, as a result, being flawed.

Heart rate varied a lot for me: it was sometimes way off from what the heart-rate monitors on gym equipment read. When testing the Gear 2 with a several co-workers, we noted that the heart-rate monitor didn't work at all for some folks. It's a problem noted by some CNET readers, and one we're actively investigating with a wider array of devices. The Gear even calls its heart-rate monitoring for "recreational use only," meaning it's not currently designed as a medically accurate way of reading heart rate. So, take that with a grain of salt, assuming your blood pressure won't suffer from the sodium.

All this fitness data is supposed to sync with the new S Health on the Galaxy S5 , or with Gear Fitness Manager on other Samsung phones. Still, lots of the data never seemed to sync properly or show up on the S Health's progress charts. S Health is too basic and too detached from other fitness software to be useful for seriously fitness-oriented people.

The Gear 2 Neo's basic exercise-logging functions -- the pedometer and the sometimes-helpful heart-rate monitor would be great if they were more reliable, but they don't make the grade. Maybe new firmware or software could fix the problems. Right now, it's not enough.

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Gear 2 Neo and Gear 2 share the same apps and manager app. Sarah Tew/CNET

Where are the apps?

The Gear 2 Neo and Gear 2 run Samsung's Tizen OS, along with a unique catalog of apps. Some are free; others cost a dollar or two. The watch apps install via the Gear Fit Manager hub app for your phone, which also customizes the Gear 2 Neo's watch faces. But I didn't find any big-name apps, or ones that did much more than act as glorified watch faces or calculators.

More apps could transform the Gear in the future, but I'd assume for my own sanity, in this weird wild world of wearables, that it may not get much better than this...especially with Google's Android Wear likely to suck up a lot of developer attention (Tizen is a totally different -- and incompatible -- OS from Android).

In other words, come to the Gear 2 Neo for its baked-in features and apps, and don't expect more.

Gear 2 Neo vs Gear Fit: What do you choose?

Samsung has two identically-priced wearables: that's weird. It seems like the decision of which one to buy would be aesthetic: the Gear Fit has a long, thin curved display and feels more like a futuristic Nike Fuelband. It might be more fashion-forward for women, too. The Gear 2 Neo feels boxier, more like a geek watch, but it's also got more features and more flexibility. They both have roughly the same battery life.

I can't see why you wouldn't pick the Neo over the Fit. The Neo has a better-fitting watchband that won't pop off, can store music for offline playback over Bluetooth headphones if you want to work out with it, and still does all the same activity tracking, heart-rate, and coaching/exercise tracking. It's got a TV remote IR blaster (if you care). It has a speakerphone. It also runs apps. Those apps aren't really exciting right now, but they could be. It's nice to have the option.

The Fit can accidentally pop off your wrist if you're not careful, and its smart features are mainly limited to getting notifications from your phone.

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Sarah Tew

Conclusion

The Gear 2 Neo is the best Samsung smartwatch yet, but it's not yet an essential smartwatch.

The biggest problem with all of Samsung's current wearables are their dependence on Samsung phones to pair with. If the Gear 2 Neo worked with more phones, I'd like it more. It's priced lower than the Pebble Steel, and losing the Gear 2's camera and metal design are well worth it for the extra hundred dollars in savings. There are clear hardware advantages to the Gear 2 Neo's many extra features, but they're collectively a jumble versus being a coherent wrist-worn whole.

On the eve of new Google wearable devices, due possibly as soon as at Google's developer conference in late June, you're better off waiting. Samsung may have improved its wearable hardware, but the software it's running could be a lot better. And, by the end of this year, Samsung may very well have other watches that are better still. I'd want to see what Android Wear is all about before making the leap to Gear. But if you really want a smartwatch now, and you want one that works with Samsung phones, the Gear 2 Neo is the best bet. It's a very solid leap forward...it's just not fully there yet.