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Samsung Gear S: Massive curved screen, 3G and Wi-Fi, too (hands-on)

The Gear S aims to stand apart from a phone with its own data plan and SIM card, and its screen is bigger than ever. We try one on for size.

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Scott_Stein.jpg
Scott Stein Editor at Large
I started with CNET reviewing laptops in 2009. Now I explore wearable tech, VR/AR, tablets, gaming and future/emerging trends in our changing world. Other obsessions include magic, immersive theater, puzzles, board games, cooking, improv and the New York Jets. My background includes an MFA in theater which I apply to thinking about immersive experiences of the future.
Expertise VR and AR, gaming, metaverse technologies, wearable tech, tablets Credentials
  • Nearly 20 years writing about tech, and over a decade reviewing wearable tech, VR, and AR products and apps
Scott Stein
4 min read

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.

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Sarah Tew

Design

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.

The front face of the device also features a small physical button, like the Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo. To get to apps and sub-menus, you swipe from different sides, or press the home button.

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Sarah Tew

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.

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Sarah Tew

Battery life

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.

Specs

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.

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Sarah Tew

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.

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Sarah Tew

Fitness

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.

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Sarah Tew

Apps

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.

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Sarah Tew

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.