Apple Watch vs. Samsung Gear S2: A smartwatch skeptic chooses

Commentary: I wore both the Apple Watch and Samsung's Gear S2 together for a week to find out just which smartwatch fits my lifestyle better. Here's my verdict.

Aloysius Low Senior Editor
Aloysius Low is a Senior Editor at CNET covering mobile and Asia. Based in Singapore, he loves playing Dota 2 when he can spare the time and is also the owner-minion of two adorable cats.
Aloysius Low
6 min read

Wearing two smartwatches at once makes for great conversations starters.

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I'm not the biggest fan of watches, especially not since the arrival of the cellphone. My trusty Nokia 3210 told me the time and didn't need to be adjusted, so I rid myself of some wrist-weight by putting aside my yellow and black Casio G-Shock and never used it again.

My wrists were free for the next decade, until the arrival of the first Pebble smartwatch , which I was a Kickstarter backer for. My time with it wasn't long, however, as I stopped using the Pebble after a month and it now sits in the office drawer, dead to the world.

I'm not the only one not sold on smart wearables. In America, for instance, only 3 percent of the population over 16 own a smartwatch, according to Kantar research. Still, the much-hyped Apple Watch, with its Watch OS 2, and the Tizen-powered Samsung Gear S2 piqued my interest. I figured I'd give both of these devices a shot, on behalf of all the timepiece-indifferent users out there, to see if either could draw me back into the watch game.

Note that this is all my personal opinion, and -- as such -- may (or may not) deviate from the official CNET ratings and recommendations.

Getting set up

To give each smartwatches a fair go, I paired the Apple Watch with an iPhone 6S Plus and the Gear 2 with a Galaxy Note 5 . Both phones were set up with both my personal and work emails, as well as my social media accounts. I also switched my default multi-SIM after after three days to see which smartwatch handled messaging better.

I also wore both watches on one wrist at first, which if nothing else made for an excellent conversation starter. Eventually though, I found the experience of having two watches on one wrist a little too uncomfortable, so I switched to having one watch on each wrist after about four days.

Samsung Gear S2 (pictures)

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And the notifications keep on rolling

While Apple's smartwatch is very much integrated into Apple's own ecosystem, Samsung's Gear S2 uses the South Korean company's own Tizen operating system. As a result, unlike other Android Wear watches, it doesn't exactly seamlessly connect to an Android smartphone. This is particularly noticeable with Google Now Cards: instead of displaying the information from the cards, which is doable on Android wearables, the Gear S2 only notifies you of the amount of cards you have to view.

Still, when it comes to notifications, both smartwatches are similarly proficient. The Gear S2 has a slight edge with emails, as users are able to reply with an onscreen keyboard, while the Apple Watch is limited to voice dictation (also available on the Gear S2) and preset replies.

For non-native apps such as Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, both devices are more limited. Both will notify you about an update, but don't allow you to go into the platform to see it. For instance, if someone posts on your Facebook timeline, you'll get a notification about it but won't actually be able to see the post. Here the Apple Watch holds a small advantage, with Instagram photos being viewable.

Both smartwatches end up doing a serviceable job on the notification front, but you'll still still find yourself taking out your phone to view a lot of the actual content that's being flagged.

The smartwatch isn't the device to keep you phone-free, or even to keep your phone in your pocket -- yet.

Winner: Draw

Two lookers

Both the Apple Watch and the Gear S2 are beautifully designed timepieces. Like with the Californian company's iPhones, Apple's design oozes premium appeal, and the amount of different wrist straps cater to almost all preferences.

I'm a big fan of Apple's ridiculously expensive ($449, £379, AU$679) link watchband, which is made up of over a 100 parts. It's easy to adjust for size, and the butterfly clasp mechanism is easy to use.

The Gear S2 looks great too. The classic version pulls off the classy look well, but the normal design (which I liked better) is cleaner and more industrial. The killer feature has to be the rotating bezel that serves as the main manner of navigation: intuitive and easy to use, it handily beats Apple's digital crown.

The digital crown looks just like the part of the watch that used to wind up older watches. It acts as a mini-scroll wheel on the Apple Watch.

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That is, unless you prefer to wear watches on your right hand. Apple's design is reversible, with users able to flip the UI and use the digital crown facing the left side instead of the usual right.

You can't do the same with the Gear S2, which means that pressing the side buttons located on the right of the watch will require some extra stretching. It's a small thing, but seemingly fixable, as Samsung could add a software tweak to do something similar to the Apple Watch.

Apple also wins when it comes to the face designs on the watches. The Gear S2's design is a little zany, while the Apple Watch's faces are better looking and offer better customisation options.

Winner: Samsung. The Gear S2's bezel is simply brilliant, though Apple has better watch faces.

Usage and stamina

As a battery saving measure, smartwatches usually keep their screens off until the user flicks their wrist to look at it, where it'll detect the movement and turn on. While both watches did an admirable job of not staying blank when I turned my wrist to use them, I found the Apple Watch to be slightly faster at turning on and better when it came to recognising the exact movements I made when trying to turn it on.

The Samsung Gear S2 was a bit too sensitive; its screen sometimes switched on unnecessarily when I would move my arm. Samsung needs to adjust the its detection algorithm better to match up.

However, the Galaxy S maker has Apple beat on battery life, despite the improvements to the Apple Watch with Watch OS 2. The Watch is now able to last at least one and a half days before needing a charge, but the Gear S2 was easily able to go for two days.

As for health tracking, both wearables are capable of tracking heart rate and steps, but based on my tests the Apple Watch was faster at the former. Both appeared to be equally accurate on the step counter front, with the number of daily steps matching up on both devices.

I do like how the Apple Watch would buzz me to get up and move around, while the Gear S2 is capable of similar as well, it didn't seem to work when I was testing it. And if you're worried about not drinking enough water, the S2 lets you track water intake.

Winner: Apple. It's watch has better features, though the Gear S2 has better battery life.

Apple Watch faces: A close-up look (pictures)

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Which do I like better?

If I had to pick one to wear, I'd go with the Apple Watch thanks to its better watch-face designs and a more impressive range of straps. You'll note, though, that neither of those factors has much to do with the "smart" part of a smartwatch.

While both smartwatches have great feature sets, neither really won me over. The moment my experiment ended, I gave up wearing either, even though I was currently using an iPhone before I moved on to my next smartphone review. There's still some ways to go before manufacturers find the right amount of convincing features to make smartwatch wearing a necessity, like smartphone and tablet use.

It's not yet time for me to convert to wearing a watch again, but when I do, you can be sure that I'll have a very good reason to do so. What's your take? Do you think smartwatches are something you'll want and need? Convince me in the comments below.

If you just want to read our more comprehensive reviews of both smartwatches, checkout the in-depth reviews of both the Apple Watch and the Gear S2 from my colleague Scott Stein.

Update, 5 p.m. PT: The Gear S2 is capable of reminding you to stand up and move around, but it did not seem to work during the time I spent with it despite already having set up the S Health app. The story has since been updated with the correct information.

Left to right: new Moto 360 (42mm), Apple Watch (42mm), Samsung Gear S2.

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