Rather than wait until its official Unpacked event on Monday, Samsung decided to get a jump on the Mobile World Congress Saturday by announcing its second generation of smartwatches — the Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo.
Both devices incorporate a more lightweight design and new features to expand the functionality of these wearable computers, including a standalone media player (more on this in a bit). But one of the biggest changes is Samsung’s decision to build the smartwatches on the Tizen operating system rather than Google’s Android platform, which powered the original Galaxy Gear.
Backed by Samsung and Intel, Tizen is an open-source, Linux-based platform that has been pitched as a more open alternative to Android and Apple’s iOS. Though the company declined to comment on why it made the switch, the move provides several potential benefits to Samsung.
Although Samsung is the biggest Android player by far, the company still struggles to make its phones stand out from rival device makers that also use Google’s operating system. Samsung has tried to put its own stamp on the devices with software and services, but has faced opposition from Google. Samsung recently agreed to scale back some of its homegrown efforts to customize its Android devices.
Tizen could help Samsung lessen its dependence on Google, especially in the nascent but growing category of wearable tech. It would also give the company an opportunity to help get Tizen off the ground. Tizen has been in the works for years, but is just now coming to market on devices like the Samsung NX300M camera.
But on the consumer side, the issue of what operating system the smartwatch is running may not be of huge concern. The bigger issue for smartwatch makers is coming up with features and a design that people actually want to wear and use everyday. And what has Samsung done in that department?
The Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo offer many of the same features of the Galaxy Gear, including a 1.63-inch, 320-by-320 pixel color display and the ability to have phone conversations using the watch, a la Dick Tracy. In addition, they now have a standalone music player to listen to music on the go, so you don’t need to be connected to your smartphone.
They also have built-in heart rate sensors and pedometer functions. On Gear 2, the camera has been moved from the strap to the watch’s main body, which gives it a slightly sleeker look. (The Gear 2 Neo does not have a camera.) They’re also lighter and thinner than the original Galaxy Gear, but unfortunately, the smartwatches are still rather bulky. In fact, both models are slightly taller and wider than the Galaxy Gear.
Other issues remain, such as a relatively short battery life. Samsung claims with typical use, the battery will last between two and three days. Compatibility is also still limited to just Samsung Galaxy devices, though the company did not specify which models.
The Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo will be available worldwide in April, but pricing was not announced at this time. The Gear 2 Neo is expected to carry a more affordable price than the more full-featured Gear 2. The Gear 2 will be available in black, brown and orange, while the Gear 2 Neo will come in black, gray and orange.
I’ll be looking forward to getting some hands-on time with the watches in the days ahead. And there’s more news to come out of Samsung yet. The company is also expected to debut its latest flagship Android smartphone, the Galaxy S5, at its event on Monday.
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