Samsung Gear S first look and hands-on

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There’s a debate around whether smart watches are a passing fad or a genuinely useful accessory that’ll make it into that elusive group of “must have” gadgets. To date some of the more successful models have sacrificed a degree of Smartphone-esque functionality in order to retain a stylish façade – an essential prerequisite of most good watches, but as we’ve just seen from Apple, full-on functionality devices are not going away, and Samsung has one lined up and ready in the form of the Samsung Gear S.

It has a 2” (360×480) display with Wifi and Bluetooth connectivity so you can stay in touch on the move, but the headline feature here is 3G, which increases its flexibility even further. All of the usual wrist-tech is here and then some – accelerometer, gyroscope, compass, heart rate monitor, barometer plus compatibility with Samsung’s S Health and Nike+ Running. There’s turn-by-turn pedestrian navigation by HERE, advanced-reading technology from Spritz and a range of customisable screen options and changeable straps so you can customise depending on your mood. Samsung claims up to two days usage on a single charge, though we’d be very surprised if it got close to this in the real world. It’s not set to be released in global markets until October, but that hasn’t stopped it doing the rounds in terms of hands-ons and previews, so let’s take a look.

Despite the dynamic changeable watch faces that help it to look quite svelte in photos and will have you believe makes it rival Cartier for chic styling, there’s no skirting the elephant in the room – its size. TechRadar picks up on this immediately, along with the rather unwieldy strap in its hands-on: “The Gear S is bulbous; wearing this device is a statement that you have joined the smartwatch revolution – it is a device that will definitely get you noticed. I wasn’t enamoured with the strap, though. It felt that it was too thick for my wrist.”  This certainly seems one for the type of person that wants everyone to know they have a smartwatch – it goes on to state that  “if you are looking for a smartwatch that looks like a watch then the Gear S isn’t for you.”. If you’re not looking for a smartwatch that looks like a watch though, there’s plenty on offer, largely due to the size of the display. The software appears to be very impressive, with intuitive swipes for navigation and notifications, an improved look and feel for apps and good use of the in-built GPS. The display is also lauded; in fact described as “a thing of beauty”, and all in all contributes well to what is a very usable experience.

AndroidCentral is also very fond of the display, which it calls “pretty stunning” (but also “freaking huge”) but does query the practicality of the curved design, which may take some getting used to – “Do you focus on the top of the display, which is starting over the smartwatch horizon, requiring you to move your wrist? Or at the bottom?” It also questions whether consumers will be happy introducing yet another SIM contract into their lives – with shared plans this may not be so much of an issue, but at some point in time these will have to become more accessible. It concludes with a simple but effective statement that, despite the large size, sums up its first impression quite well: “Damn. That’s cool.”

Finally, Wired went hands-on and took a closer look at some of the nice touches, such as the array of watch faces you can choose from, which include dials to display data like how many steps you’ve walked and how many notifications you have. “When it comes to notifications, you can reply to messages from the watch itself, either by using dictation, or by using the on-screen keyboard. Despite the tiny size of the keys, we were pleased to find that this was very accurate.”

The curved screen made it more comfortable to wear than others of its kind, and spiralling 3G costs may not be an issue for most as the Gear S is effective at turning “from companion mode to standalone mode depending whether or not it is near to the phone it is paired to, if paired at all”

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It’s early days in terms of gathering more information on the Gear S, but it seems clear at this stage that this is certainly not an inconspicuous smartwatch and that it certainly is putting its eggs in the “functional” rather than “stylish” basket. If you’re happy with a chunky unit sitting on your wrist, it seems fairly well stocked with features, so could well be worth a look.

Further information is available from Samsung.