Samsung has introduced two new smartwatches, the Galaxy Gear 2 and the Gear 2 Neo. The distinguishing feature between the two is that the Gear 2 has a 2-megapixel camera, while the Neo is sans camera, and half an ounce lighter for it.
While the whole of the mobile industry expects Apple to join Samsung in the smartwatch space this year, Apple hasn't arrived yet. Without a major competitor, Samsung hasn't pushed itself too hard, though the watches do offer welcome improvements over the original Galaxy Gear, introduced in September 2013.
Both Galaxy Gear 2 watches offer two to three days' worth of battery life, versus the single day on Gear. The Gear 2 also incorporates its camera into the watch face—a much cleaner look than the bump that resulted from its residence in the watchband of the Gear.
They're both also more attractive, if subtly. Gone are the Gear's exposed front screws (that last year we described as "more lazy than industrial-chic") and gone, too, is the thick, rigid band, replaced with more natural, watch-looking options.
Another marked improvement is connectivity. While the Gear could only connect to the Galaxy Note 3, the Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo will connect with "more than dozens of Samsung Galaxy smartphones at launch," Samsung said in a Feb. 23 statement.
Both watches feature fitness applications, including a heart-rate monitor, a pedometer, and a (downloadable) sleep and stress monitor. Bluetooth and Bluetooth Calling are included, and so are the abilities to accept or reject incoming calls and messages. Crucially, the new watches also feature stand-alone music players that can attach to Bluetooth headsets, eliminating the need for a phone to listen to music. (I wish anyone jogging with a Galaxy Gear streaming music from a Galaxy Note 3 a very strong waistband.)
Stepping a toe into waters that Apple is expected to dive into, the new Gear 2 smartwatches can also control home electronic devices, such as an HDTV and set-top box.
But arguably the most important deal about the Gear 2 watches is that Samsung has used them as its foray into Tizen, the open-source operating system—born from MeeGo, the OS Intel developed with Nokia—that could offer Samsung an escape plan from Google and Android.
A year ago, at the 2013 Mobile World Congress (MWC) trade show, the Tizen Association announced that carriers Orange and NTT Docomo had announced support for the platform, and in July, Samsung and Intel hosted a Tizen app challenge, with more than $4 million in prizes.
"We see a unique role for Tizen in the industry to create and to grow a new, open and flexible, mobile operating system that allows developers to [write once and run] on many devices," Christopher Croteau, managing director Intel's Software and Services Group and a board member of the Tizen Association, said at the time.
The Gear 2 smartwatches will be able to access a "robust application ecosystem" at launch, Samsung CEO JK Shin said in a statement. Thanks to a workaround, the watches will also be able to run Android apps.
"With the Samsung Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo," Shin added, "we have enhanced everything consumers love about the Gear to offer unparalleled smart freedom in their everyday life."
Both smartwatches will arrive in April, the Gear 2 in Charcoal Black, Gold Brown and Wild Orange and the Gear 2 Neo in Charcoal Black, Mocha Grey and Wild Orange. Pricing has yet to be announced.