Hands-on review: MWC 2014: Samsung Gear 2 Neo

The Gear 2 Neo is the second in Samsung’s range newest generation of wrist-based devices and arguably the better of the two.

It’s annoying that the issue of price still hasn’t been addressed, but given that it’s running a lower spec than the main Gear 2 we’d expect it to be a little cheaper. If that’s the case then Samsung could be on to a winner here, as it could really be part of a product portfolio that resonates with consumers.

The design is very similar to that of the Gear 2, with the same 1.63-inch screen and 320×320 resolution on a Super AMOLED screen. The differences between this and the main Gear 2 are very subtle, but in my mind are needed to make Samsung relevant in the smartwatch game.

Galaxy Gear 2 Neo review

The camera is gone, for starters, and that’s a great thing. Samsung’s kept the technology on the Gear 2, but has wrapped it into the bezel of the device, which made me wonder how this would be cut out on the Neo.

Well, it turns out pretty easily, and it’s dropped a few grams from the weight. The result is a more refined look at the top of the device, and not one that I think really does detract from the overall design. If anything, the single dot at the top of the Gear 2 Neo (which is the infra red blaster for controlling your TV) looks more subtle and refined.

Galaxy Gear 2 Neo review

What does detract, and is probably the only early negative on the Gear 2 Neo (until we actually find out the price of the wrist-dweller) is the fact it’s made out of plastic around the bezel, the other element that helps to bring down the weight. Where the main Gear 2 feels at least like a watch substitute, the plastic on the Neo makes it feel more like a Pebble.

That might not bother some users, but it lowers its chances of being a real watch substitute.

Galaxy Gear 2 Neo review

Once you’ve got over the feel, there’s a lot more to love. Being able to swap out the straps will be a really useful tool for a lot of users, and the general feel of it on the wrist is sturdy. With the 1.63-inch 320×320 screen being identical to the Gear 2 and previous iteration, this is still a decent looking display to check out.

The battery in the Gear 2 Neo is actually smaller than its predecessor and yet will last almost three times as long. That’s impressive, and is partly due to the new Tizen-based OS on use here, and partly because of the more efficient dual-core processor.

Galaxy Gear 2 Neo review

The latter feature actually speeds things up quite nicely, as even on this prototype device we didn’t notice any lag when flicking through apps, where there was loads on the first Gear at this stage.

Apparently that model also had a dual-core processor, but one of the cores was locked off – here we’ve got a custom chip to help battery life.

Galaxy Gear 2 Neo review

Apart from that upgrade, there are two key changes I’m actually really excited about: the fact it’s now IP67-rated against water and dust (enough for nearly all activities) and the heart rate monitor under the strap.

The former will attract a lot of users interested in using the fitness apps on offer, as the watch becomes a more robust option to those that like to exercise. There will be over 10 options at launch, and that’s only going to increase if it proves true that coding for the Gear 2 Neo is pretty easy.

Galaxy Gear 2 Neo review

The heart rate monitor is also going to be a real selling point, as it’s a great way to train effectively when you’re not sure if you’re pushing too hard. However, there will be an issue for some users who don’t know their correct heart rate zones – it would be good to see Samsung try to address this through its S Health app and run an assessment for those unsure.

The function works very well – you have to push the watch up your wrist a fair bit to make sure that it’s tight enough, but once it’s spent some time looking through your skin with the optical sensor, the result is pretty strong.

Galaxy Gear 2 Neo review

There’s also more in the way of customisation on offer here with the Gear 2 Neo, as you can finally change the wallpaper to something of your own design on the back of the screen in day to day life.

This is done by taking a picture on your connected device (and while we don’t know the exact range at the moment, Samsung is promising around 20 phones and tablets will be available for use when the Gear 2 Neo launches) and then porting it to the Gear 2 Neo when you’ve cropped it correctly.

Galaxy Gear 2 Neo review

It works well and I definitely felt more of a connection to my main phone with this trick.

The final, and again one of the most impressive parts, is the addition of WatchON, the app which uses the IR blaster to let you control a TV. I couldn’t set this up to test properly, but the beginning process is simple, only asking you to set the brand and guiding through a few steps to see if the compatibility is there – no irritating program recommendations here, like you get on the main app.

Early verdict

The Samsung Galaxy Gear 2 Neo could be a gamechanger. The watch that strips out the superfluous camera, adds in really useful technology and is open to developers will be a real attraction for some users – it’s just a shame that we don’t know the price.

Some might be put off by the plastic build, but the front-facing home button and refined thickness are good elements to attract users, so it’s clear Samsung’s done its homework here.

We’re currently awaiting a specific release date and price, so we’ll update this hands on review as soon as we get the info.