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How to Make Samsung's Gear 2 Universal

by Matthew Engler   February 25, 2014 at 1:00PM  |  Views: 1,544


Despite lots of fanfare, Samsung’s Galaxy Gear smartwatch did not prove to be a success with consumers. Whether it was the high price point, the restriction to only a few phones, its bulky nature, a combination of the three or something else entirely, the watch just didn’t catch on. However, with a few minor tweaks and additions, the Gear could be a phenomenal, universal companion to the smartphone. With the announcement of the Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo this past weekend (not even half a year after the first) showing no radical changes, we have a few minor updates with potentially big payoffs:

Gmail

Most users don’t plan to write long emails on their watch, but the fact that there wasn’t a gmail app available was a glaring oversight. Using the standard Email app, you could only view a portion of your message before being forced to break out your phone. What invariably happened was the message got cut off just before the important information displayed. We know we’re setting the bar high, but we’d like to be able to read a whole message, and have the possibility to reply as well. Which brings us to…

Keyboard



Ok, there’s very limited space on this screen, and that’s a good thing (if users want a smartphone strapped to their wrist they could get a Pine Neptune and work on their biceps). S-Voice works far better than anticipated, but it isn’t perfect, and forget about it if you have a friend with a name that isn’t in the 10 ten list. That’s where Minuum comes in. Minuum is a revolutionary, compressed keyboard for smartphones that allows the user to type messily but still understands what you were typing. As an alpha tester, it seems like the only viable option for having a QWERTY keyboard on a screen of this size. Including Minuum for use in email and text messaging would greatly expand the capability of the Gear without any major development. Maybe Samsung will take notice for the Gear 3.

Form Factor

We never found the Gear to be too bulky for everyday use. It isn’t much bigger than a standard watch (at least for guys) and we rarely had issues sliding it under shirt cuffs. But that doesn’t mean it couldn’t and shouldn’t be thinner. There were lots of rumors that the screen on the Gear 2 would be curved, but these, sadly, turned out to be just that: rumors.

However, a big improvement in the Gear 2 is that both the camera and speaker are now right on the watch head. On the original Gear, the camera lens jutted out from the band, which looked odd (can you imagine if your phone’s camera jutted out the back?!). Having the speaker on the back, under the wrist, made listening to calls much more difficult as well. A gust of wind easily made us miss an entire conversation and, at times, we had to hold it up to our ears to hear, making it no better than using a standard phone. Now that the Gear 2 is completely contained within the head, it opens up the possibility of a new market for personalized and designer wristbands to go with it.

Notifications

The only notifications that displayed on the original Gear came from apps that also ran on the watch. That means all notifications from games, reader or unsupported social apps were ignored. One of the best things about the Gear is that it lets you access your phone without taking it out of your pocket, but unless there is better push-notification integration, this isn’t being used to its full potential.

Charging

Depending on what you were expecting, the Gear either had good battery life or the worst. We’ve used it for over 2 days on a single charge with moderate use without issue, which seemed fine and the Gear 2 boasts 2-3 times the battery life. But what is infuriating to no end is the fact that you need to use a “Cradle” in order to charge it. That means if you run out of power and didn’t bring the cradle, you’re out of luck, and out of watch. While some people were hoping to see wireless charging, unless you also have the ability to use a USB, Gear users would still be tied to a dock, adding yet another piece of equipment they need to carry around. Samsung, apparently, didn’t get the message and despite the fact that none of their press photos show a cradle, they also don’t show a USB port. Why, Samsung, why?

Apps



The first thing Gear owners noticed when checking out the Samsung App store was that it was virtually empty! There were so few apps available that we checked if our Wi-Fi dropped. While Samsung can’t force third-party developers to make apps for the Gear, it can make pared down versions itself until the Gear becomes popular enough for developers to really join in. Being able to do a quick check in on Foursquare, quickly post a picture (even sans filter) on Instagram, or follow Google Maps walking directions right from the wrist, would be nice additions and build value. The Gear’s swipe down for camera, swipe up for phone, options are useful once you get the hang of them. If they would just expand this to allow customized two fingered swipe up and down for our most used apps, it would go a long way to enhancing the UX.

Android Device Compatibility

Another issue with the original Gear is that it only paired with Samsung phones and only a few models at that. The desire to keep it in the family is understandable, but this restriction is preventing other Android users from buying their product. Enabling universal Android compatibility would also introduce non-Samsung users to the company in a positive light and encourage them to make their next phone a Samsung. However, Samsung decided to ignore this possibility and switched the Gear 2 over to Tizen. This slimmed down OS is said to dramatically help with battery life and also allow for the watch to pair with “dozens” of Samsung phones.

Overall, the Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo have some big improvements: slimmer, lighter, last longer, and at different price points (the Neo has no camera and is expected to be the cheaper model, though no prices have been announced yet). It doesn’t have everything we hoped for and it’s still too early to know exactly what to make of it. We’ll be keeping our eyes on it and waiting to see how it stacks up to Google’s wearables and the mythical iWatch.

Do you have a Galaxy Gear? Want to see something else in the next version? Post it in the comments below!

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