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Samsung Gets Round, Formally Announces Gear S2 Smartwatch

Samsung has been teasing its new round smartwatch for a few months now. We first got wind of it jumping on the circular smartwatch bandwagon (which started with last year's Moto 360) back in April. Back then, all we knew was that it would be round because at that time Samsung was just promoting early access to the Tizen SDK for developers.

Later this summer, when we were invited to its August unpacked event for the Note5 and S6 edge+, we were also expecting to see the new watch there. But that wasn't the case, and all Samsung did was show us some quick flashes of the watch, give us a name (the Gear S2) and a date, September 3. It looks like even Samsung got impatient and decided to drop the information about its first new smartwatch in a year on the eve of IFA instead of waiting a few more days.

Samsung has managed to surprise us by launching two models -- the regular Gear S2 and the Gear S2 Classic. The Gear S2 is the model that has already been shown and has a modern, dare we say sporty, appearance. The Classic looks more like a traditional watch. This strategy of offering two versions of the same basic design seems strangely familiar. There is also a third version, which is an e-SIM cellular-enabled model that you can make voice calls on (why?).

Specifications

ProductSamsung Gear S2Samsung Gear S2 ClassicSamsung Gear S2 3G
Display1.2", Circular Super AMOLED, 360x360, 302ppi1.2", Circular Super AMOLED, 360x360, 302ppi1.2", Circular Super AMOLED, 360x360, 302ppi
SoCDual core 1.0 GHz (Exynos?)Dual core 1.0 GHz (Exynos?)Dual core 1.0 GHz (Exynos?)
OSTizen based wearable platformTizen based wearable platformTizen based wearable platform
Storage & MemoryStorage: 4 GB RAM: 512 MBStorage: 4 GB RAM: 512 MBStorage: 4 GB RAM: 512 MB
FeaturesS Health, Nike+ Running, S Voice, Voice Memo, IP68 Certified Dust and Water ResistantS Health, Nike+ Running, S Voice, Voice Memo, IP68 Certified Dust and Water ResistantS Health, Nike+ Running, S Voice, Voice Memo, IP68 Certified Dust and Water Resistant
ConnectivityWi-Fi: 802.11 b/g/nBluetooth 4.1NFCWi-Fi: 802.11 b/g/nBluetooth 4.1NFCWi-Fi: 802.11 b/g/n3G cellular w/e-SIMBluetooth 4.1NFC
SensorsAccelerometer, Gyroscope, Heart Rate, Ambient Light, BarometerAccelerometer, Gyroscope, Heart Rate, Ambient Light, BarometerAccelerometer, Gyroscope, Heart Rate, Ambient Light, Barometer
Dimensions42.3 x 49.8 x 11.4 mm(47g)39.9 x 43.6 x 11.4 mm(42g)44.0 x 51.8 x 13.4 mm(51g)
BatteryWireless Charging250 mAh Li-ion(Typical Usage 2-3 days)Wireless Charging250 mAh Li-ion(Typical Usage 2-3 days)Wireless Charging300 mAh Li-ion(Typical Usage 2 days)
ColorsSilver with white band, Gray with gray bandBlack with black bandSilver with white band, Gray with gray band

The Gear S2 has a stainless steel body that is fairly compact due to its screen size, but still thicker than your average "dumb" watch at 11.4 mm. The 3G model is even thicker at 13.4 mm. The watch straps on the regular Gear S2 are what look to be either plastic or silicone rubber, and this model comes in either silver with white straps or dark gray with matching straps. The Classic also has a black stainless steel body (so at least you aren't getting a materials downgrade if you chose one over the other) and a black leather strap. It is the same thickness at 11.4 mm.

Both models have a 1.2-inch 360 x 360 AMOLED display. Because the Tizen UI, if you look at the teaser video below, uses a lot of black space, using an AMOLED display is going to be more power-efficient. As you can see from the pictures, the Gear S2 also doesn't have the characteristic "flat tire" at the bottom of its screen that is found on the Moto 360.

On the 360, in order to have its slim bezels, there is a small section at the bottom of the watch face that is not a display, but houses display hardware and an ambient light sensor. This allowed the 360 to automatically dim its screen, like a smartphone does, to save power. Succeeding circular smartwatches, like the LG G Watch R, didn't have this flat tire because their thicker bezels allowed for more hardware to reside outside the display. Unfortunately, these watches also didn't have an ambient light sensor, so their displays had to be set to a fixed brightness.

It seems, though, that Samsung has been able to overcome this challenge on the Gear S2. It has a thick bezel to hide circuitry, but still includes an ambient light sensor.

The bezel of the Gear S2 plays an important role because it rotates and is part of the input system of the watch. Although Samsung didn't detail how it works, we assume that it works somewhat like the Apple Watch's Digital Crown, used to both scroll and to zoom in and out. There are also home and back buttons on the side of the S2's case.

The Gear S2's are powered by a 1.0 GHz dual-core processor that is likely to be a homegrown Exynos SoC, and it has 512 GB of RAM and 4 GB of storage. NFC is included, allowing them to be used to make mobile payments using Samsung Pay. These new models support wireless charging (though it has not been made clear if they use a standard like Qi or a propriety system for these watches), and the lack of ports means that the Gear S2 is "IP68 Certified Dust and Water Resistant." This rating means that the smartwatch is dust tight and can be continuously submerged in over 1m of water.

Battery life has long been one of the biggest smartwatch bugbears, and Samsung is claiming that the 250 mAh of the Gear S2 will offer two to three  days of battery life, and the 300 mAh of the 3 G will offer two days. While one should always take manufacturer battery life claims with a grain of salt, our previous experience with the Tizen-powered Gear 2 was very strong in this department.

The last piece of the Gear S2 puzzle is the Tizen OS. These watches won't be the first to run Tizen, but it looks like from the OS teaser video below that the UX has been completely redesigned to take advantage of the round display and bezel control. From what we can see from this video, the Gear S2's UI looks pretty slick, but the big challenge is that it's a small fish swimming in the already small smartwatch OS pond, competing with the Apple Watch and the all the Android Wear devices for developer's mindshare.

Although we expect Samsung to produce some compelling first-party apps, it remains to be seen how many other apps are ported to the S2's OS.

The other big question is if Samsung will finally open up its Smartwatch platform to work with other vendors' phones. Other than the Android Wear-powered Gear Live, every other Samsung smartwatch has worked only with Samsung phones. With Android Wear recently coming to iOS, it would be smart if Samsung supported every platform with its new watches.

Pricing and availability have not been announced yet, but may be later at IFA. Samsung Canada did say "October" for the Canadian release, but we are not sure if this timeframe is true for the rest of the world.

Alex Davies is an Associate Contributing Writer for Tom's Hardware and Tom's IT Pro, covering Smartphones, Tablets, and Virtual Reality. You can follow him on Twitter. Follow Tom's Hardware on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+.