Samsung Gear 2 Neo in-depth review - Less is more - Samsung simplifies the smartwatch

By ditching the Gear 2's camera and metal body Samsung has created a smartwatch that is both simplified and more affordable - but will that be enough to make the Gear 2 Neo a success, or does the smartwatch as a concept still need work?

 Samsung Gear 2 Neo Review - Less is more - Samsung simplifies the smartwatch
3.5

Review by Sunetra Chakravati,5/16/2014 3:18:46 PM

7

out of 10

Performance

7

out of 5

Look and feel

7

out of 5

Ease of use

8

out of 5

Features

7

out of 5

Battery life

Pros:

More affordable than the Gear 2. Bright and beautiful display. The perfect exercise companion.

Cons:

Issues with screen not coming on when asked. Poor battery life. Too large for some.

The Samsung Gear 2 Neo is a cheaper version of the Gear 2 smartwatch. Metal is swapped out for a plastic construction, the camera has been removed, and the price is lowered from £250 for the regular Gear 2, to £180.

Aside from these omissions, the Neo is exactly the same as the regular Gear 2 - this means there’s a heart rate monitor working with the S Health app to record your walking, running and other exercise, syncing the data to your Bluetooth-connected Galaxy phone.

The Gear 2 Neo can also make and receive calls with its integrated speaker and microphone, play music to wireless headphones, control your TV via an infrared blaster, control your phone with S Voice, and display notifications from email, text, calls, social networks and more.

Read More - Samsung Gear 2 Review

Samsung is yet to set the wearable tech world alight with its Gear range - will a price cut be enough to get the ball rolling?

Samsung Gear 2 Neo: Look and feel

The Gear 2 Neo is almost identical to the regular Gear 2, aside from plastic replacing metal and the lack of a camera. This means you get a 1.63-inch screen surrounded by a narrow plastic bezel and connected to a rubber strap which can be swapped for any traditional watchstrap. The strap is secured with a metal clasp which can be adjusted to wrists of almost any size.

There’s a home button below the screen and an infrared blaster for communicating with your TV above it. On the back of the case there’s a heart rate monitor and the Neo’s charging port, which requires you to connect a bespoke microUSB adaptor to use the included mains plug. As with the Gear 2 and Gear Fit, it’s a shame that Samsung couldn’t find a way of giving the Neo a regular micro USB port, as found on the Sony SmartWatch 2 - just make sure you don’t lose that adaptor.

At 37.9 x 58.8mm, the Neo is fractionally larger than the regular Gear 2, while its 10mm thickness is the same and 55g weight is noticeably less than its 68g stablemate. Although light and around the same thickness as a traditional men’s wristwatch, the Neo’s 58.8mm length is substantially larger than most regular watches, which usually have a face diameter of around 42mm. Friends and colleagues who saw the Gear said the large size was the factor that would most likely put them off buying one.

However, if the size doesn’t put you off then the Neo’s build quality is very good indeed, with soft-touch plastic around the screen’s edge replacing the metal of the Gear 2. Unfortunately the plastic used for the edges and back feels a little cheap, but it’s hardly a deal-breaker. Otherwise the Neo feels good - it may be ‘the cheap one’, but if nothing else its price tag makes the Gear 2 look overpriced, as I doubt many users will see metal trim and a 2-megapixel camera worthy of the £70 price difference.

Samsung Gear 2 Neo: Display

The Neo shares the same 1.63-inch Super AMOLED screen as the Gear 2, with a resolution of 320 x 320. It’s a bright and superbly sharp screen with great viewing angles and an even, bright backlight. But there are some issues, and the first is getting the screen to come on. Pressing its home button wakes the Neo up, displaying the time and date (and steps walked that day, if you wish), but for when this isn’t convenient you must rely on the watch’s accelerometer.

In theory the Neo should light up with a flick of the wrist, but glancing at the screen as you would the face of a watch very rarely causes the screen to light up. Often I found only a very deliberate movement was enough to wake the Neo up. Other times it would come on when I didn’t need it to.

Of course this is all an effort to conserve battery life, as if the screen were left on permanently the Neo would be dead before the end of each day. As a result, using the Neo feels fairly detached from what a traditional watch wearer would be used to. The time cannot merely be glanced at, and for me that alone is a major problem. Hopefully Samsung can tweak the Neo’s software to improve it’s movement detection - the Gear 2 and Gear Fit

Although bright enough when cranked up to 6 (outdoor mode), the Neo will automatically dim its screen back to level 4 after five minutes. If you’re still outside at this point, bright sunlight makes it very difficult to navigate to the settings menu and turn the brightness back up again. The Gear 2 has the same flaw and I can’t work out for the life of me why Samsung didn’t fit an ambient light sensor to automatically adjust the backlight like on its smartphones. Perhaps battery life is so marginal that even that would prevent the claimed two to three days of typical use per charge.

Speaking of battery life, I could reliably get two full days and nights out of the Neo, but the third day was often a struggle.

Samsung Gear 2 Neo: Software

Running Samsung’s own Tizen operating system, the Neo’s user interface is identical to that used by the Gear 2, only with the camera app missing. This means a simple carousel of screens with four app icons per page, including a pedometer, phone dialer, contacts, music player (from tracks stored on the watch’s 4GB of internal storage), plus access to the heart rate monitor, S Voice for controlling your phone with spoken commands, a stopwatch, and Exercise - an app for tracking walking, running, hiking and even cycling.

Tizen is well suited to wearable devices like the Gear Neo, but it doesn’t feel quite as fast as Samsung’s top-end smartphones. Of course the watch only has a fraction of the available performance (512MB RAM and a 1GHz, dual-core processor), but the watch’s slight reluctance to skip quickly through its menus isn’t something I’d expect from a relatively expensive gadget.

Getting notifications like texts, tweets, emails and Facebook messages to your wrist - along with a vibration - is where the Neo (and the smartwatch concept generally) comes into its own. It may not be life-changing, but glancing at your wrist to check if a text is important or not while in the pub and not wishing to look distracted by your phone is a genuinely useful feature.

Samsung Gear 2 Neo: Health and Fitness

 The real draw of the Neo (and Samsung’s other two Gear smartwatches) is the health and fitness tracking aspect. When hooked up to your Galaxy phone and the S Health app via Bluetooth, the Neo can relay your heart rate and exercise performance.

You can view data collected from either the phone or watch on the handset, but this isn’t the default and having two numbers which, in my experience, differentiated by around 2,000 steps each day, is just confusing. It's also worth remembering at this stage that the Neo cannot be used on its own; you cannot buy one and use it as your watch without pairing it over Bluetooth with one of 17 compatible Samsung Galaxy devices.

The Neo’s heart rate monitor is thankfully much simpler; tap the application, tap start, keep still and let the watch do its thing. The watch takes about 10 seconds to take a reading and during this time it suggests you keep quiet and don’t move. Sometimes the reading would fail, asking me to check the watch was sitting flush against my wrist, before trying again.

Read More - Samsung Gear Fit Review

A heart rate monitor makes much more sense here than it does on the S5, and those who exercise with the Neo may well benefit from taking readings as they run, which S Health logs onto a graph over time.

Samsung Gear 2 Neo: Verdict

When I reviewed the Gear 2 a few weeks ago I said it was trying to do too much, and nothing well enough to justify its £250 price tag. Ditching the camera was a good start for the Gear 2 Neo, but I’d like to have seen Samsung go even further and focus on the user experience, rather than trying to cram in more features than any typical buyer will actually use.

Priced at £180 the Neo is certainly more appealing than the Gear 2, even if the plastic finish looks and feels a bit cheaper. Samsung is going in the right direction, both in simplifying what the watch can do, and lowering its price - but there are still underlying issues here.

Not always showing the time when looked at is an obvious problem, but one which only exists to hide the greater issue of limited battery life. Both of these need some serious work before the Ger 2 Neo - and the smartwatch generally - can appeal to the masses.

The wearable tech revolution we all want is slowly getting there, but while it's by far the most active player, Samsung hasn't cracked it just yet.