Hands on: Samsung Gear S2 Classic review

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Our Early Verdict

Where the Samsung Gear S2 proper proves the concept for the firm's impressive sixth – yes, its sixth – take on the smartwatch, the Gear S2 Classic proves it can make a chic watch you'll honestly want to buy.

For

  • Classy, understated design
  • Unique, clever rotating bezel
  • Works with all Android 4.4 phones

Against

  • Some features still Samsung-only
  • Lack of apps

Before even getting into the nitty gritty, let me answer what's undoubtedly on many of your minds: if you've been holding out for the right Samsung smartwatch to buy, you may well have just found it.

The Samsung Gear S2 may be the first of the Korean firm's wearables worth your attention, but the Gear S2 Classic might be the first worth the scratch. Due out this October for a still-undisclosed (and likely eye-watering) price, the Gear S2 Classic takes everything that's brilliant about its primary counterpart and fits it in an incredibly stylish package.

That includes the hardware inside, from the Super AMOLED screen to the processor and array of sensors, to the hardware outside, like that clever, rotating bezel. This isn't just Samsung's answer to the more fashion-forward Android Wear watches, like the Moto 360 and Huawei Watch, but its number one rival: the Apple Watch.

How the Gear S2 Classic looks and feels

Being aimed more at nailing the traditional watch look, the Samsung Gear S2 Classic's looks are a far cry from the more tech-heavy, sportier look of the Gear S2 proper. That said, the S2 Classic is slightly smaller – 40mm to the S2's 42mm – and uses a different, more traditional mechanism for how it attaches to bands.

Speaking of which, the S2 Classic comes with a sharp, genuine leather black band to match its black, smoothed (and glossy) metal case. There are no other customization options here, save for compatibility with nearly any 20mm watch band. But you shouldn't need many more options when the watch looks this slick already – it should match with almost everything in your wardrobe.

Despite being slightly smaller, the S2 Classic still manages to fit the same 1.2-inch, 360 x 360-pixel Super AMOLED touchscreen as its chunkier mate. And it looks just as sharp and vibrant – much more so than what I've seen from last year's Moto 360 (2014), for instance. However, Samsung's largely white-on-black approach to its fonts within Tizen, the firm's proprietary operating system (OS) for these smartwatches, is a bit over the top.

Overall, the S2 Classic feels much lighter and looks less imposing on our wrists than its larger, more rubbery counterpart – though the difference on paper seems minimal. But when it comes to this type of technology, it's those minute details that can make the difference between a must-buy product and something doomed to the shelf.

Samsung Gear S2 Classic

The Gear S2 Classic sure one-ups the Pebble Time Steel

How the Gear S2 Classic works

Save for the S2 Classic's rotating bezel featuring a notched design for more tactile grip to the S2 proper's smooth ring, the former operates in exactly the same way. All versions of the Gear S2 feature a Home button at the bottom right of the case and a Back button on its top right.

The former returns you to the watch face, of which there will be 24 loaded into every Gear S2 at launch, while the latter bumps you back one menu selection per press.

Turning the rotating bezel to the left takes you to the essentials: your call log and your text messages. Each click to the right takes you to one of the widgets you've selected. What really makes it all click is just that, a satisfying click as you turn the bezel that not only makes navigation easier, but somehow more enjoyable.

Is it needed? Perhaps not, as the default impulse was to flick the screen with a finger (which works fine) - it remains to be seen whether using this for longer will yield a desire to start flicking the outer rim.

Samsung preloads a number of widgets onto the device, like a quick settings panel, the S Health step counter, more detailed weather info and a weird tracker of your water and coffee intake that depends entirely on your input. However, all of these widget spots are customizable - and you can even add in your own apps into this spot.

On paper, it may sound like Samsung loaded this tiny device with too many inputs. But in practice the two buttons and rotating bezel make for an elegant control solution on a smartwatch.

Samsung Gear S2 Classic

The Gear S2 Classic's message layout is mighty clean

What about the apps?

The million dollar question. With Samsung sticking to its own Tizen OS for the Gear S2 line, a common worry was that the watches would be left wanting for apps. The good news is there will be around a thousand at launch - with some really cool things in the pipeline, like unlocking your car or house with a flick of the wrist.

Key launch partners include a robust Uber app that will surely be the only way to hail a cab by 2018, a focused CNN news ticker app and a highly customizable Twitter app among others. But perhaps the most important Gear S2 app is the updated Samsung Gear Manager on the Google Play Store.

Why's that? Because the Gear S2 line is compatible with many phones running Android 4.4 or later through this very app. We can't be the only ones who were worried that the new Gears would be a Samsung-only ordeal, considering that was the case with their predecessor, the Gear S.

That said, certain Gear S2 features will not be compatible with just any Android phone, namely Samsung Pay, which makes heavy use of the company's proprietary firmware for security purposes and it's card reader-spoofing technique, MST, or Magnetic Secure Transmission. Whether the Gear S2 will work with Android Pay is yet to be seen.

Samsung Gear S2 Classic

This is weather at a glance on the Gear S2 Classic

What else is packed in there?

The brains of the operation is an optimized, dual-core 1GHz processor. (Samsung wouldn't specify the make of it, but our money's on a variation of its own Exynos chip.) That's backed up by 512MB of RAM, plenty for such a tiny device, and 4GB of storage for (some of) those 1,000 or so apps.

Rounding out the spec sheet is a gamut of sensors – an accelerometer, gyroscope, heart rate sensor, ambient light sensor and barometer – 802.11 b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.1 and NFC.

The Gear S2 Classic can also automatically join a Wi-Fi network that you've saved, without a phone, something that the Apple Watch won't be able to do until watchOS 2 lands later this year, although Android Wear has had the same trick for a while.

Samsung Gear S2 Classic review

It works by sending messages from your phone to Samsung's cloud server, with the Gear S2 Classic picking them up and firing them to your wrist. Chances are you won't be using this on a run, though, given the more 'refined' feel.

The brawn behind the brains, so to speak, is a 250mAh lithium-ion battery that Samsung claims can last between two and three days. Every Gear S2 model will come packing a wireless charging kit, too.

Samsung Gear S2 Classic

See the difference that a little leather makes?

Early verdict

Where the standard Samsung Gear S2 proves the concept for the firm's impressive sixth – yes, its sixth – go at the smartwatch, the Gear S2 Classic proves that it can make a chic watch, too. We don't foresee many people leaping at the rubbery Gear S2, but this watch is no doubt one to, well... you know.

The Gear S2 Classic captures everything that wows about the Gear S2 – namely the rotating bezel and subsequent interface – and puts it into a design that many would honestly be comfortable having peek from under a cuff. And while that sounds mighty shallow, that detail makes all the difference when considering whether it's worth your hard-earned dough.

The interface and lack of apps do cast something of a shadow on the device, so the main thing it has going for it now is aesthetics, with the ridged bezel and leather straps making it look highly premium... but that's no bad thing.

It hasn't even been six months since the Apple Watch launched and already it has the Samsung Gear S2 Classic nipping at its heels. Well, at least at first glance. We'll save final judgment on that point for the full review, so keep it locked here when the Gear S2 Classic launches this October.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Phones and Tablets Editor

Gareth (Twitter, Google+) has been part of the mobile phone industry from the era of the brick to the tiny device in the pocket... and now watching them grow back up to behemothic proportions once more. He's spent five years dissecting all the top phones in the world as TechRadar's Phones and Tablets Editor, and still can't resist answering the dreaded question - "which new phone should I get?" - with 15 choices.

What is a hands on review?

'Hands on reviews' are a journalist's first impressions of a piece of kit based on spending some time with it. It may be just a few moments, or a few hours. The important thing is we have been able to play with it ourselves and can give you some sense of what it's like to use, even if it's only an embryonic view. For more information, see TechRadar's Reviews Guarantee.