Samsung Gear 2 Neo review

The best smartwatch on the market so far

Samsung Gear 2 Neo review
Slimmer, cheaper and drops the metal - the Neo is a big improvement

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As I mentioned in the introduction, the main thing that a smartwatch needs, above specs and a good look, is something that actually makes it worth buying.

No matter the cost it's going to take a lot to make someone to part with cash for a smartwatch if it ends being a fancy bracelet, so Samsung needs to come up with the goods and create something that does more than show you your texts on a wrist.

IR Blaster

The IR (infra red) blaster sits proudly on the Gear 2 Neo above the display, where the camera usually is on the Gear 2 Neo. It's more overt as a result, but adds some nice symmetry to proceedings with the home button below.

The premise is simple: set up your TV or set top box on the remote app, a few tests to make sure the brand is recognised and functioning properly, and you're able to control the basics from your watch.

It's a very intuitive system, and one that harks back to the days when that kid in school was lucky enough to get the remote control watch.

The Gear 2 Neo, just like the Gear 2, is that to the magnitude of awesome (this is the 11-year-old me talking here) as you've instantly got a wealth of brands ready to use - I tried both mainstream and lesser-known manufacturers and they all worked first time, which was impressive.

Samsung Gear 2 Neo review

The range of the blaster is the same as the Gear 2, allowing me to control a TV from 15 feet away without much of a problem (although I did have to point the watch a little towards the screen) which is more than powerful enough. And you'll never have to wonder if the batteries are going in this remote.

The functionality is a little limited - for instance, I was asked to test the menu button as part of the setup, but no such option was present on the actual remote - but if you just want to change channel and the volume, which most of us do, it's pretty nifty.

The angle of pressing it isn't the most natural, having to curve one's arm to operate, but it's hardly the worst thing in the world.

Music player

The Samsung Gear 2 Neo comes with a similar internal storage capacity to the original Gear, offering 4GB to play with. Simply clip on the less obtrusive charging dock and you'll be able to connect up the Gear to a computer for dragging and dropping files across.

You can send the music over through the Gear Manager as well - it's annoyingly buried in the Notifications menu as an option, but it's a neat way of doing things rather than always having to connect up to a laptop.

Samsung Gear 2 Neo review

The music player itself is attractive and simple: you can shuttle through songs with a tap or swipe, and if you've got album art attached it will show behind the interface - a nice touch when screen estate is limited.

The volume controls are a nuisance, as you have to tap a tiny icon (a common theme here) and then tap a couple of small zones to make the Gear 2 play music louder or more softly.

It's also possible to do the same thing by double tapping on the screen with two fingers, which calls up the control centre of the Gear 2 Neo, but again it's not easy.

As you might imagine the music is pumped out using Bluetooth connectivity, and it works very well, even with two connections running at the same time (the other being the phone). It would be nice to control the Gear music from the phone as well, but that's getting picky.

One other note: when listening to tunes a small music icon appears on the home screen of the Gear 2 Neo, which takes you straight to the app.

It would be nice to have this for other apps as well, such as the exercise or WatchOn remote, as there were multiple times when I was exasperatedly searching through the app menu to find them.

But it's a strong music player, and Samsung has used its music chops to good effect here.

Battery life

Samsung is going all out with the battery life on the Gear 2 Neo, stating that (like the Gear 2) the innards are now capable of supporting 2-3 days' use in general terms, but if you only use the thing for the occasionally checking the time you'll manage up to six.

I'm guessing the latter is only if you're not connected to the phone, as unless you do NOTHING with the Gear 2 Neo will you approach that long, but there's definitely a huge improvement in battery life from before.

The first Galaxy Gear could run for around a day and a half at maximum, which was oddly longer than Samsung stated. And that's kind of the case here, with three days easily possible with general use on this smartwatch.

Samsung Gear 2 Neo review

That basically means getting notifications and playing around a little bit with the exercise and pedometer functions – but if you start getting snap-happy and listening to Bluetooth-streamed music then things start to get a little dicey on the battery.

The battery drain was almost identical to that on the Gear 2 - slightly longer in that when I used the camera it sucked down more juice, but given I never did that more than I had to, it didn't really factor in.

The music player was again the main battery dropper, around 5% of the battery life in 30 mins of music, which means you'll want to keep the charger handy if you're listening to tunes at your desk from the Neo.

Without being able to run the usual battery of run down tests it's hard to give an exact number for how long it takes to exhaust the power unit, but anecdotally (for now – we're working on a better way to empirically test the smartwatch) you can definitely get over two days' use from the Gear 2 Neo.

Whether that's enough is subjective – unless I don't need the charger for a week, in the same way as the Pebble, I don't really find it that helpful, but others probably will.

Gareth Beavis
Formerly Global Editor in Chief

Gareth has been part of the consumer technology world in a career spanning three decades. He started life as a staff writer on the fledgling TechRadar, and has grown with the site (primarily as phones, tablets and wearables editor) until becoming Global Editor in Chief in 2018. Gareth has written over 4,000 articles for TechRadar, has contributed expert insight to a number of other publications, chaired panels on zeitgeist technologies, presented at the Gadget Show Live as well as representing the brand on TV and radio for multiple channels including Sky, BBC, ITV and Al-Jazeera. Passionate about fitness, he can bore anyone rigid about stress management, sleep tracking, heart rate variance as well as bemoaning something about the latest iPhone, Galaxy or OLED TV.