Update: The Samsung Gear S2 is still a fine choice if you're an Android user, but there are a few reasons that you may want to consider the Samsung Gear S3.
The Gear S3 features a larger battery, has GPS built-in and offers a bit more RAM than the Gear S2. If those features are crucial to you, you may want to redirect your attention to Samsung's newer wearable gear.
Still, almost three years since its initial release, Samsung has released a large software update the overhauls its general user interface. You'll also find improvements to how it handles workouts on the screen, making information like heart rate and pace easier to parse at-a-glace while you're getting fit.
Original review: In the past Samsung had a scattergun approach to wearable design, releasing numerous devices with varying form and functionality. It was great if you were looking for something different to the all-too-similar Android Wear devices, but with hindsight, Samsung's first attempts weren't very good.
In the Gear S2, Samsung offered up a much more cohesive, well thought out approach. It's clear without even touching the second of three generations of the Gear watch, that the company practically went back to the drawing board to craft a wearable truly worth your attention.
When looking at the Gear S2, it's obvious that Samsung has learnt from its past successes and failures. It's much more wearable than their previous attempts, it looks good and it's comfortable. More importantly the updated Tizen OS has been perfectly tailored to a smartwatch screen, with perhaps the best user interface I've seen on a smartwatch, making excellent use of the tactile rotating bezel.
Tizen also, however, leads to one of the devices biggest downfalls - it remains an immature developer platform, and it still lacks apps. But for now, let's look at the positives.
Unlike previous Samsung wearables, you don't need to be a Samsung phone user to use the Gear S2. The Gear S2 is compatible with most Android phones and iPhones too. You'll find exact device compatibility information further on in this review.
Samsung Gear S2 price and release date
The Samsung Gear S2 features a fully circular Super AMOLED touchscreen measuring 1.2-inches in diameter. That makes it smaller than the displays on the Gear S3, Huawei Watch and Moto 360. Despite having a smaller screen than its rivals, it doesn't impact usability, at no point during my testing did I feel limited by the size.
The device really impresses with a really high resolution of 360 x 360 pixels. Thanks to the relatively small screen, this gives a pixel density of 302ppi, matching the 42mm Apple Watch's retina display.
The pixel density really stands out when putting the Samsung Gear S2 next to other circular smartwatches of this generation (including the new Moto 360 and LG Watch Urbane). It's visibly much sharper, and clearer as a result.
It's my opinion - and that of the TechRadar team in general - that circular displays are more aesthetically appealing than the square displays of the Apple Watch and Sony Smartwatch 3. It just looks more like a traditional, analogue watch. In terms of functionality, it's hard to make a case for it being better or worse.
Samsung claims the sAMOLED (that's not a typo, the S stands for Super) reflects one-fifth as much sunlight as regular AMOLED displays. I didn't have any problems viewing the watch in direct sunlight, usually keeping to the eighth brightness level (out of ten). As it's AMOLED, the colours look lovely and saturated.
There's a noticeable gap between the display and the top layer of glass on the screen. You'd think this has a negative effect on viewing angles, particular in sunlight, but that is not the case. It does make the watch appear a little more retro however.
Just like ambient mode on Android Wear, the Gear S2 has an 'always on' screen option. In this mode the screen will dim after several seconds of inactivity, however, the time will still be displayed with a reduced interface. It's a useful feature that allows you to view the time without needing to raise your arm and flick your wrist to wake the screen, as with the Apple Watch, though it does reduce battery life.
Design and comfort
The Samsung Gear S2 continued the trend for attractive smartwatch design following the lead of the Apple Watch, Moto 360 and Pebble Round. A mantle that's been carried on by the multitude of smartwatches launched since the S2 arrived too.
The circular Gear S2 comes in two models, the standard model, reviewed here, and a 'Classic' one. The standard Gear S2 features a rubber strap, and a sporty aesthetic, while the Classic has a design which pays homage to more traditional timepieces, with a leather strap.
The two models also have different dimensions, with the sporty model measuring 42.3 x 49.8 x 11.4 mm, and the Classic a slightly smaller 39.9 x 43.6 x 11.4 mm. I'd say they're an optimum size, and although some of the dimensions are larger than that of some rivals, the Gear is less bulky overall, and feels smaller as a result. If you're already a regular watch wearer, male or female, the size of the Samsung Gear S shouldn't be an issue.
The watch weighs 47g, so is comfortable to wear for long periods of time, and doesn't feel like a dead weight on your wrist. If you prefer your watch big and chunky however, you may wish to look elsewhere.
The lack of customisation options costs the Gear S2 some design marks. The Apple Watch, and Moto 360 (via Moto Maker) allow a huge range of design choices to make a watch personal to the wearer. In comparison, Samsung only offers the Gear S2 in white or black.
The Classic is only available with a black leather strap, too, but it accepts any 22mm watch strap, allowing you to customise it with any third party strap.
However, the more sporty S2 features a proprietary locking mechanism, which very few accessory manufacturers have decided to adopt, so far.
It's not the end of the world that Samsung has included so few personalisation options, but it does seem like a decision that's counter to the more personalised way wearables are advancing.
The Samsung Gear S2 isn't a particularly premium feeling device, it's certainly no match for the Huawei Watch or Apple Watch, but the rubber strap and metal casing feels durable and well made.
The design doesn't look cheap, it's understated and looks good, just in a slightly utilitarian kind of way.
Others in the office think the Gear S2 looks more like a tech product than a watch. Personally, I like the fact it doesn't try to copy a traditional watch design, it looks futuristic, but not overly so.
The Samsung Gear S2 features two buttons on the right-hand side of the device. These act as a home button, and a back button. They're well positioned, making them easy to press, although, as they're identical, learning which button does what might take a while.
The main control of the Gear S2 is hidden in plain sight - the rotating metal bezel. It's not an exaggeration when I say this bezel is one of the best things that has happened to smartwatch user experience. It's better than Apple's Digital Crown, for a start. It works in a similar way to Apple's controller, scrolling through various menus and information pages, but the bezel feels much more intuitive, and very tactile, with a pleasing click motion.
On the rear of the watch you'll find a centralised optical heart rate monitor, and two mechanisms for releasing the straps. Despite these clips being on the rear of the device, there's no chance of accidentally unlocking the straps. They're in place very securely.
The Samsung Gear S2 is rated IP68, which means it's dust and water resistant. You could happily wear it in the shower or during torrential rain.