Samsung’s Latest Smart Watches Could One-Up Apple Watch

Samsung's Latest Smart Watches Could One-Up Apple Watch

While the success of Apple Watch remains a hotly debated topic in tech circles, I think it’s fair to say that this elegant but limit device will quickly dominate wearable computing. So Samsung, which beat Apple to market by quite some time, is set to release its third generation smart watch family soon. And it looks like they will correct some of the issues I have with Apple’s entry.

I wrote about my initial experiences with Apple Watch back in May, in my imaginatively-titled article Apple Watch First Impressions. Long story short, Apple Watch is an absolutely gorgeous and well-made wearable. But it has so many problems.

The software is mind-boggingly stupid, with a terrible UI. And its current inability to run native apps—your iPhone must be nearby for it do almost anything—is a deal breaker, albeit one that should be at least partially fixed by a coming major update. And it is of course tied to iPhone; you can’t use Apple Watch with Windows or Android.

Those are all problems. But there are three things Apple can’t fix with software, and these are perhaps even more problematic: the battery life, which pretty much requires daily charging (a bit ponderous because of the strap-based nature of such devices), the relative size and bulk of Watch, and my belief that round is the correct shape for a watch.

That last one is, well, the most subjective, yes. I’ve almost pulled the trigger on a Moto 360, as it looks so elegant in pictures. But the initial version of that watch was in fact quite big, and would probably disappoint most. What’s needed is a watch/wearable with that basic shape. But smaller.

Enter Samsung. This week, the firm pre-announced that it will introduce its third-generation smart watches this week at IFA in Berlin. And unlike previous versions—I have one of their Android Wear watches, plus a Gear Fit fitness band—these new devices will actually be watch-shaped. That is, they will be round.

Will they be small?

That’s an open question, as I’ve not seen one yet. Certainly, some of them—maybe all of them—will not be, based on the pictures I’ve seen. Dubbed the Samsung Gear G2, this new generation of Samsung smart watch will ship in three versions—you know, because there is nothing Apple does that Samsung won’t copy—call S2 (standard), Classic, and 3G.

Samsung Gear G2 standard
Samsung Gear G2 standard

Each will have the same basic specs: a 1.2-inch diameter touch display with 360 x 360 resolution (though it’s not clear how a round screen can have a square pixel layout), a 1 GHz dual-core processor, 512 MB of RAM, and 4 GB of onboard storage for apps, music, and other data. One wonders about this thing heating the wrist.

The standard S2 will come in two color combination options: dark gray with a dark gray rubberized band, and silver with a white rubberized band. The S2 Classic comes with just one color combination: black, with a black leather band. And the 3G version is the Classic with built-in 3G wireless connectivity. You can swap out the bands for other colors and materials.

Samsung Gear G2 Classic

Stupidly, these watches will not run Android Wear, which makes them a lot less interesting. Instead, they will run the Tizen OS, which Samsung has been trying to get off the ground for years. (It’s used in the company’s smart TVs, so you know it’s pretty terrible.) But on the good news front, they will allegedly get 2-to-3 days of battery. We’ll see about that one. And each sports a “rotating digital crown” as an interaction point, an open question.

Since seeing round UIs on some Android Wear watches, I’ve come around to the notion that round is the “right” shape for these devices, so I’m happy to see Samsung move in that direction. And Samsung says all the basic apps—fitness, calendar, maps, weather, news, music and so on—will be available. But Tizen worries me. I wish these devices were Android Wear based, as I find that OS to be simpler and more obvious (“intuitive” isn’t quite the right word) than Apple Watch, which is like a carnival funhouse gone mad from a UI perspective.

We also don’t know cost. So for now, this is just a little heads-up. Something to look more closely at, and think about.

But I can say this. I put my Apple Watch back in the box about a month ago and haven’t looked back. I still wear a Microsoft Band every day, and like it’s step-tracking functionality while not being a fan of the battery life or bulk. I’m looking to move on.

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