Apple Watch v Samsung Gear S2: Cupertino and Korea showdown

Tech goliaths go head-to-head, battling it out for your wrist space
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Steering clear of Android Wear? Don't fancy a Pebble? Essentially, that leaves you at the mercy of a pair of familiar foes - Samsung and Apple.

The Apple Watch is, without doubt, the highest profile connected timepiece to date but the Samsung Gear S2 has received huge press praise since it was officially unveiled at IFA 2015.

So, what smartwatch feature will twist your decision - the rotating bezel on the Gear S2 or Apple Watch's Digital Crown?

Apple Watch v Gear S2: Design and models

The Apple Watch, with its square-but-round design, comes in two sizes - 38mm or 42mm. What the Apple Watch is actually made from, case and strap, depends on what range you opt for - regular, Sport, Edition or the designer brand Hermès.

The Apple Watch actually comes in 50 different variations, if you count all the sizes and finishes on offer - it's without doubt the most prolific smartwatch so far.

Essential reading: The best smartwatches in the world

Sammy's effort comes in three flavours: the Samsung Gear S2, Gear S2 Classic and 3G Gear S2. They are essentially the same device, albeit with different finishes. The Classic is the black one - with a leather strap - and the regular S2 and 3G models have either a silver finish / white strap or is an all dark grey affair. Unfortunately, there's still no word on whether the UK will get the untethered Gear S2.

If you're bored of grey, black and the same old watch faces, Samsung has been working with fashion brands to offer up additional faces, bands and bezels. The company has even created rose gold and platinum versions of the S2 that give the smartwatch an elegant finish.

Key to the Apple Watch is the Digital Crown, the physical winder on the side. Instead of being 100% touchscreen like most of its rivals, the Apple Watch surprised everyone by going analogue. It works as a home key and you can also twist it to both scroll and zoom.

Samsung essentially followed suit with its rotating bezel that's used to control the menus. It's a great control system that's easy to manage, and a nice alternative to mashing the 1.2-inch screen with your finger.

Apple's Digital Crown has been a nice addition to its offering, but the rotating bezel on the Gear S2 turns like a dream. Rather than hiding the bezel altogether like Motorola or primp it up to look like a traditional wristwatch like LG, Samsung has transformed it into a satisfying, addictive and most importantly, intuitive way of interacting with the smartwatch. Simply put, it's probably our favorite thing about the device and at this point, feels more useful than Apple Watch's simple crown.

Apple Watch v Gear S2: Specs


For the larger Apple Watch it's 390 x 312 pixels on the OLED display of the 42mm version and for the 38mm one, you're looking at a 340 x 272 resolution. It's 326ppi for each one, apparently - although that's not official from Apple.

The Samsung Gear S2 has a round 1.2-inch Super AMOLED display, with a 302ppi count - from a 360 x 360 resolution.

The S2 is powered by a dual-core 1GHz Exynos processor and Samsung is promising 2-3 days of battery life from the 300mAh power pack.

Must have extras: Best Apple Watch accessories

The Apple Watch actually runs on a chip with Samsung parts - the 520MHz S1. Don't worry too much about the clock speed - Apple keeps everything in house and its silicone is designed to be as streamlined to its devices as possible.

Where you should focus your concerns is the battery size: 205mAh on the 38mm models, 246mAh on the 42mm one. That's a day at best before you'll need to charge.

Both Samsung Gear S2 models have Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and NFC, and there's a 3G model also packing GPS. On the Apple Watch there's no cellular or GPS connectivity.

The Gear S2 wins here again in terms of battery life size but the Apple Watch has better display specs on paper. Of course, battery life is dependent on usage. Looking at the watches side-by-side, it's honestly difficult to discern which is crisper since the resolutions are relatively similar.

Apple Watch v Gear S2: OS and appsapple-watch-gear-s2-1454537063-R80v-column-width-inline

Unlike Android Wear, the Gear S2's Tizen interface is a lot more in line with what you're used to on your smartphone, with app menu screens, homepages and widgets and, with that curved display, everything is a lot more natural on the Gear S2.

Samsung smartwatches: What Gear should you buy?

We weren't surprised that Samsung went with Tizen again; we wouldn't expect a huge tech company to bet its wearable house all on one platform. And, with over 1,000 apps already available before the smartwatch went on sale and some pretty big app partners already playing ball, it looks like a clever decision. It's still not as many as we'd like but progress has been made since the days of the Gear S watch.

Tizen is a simple to use as ever which could be annoying for some or a godsend for others. You still can't completely customize the UI so it ends up looking a little dated compared to the hip watchOS 2.

Tim Cook said it would have been rubbish to just squeeze iOS onto the new watch, so Apple came up with watch OS which is now on version 2.

Standalone apps weren't available in version 1.0 though, simply iPhone extensions. However, there are over 10,000 apps already available and watch OS2, with native apps and a host of cool new features, landed on September 16 making the Apple Watch a bit more useful.

Apple Watch v Gear S2: Health and fitness


Samsung has overhauled its fitness app. The S2 isn't going to replace your sports watch, especially as neither the regular nor Classic models have GPS, but there are some attempts to give you that option. The Gear S2 will recognise when you're working out and start tracking straight away. Walking, running and cycling will all be tracked without any input, which is perfect for the kind of casual user who would consider the Gear S2 as an all-rounder..

Samsung's health app is also set to build proper profiles of heart rate data, which would in turn make for an exceptionally rich experience.

All-in-all, the S2 offers more than Android Wear or Pebble in terms of health and fitness tracking. It's similar to what the Apple Watch is offering, partly successfully, but if Cupertino does decide to include GPS on its next model, the Gear S2 could get left behind.

Fitness tracking is an enormous part of the Apple Watch setup and is split into two main areas. The first is the Activity App, which is centered on health, movement, wellness and your daily routine, rather than sports.

Smartwatch showdown: Samsung Gear S2 vs Moto 360 2

Running, cycling and walking are what the Workout App tracks. It plugs the GPS information from your mobile into data from the on-board accelerometer and heart rate sensors to give you all the time, distance and pacing metrics you'll need. In our Watch testing, we found Apple's fitness suite hit and miss.

Right now, the fitness functions are neck and neck since only the untethered S2 offers GPS.

Apple Watch v Gear S2: Price, release date


The Gear S2 start at . The Gear S2 Classic ups the cost and matches Apple Watch figures at .

If you want 3G on your wrist, various US mobile carriers are offering different plans with assorted starting prices for the watch itself. There's still no pricing for the higher end rose gold and platinum timepieces just yet.

Apple Watch prices start from . That gets you the 38mm Apple Watch Sport; it's more for the 42mm model.

The regular Apple Watch has prices starting from for 38mm and for 42mm, going right up to .

The Apple Watch Edition costs from .

It's clear Samsung is aiming its price points at the frugal spenders with the regular Gear S2 - which is great, especially since the wearable is compatible with more phones than its predecessor. However, you'll still need an Android handset. If you're determined to stick with iPhones, the cheapest Apple Watch is still just as expensive as the priciest Gear S2 (not counting the rose gold and platinum offerings which will likely cost more) but you get full functionality compared to the minimal usage from compatible Android Wear smartwatches.

Apple Watch v Samsung Gear S2: Verdict

In the 3G version, Samsung's Gear S2 works as a standalone device. You can make and receive calls using the cellular connectivity. That, and the inclusion of GPS, put it ahead of the Apple Watch in terms of hardware.

Samsung opting for a clean, round look certainly wins the company points, especially if you remember the previous wearable designs. Both the regular S2 and Classic are comfy and easy on the eyes. One thing's for sure, the latest Samsung smartwatch is a polished, unisex, circular smartwatch that no one would be ashamed of wearing.

However the Apple wrist-ware simply has more apps than the Tizen based OS device which gives it a major boost. Add the fact that Apple fans are incredibly loyal and, even if the Gear S2 may look a better deal on paper, we'd bet our house on the Cupertino contender winning comfortably in the sales stakes.

Either way, whatever watch you choose, you'll be getting a gorgeous display, a unique OS and a great looking device.

We're already excited to see what the Apple Watch 2 and Samsung Gear S3 will bring forth.

How we test

Paul Lamkin


Wareable Media Group co-CEO Paul launched Wareable with James Stables in 2014, after working for a variety of the UK's biggest and best consumer tech publications including Pocket-lint, Forbes, Electric Pig, Tech Digest, What Laptop, T3 and has been a judge for the TechRadar Awards. 

Prior to founding Wareable, and subsequently The Ambient, he was the senior editor of MSN Tech and has written for a range of publications.

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