Samsung Gear S review

Does Samsung's latest smartwatch impress? Read our full review to find out

The Samsung Gear S was the Korean giant's flagship 2104 smartwatch that, unlike the latest Sony and Asus efforts, shuns Google's Android Wear OS in favour of its own platform: Tizen.

It's a bold move from Samsung, especially given that it also has a contender in the Android Wear marketplace in the shape of the Gear Live and is a clear indication that the smartwatch genre is still very much in its infancy so manufacturers are covering the bases as they find their feet. It's also another example of Samsung throwing everything but the kitchen sink at the wall and seeing what sticks, but that's another story for another day.

Essential reading: Samsung Gear S2 review

It's also bold because the Samsung Gear S is an “advanced communicator" due to its 3G, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity. That's marketing talk meaning it can be used as a standalone device – it even rocks its own SIM card slot.

We've spent a couple of weeks with the Gear S strapped on to our wrist, read on to see if the Gear S is the best smartwatch money can buy. After all, at £329/$350, it should be, right?

Samsung Gear S: Design and display

Imagine the Gear 2 and the Gear Fit had a quiet night in, had a few too many glasses of wine and got over amorous with little care – the result would look a lot like the Samsung Gear S. It features a large (in smartwatch terms, at least), 2-inch Super AMOLED display - one that is curved. It's simply stunning. The 480 x 360 resolution, and 300ppi count, is the highest yet for a notable smartwatch and it shows.

Buyer's guide: What Samsung Gear should you buy?

Yes, it's big – but we're all for that. In the same way that some smartphone users like their displays larger than the rest (Samsung's Note phablet range is incredibly popular), we think there will be a market for bigger smartwatch displays. And that 2-inch display allows for a lot of information on screen without it ever looking cramped. We love it.

The brightness on the display is awesome and, for everyday use, you simply won't find yourself squinting. Typing on it is still ridiculous – you'll find yourself using S Voice if you really want to input words directly, it's a much more efficient method.

Like most smartwatches, it uses an accelerometer to detect if you turn your wrist towards your face and it works a treat. The ambient light sensor is also pretty good, so you won't be blown away by unnecessary brightness that burns your eyes if you decide to check your email in the dead of night.

The curved display blends into the rubber strap (numerous colour variations are available), which is perfectly comfortable – although Samsung continues to let everyone down when it comes to the clasp. Once again, it's the clunky, foldable metallic variety of the previous Gear models. It's the only major design fault. Sometimes it simply refuses to close without a good fight.

Samsung Gear S: Standalone device?

You remember how we said that Samsung Gear S was a standalone device? Well that's only partly true, as you'll need a compatible Samsung Galaxy smartphone to set the wearable up in the first place. Then you'll need the Gear Manager smartphone app to transfer over contacts, music and photos. And also to install apps. And also to track runs using certain popular running apps. You get the message.

It's a mess to be fair and further proof, if it were needed, that Samsung is happy to rush a half-arsed product to market – one with a couple of standout impressive features – that doesn't really live up to the billing that is given to it.

Once you've got the Gear S up and running, and loaded up a few apps – not independently, of course, but using your Samsung Galaxy smartphone – you can choose to pop in a 3G SIM card and fly solo. Yep, you can make and receive calls – with pretty good audio quality it has to be said – send texts, check emails and even surf the web – all without the need to be tethered to your smartphone.

Smartwatch showdown: Samsung Gear S v Apple Watch

However, be aware that some apps simply refuse to work sans-smartphone (including many popular run tracking ones), some require smartphone setup before they'll work alone on the Gear S and all apps, and there are some 1,000+ available on Tizen, are installed using the Gear Manager smartphone app. There's no app store on the watch itself, which is, well, pretty crap.

If you do insert a SIM, the Gear S then has its own number although, weirdly, if you are still paired to a smartphone (thus pimpin' it by running two contracts) the smartphone's number actually overrides the watch's one, and any calls you make and receive will be through your mobile.

Also, Gear S users who want to use their new smartwatch independently would have to give their pals two different numbers – their original smartphone one and their new smartwatch number. That is, if they don't decide to ditch their phone altogether and go all-out Dick Tracy. There's obviously the option of popping out your phone's SIM and sticking it in your new Gear S as well, although who's going to actually bother doing that?

Therefore, the fact that there's 3G connectivity on board won't mean a thing to most users and we'd hazard a guess that 99% of people who buy a Gear S won't use it as a standalone device at all.

We certainly didn't.

Samsung Gear S: Tizen apps

What we did use it for were the sorts of things that smartwatches are good at. So that's getting notifications, checking emails, browsing social media updates and so on. And, because of that fantastic display, along with a wealth of dedicated Tizen apps, it's about the best smartwatch we've used for these tasks.

Navigating menus and the like is also a breeze due to the larger screen real-estate, with the Tizen OS setup a lot more along the lines of a traditional smartwatch one than what you'd get on Android Wear. Homescreens are left to right, just like on TouchWiz and, similarly to Samsung's mobile OS, you can populate these screens with your choice of widgets – news, weather, contacts, photos, updates and so on – with hundreds to choose from.

Must have apps: Best apps for your Samsung smartwatch

Naturally, you can also change the wallpaper of these homescreens and you can even upload your own background images – although, again, you'd need the smartphone app for this. There are also a number of different watch faces to choose from.

The Tizen app store – which you have to use your phone for, sorry – is packed with a wealth of big name apps and, once installed, they appear on the Gear S's app screen, just as they would on a smartphone. It's a nice setup, it's just a shame you have to get your phone out of your pocket anytime you want to add something.

Samsung Gear S: Fitness and GPS

S Health is built into the Gear S and, as with Samsung smartphones, it will count your steps, calories, heart rate, sleep and, erm, outside UV rays

And like the Samsung smartphones, S Health does these all badly. The step counting is way-off, the heart rate monitoring isn't even within a ball-park and, when we took our Samsung Gear S running alongside a dedicated GPS running watch, not only was it miles out – quite literally – with the distance, it also managed to get the duration of the run wrong, recording a time that was 10 minutes less than the 55 minutes we did on one occasion. We're not sure how that's even possible.

It's probably nailing the UV index though – we didn't double check.

The GPS did come in handy for the baked-in, rehashed Here app, which provides turn-by-turn instructions. This aspect, we're pleased to reveal, worked exactly as was promised.

Samsung Gear S: Battery life

The bad news: you're only looking at a day's battery life with the Gear S. The double bad news: you're going to need to carry around yet another charging cradle with you.

However, we'll cut Samsung some slack here, as an average battery life and an extra charging accessory are certainly not faults unique to just its devices. Plus there's the good news.

The good news is the charging cradle itself is a battery; a 350mAh one that is capable of holding and giving a charge. And with the Gear S's battery pack measuring in at 300mAh, the cradle packs enough juice for a full extra charge. It's a nice feature and if manufacturers will insist on the extra accessory, the least they can do is make them useful.

Samsung Gear S
By Samsung
By billing the Samsung Gear S as a standalone device – although not officially in those words – Samsung has delivered a dud. A good-looking, expensive, dud. Without the messy Samsung Galaxy smartphone reliance, the Gear S could have been a unique device that appealed to a certain audience. Instead, it’s a mishmash of impressive features combined with a fiddly user experience that won’t really appeal to anyone. Its limitations and annoyances could have been more easily forgiven if it wasn’t so bloomin’ expensive. $349?! Get real Samsung. Sure, that’s the price of a mid-range smartphone but you’d need to buy another mid-range smartphone (at least) just to get it going in the first place. At $100 less we’d give it another star; the notification features work really well and it looks amazing – but at its current RRP that’s the least you’d expect.

  • Fantastic curved Super AMOLED display
  • Battery cradle also charges
  • Notifications work well
  • Plenty of apps available on Tizen
  • It’s ridiculously expensive
  • Samsung Galaxy phone reliance
  • Samsung Health features are poor
  • Clasp is ugly and hard to use

What do you think?

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  • getzy·

    wher can i get 1

  • Me666·

    After trying both andrid wear and this I would hardly call this half baked lol android wear however is certainly not ready for market although some very nice watches the soft wear is terrible - like it was designed by a child . Until android wear gets a speaker and soft wear that can keep up with tizen ill stay with tizen. Looking forward to see what apple watch bring to the table, although it very much doubt it will be better than tizen since tizen has such a big head start in development.

    Your experience with s health amazed me since I di a lot of tracking, running and find it very accurate. I have a dedicated heart rate monitor from my work that reads with a few beats of s health version. It,s more than going enough. Personally I don't like the look of this watch but it's certainly capable. 

  • g_money·

    I have had this for a few months now and I could not disagree more with the review.  Sure it has its quirks, but to not mention the built in Nike app when talking about health features is a travesty.  It is by far the best feature of the watch and makes it worth it (if you are in the market for a gps running watch with no need for a phone).  The overall style is probably big for most folks, but for those of us with larger wrists, this bad boy fits right in.  

  • BobFrankston·

    Just as an FYI -- Google Voice or similar applications allow you to give out a single phone number that try both you wrist and phones. Yes, twisting winding passages until we retire the PSTN but a work-around for now.

  • jimlock·

    I'm going to have to disagree with a few points in your review. First, not ALL the health apps are "poor". In fact most are very good. The heart rate monitor isn't entirely accurate though but I challenge you to find one built into a smart watch *that does not use a chest strap* that IS accurate.
    Second, not one smart watch out there does not have to be recharged. The cradle for this is small and has a built-in battery that is good enough for one full charge. Best what Samsung did to their previous watches.
    Last - the wrist band and latch are ugly and hard to use in your opinion. I don't find it "ugly" and once I figured out the trick on latching it, it's very easy to use. 
    Oops you forgot to mention one very important thing - the Gear S has a waterproof rating of ip67. Very few smart watches are waterproof.

  • scann·

    Totally bias review. I have had my Gear S since the US launching date. The Gear S is not a dud, it's the best smart watch on the market to date. I like all the smart watch brands. I can't wait until the apple watch is out I am hoping that it will have a huge impacted on the wearable market. 

  • daniel_wong·

    Let me get this straight -

    Samsung Gear S

    • It’s ridiculously expensive
    • Samsung Galaxy phone reliance
    • Samsung Health features are poor
    • Clasp is ugly and hard to use

    Apple Watch

    • It’s ridiculously expensive for basic model and insanity expensive for edition model
    • Phone reliance on iPhone 5 upward
    • Health features are poor and inaccurate because of hairy arm
    • Clasp is ugly and hard to use because of small screen

    and yet apple watch is the best smart watch....Mashable you are very bias reviewer.

  • zxcvbnm21·

    how much did Apple paid you to say crap things on the most advance smartwatch on the market right say Samsung gear S is expensive compare to the price of apple watch steel band which is more expensive and I mean only the band accessory not the device either -

    1 the author of this article is high on drug or

    2 full of Sh!t.

    • polis148·

      I agree with you bud. The review is obviously bias, full of $hit, drugged up & obviously written by yet another apple zombie. I've had my Gear S for 2 weeks now, which I brought for  £153 brand new from eBay US. I gotta say it's an amazing piece of tech. The battery usually lasts me around 28 hours providing I use the grey scale set up when I don't need the colour on. I can therefore use the sleep tracking throughout the night & still have 20% of  juice left. This phone rocks.

  • sana·

    At a really reasonable price I picked up this watch in December. Everything said in this review is way off base. The watch has been solid especially with S Health. The only reason I read this review is because I was looking for information on Nike+. This review is critically flawed.

  • jhulsey·

    Just want everyone to be aware that the Samsung Gear S has a flaw in the design of the battery charger that clips onto the watch.  There are two tiny clips that will break.  I had my watch for two months and only used it sparingly.  The charger stayed right at my bedside and I left it there to charge at night.  I contacted Samsung and they said that I would have to pay to have the charger sent to me.  I had already paid the $250 to get the watch and now they wanted more money to repair it.  I decided against getting one as I only feel that it is going to happen again.  This was an expensive lesson.  I would not purchase it again. Note that I did love the watch itself.  I am very disappointed in Samsung.

    • Lg1·

      Jhulsey is right.  Battery charger is junk.  Mine broke to.  I took it in to Verizon and they said they could not get a replacement.  I went on Ebay (per their suggestion) and bought 3 of the cheap charging "docks" for less than $8 a piece.  I thought that after the original broke (so quickly) then the cheap ones would be disposable.  The replacements are lighter (do not have built in storage)  I put one in each car...just incase the watch needs a charge on a trip.  Glad someone knew those watches were going to have a problem and developed these chargers.  I would have like to have a watch with wifi charging capabilities but I hear that if they are not laying on the charging pad 'just so' they will not charge.  Love my Gear S.  Hubby bought it for me.  First gift (other than jewelry :) that he has bought me that I truly LUV.  We ordered him a new iPhone 6s Plus.  He is going to the "dark side" but he is giving me his Note 3 to replace my old Note 2.  I think I will like my Edge S even more.

      Just wish I had a Swarzwsky crystal watch band for my Edge S.

    • Crystalboo·

      I am very disappointed with this watch. This will be my 3rd watch. The gold prones on the back of watch keeps falling off due to the charging crater. So therefore watch will not charge. I purchased the watch in February and waiting on the 3rd one to arrived. I wish T-Mobile would refund my money back cause I feel as though I wasted 400.00. Over a period of time taking the crater off the back of watch loosens the prones and they just fall off. Samsung knows that this is a reoccurring problem but they only want to repair it. Never in life again will I buy something and not get the reviews first. If anyone is thinking about purchasing this watch think again, problems!!!

  • NobleJedi9·

    This is a asinine review if I ever saw one. I guess this dud has never been returned to their respective carriers because they're flying off the shelves. Only thing is the tab on the charger broke but thats cool,just went to Amazon and got another one. The person who wrote this must be on meth or something.This is the ultimate badass King of smartwatches and the Apple Watch can't hold a candle to it.

  • SteveG·

    I read these reviews to learn and remain current on the best and newest technologies, smart watches and other. I have owned the Gear S since it's release and was amazed when I read this review. Very little if any, of what was critiqued about the watch is true. I can accidently leave my phone at home and with the Gear S,  not miss a beat. It is a amazing smart watch. I have come to rely on it daily and it does not let me down, ever. This guy must be on someone else' payroll. I don't usually comment on these reviews but this one was so wrong, I was forced to reply.

  • Scotlass68·

    my son has this watch and the face fell out of the strap and smashed so not a very happy son now

  • Amanisedu1906·

    I'd have to disagree with much of this review. I am a smart watch sceptic who bitten by the smart watch bug after watching a colleague play with his apple watch. I chose the gear s over the gear s2 because i liked the larger screen. I use my watch mainly for notifications and don't spend much time browsing or staring at apps. I put it on about 6 am and take it off by 11-12am at battery level is in the upper 40s...maybe 30s on a heavy day. The watch is pretty big so you'd need a screen protector as bumps are inevitable. All in all I've been satisfied and will probably be a smart watch wearer from here on out. Tizen apps are limited so hopefully that will change with time. I really only need them to make a Strava app for the gear and I'll be fine.

  • Anson383·
    1. All you  Iphpne idiots that thang we don't know what you're doing putting on these fake ass comments about this awesome watch are freaking stupid if we don't know if you don't really think that this is the best smartwatch ever   Made  rocks Apple  fan  booys  ,,,suck it
  • Dev·

    I have quite a few Smartwatches at my disposal here and I find android wear so much more useful. The Gear S doesn't show notifications correctly (it only shows text, but can't take actions like Android Wear can) is the by far least responsive device (slow UI, slow touch recognition), Notifications take sometimes 5 minutes until they are displayed (bad for very important stuff) and the way Tizen is operated is somewhat flawed (very similar gestures do totally different things).

    Being a developer and having dived (dove? I'm not a natural english speaker, sorry) into tizen development, I have also found flaws in the OS that are just ridiculous (like, I really can't believe samsung shipped this incapable and insecure mess as a product). Only an OS update will be able to fix some of this stuff, and it's somewhat unlikely that Samsung actually updates it. It almost seems like Samsung didn't want developers to be able to make good apps for Tizen.

    Since I don't own the devices, I can't tell you much about everyday usage and stuff like battery life, so take my comment with a grain of salt. All I can say is that if Tizen really wants to become a real alternative to Android, they have to put in A WHOLE LOT of work. And it doesn't seem like they're doing that.