New smartwatch cleverer by far

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iol scitech may 6 samsung galaxy Gear 2 AFP The Samsung Galaxy Gear 2 is presented during the 2014 Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

Durban - “But does it tell the time?” I was still a teenager when I saw that question on a magazine cover and it made an indelible impression, thanks to the picture that accompanied it – a digital watch bristling Swiss Army Knife-like, with astonishing features that included a stopwatch, calculator, thermometer and even, if I remember correctly, a Japanese-English dictionary.

Before you scoff, bear in mind that this was the early 1980s and even the clocks on the Starship Enterprise were still of the clickety clack analogue variety – admittedly we were watching reruns of the old 1966 first season of Star Trek at the time.

I was reminded several times of that magazine cover over the past week when I was asked the same question. And the wonder wristwatch that prompted those sarcastic snipes? Yes, you guessed it, Samsung’s new Gear 2 “smartwatch”.

Let me start, then, by answering the question. Yes. It tells the time. You get to choose between a variety of different electronic watch faces, from several traditional analogue styles to variations that look more like a conventional digital watch – all of which look great on the 1.6 inch Amoled display.

But like the watch on the magazine cover, telling the time’s really just an excuse to have it on your wrist. The Gear 2 is bursting with enough clever tricks to put it on every gadget freak’s wish list.

As the name suggests, this isn’t Samsung’s first stab at a smartwatch. I wasn’t a fan of the original Gear released last September. Laggy, with a dreadful battery life, it felt like a product that had been rushed to market ahead of rumours – unfounded as it turned out – that Apple was about to introduce a smartwatch. It was also criticised for being overpriced at R4 600.

I’m happy to report its successor better in every respect. Samsung’s shaved R600 off the price tag, and several millimetres off the device, which now feels more wearable. It’s still big for a watch, but no bigger than those fashionably chunky conventional watches – many of which are pricier, too.

As with the original, you still need to connect the Gear 2 with a compatible Samsung smartphone or tablet for it to work, but there are a lot more of these now than the two available for the first Gear at launch. I tested it with the new Galaxy S5 and the slightly older Note 3 and it worked seamlessly with both.

Once paired with your Samsung device you’ll be able to monitor messages and emails from your wrist and even take calls Dick Tracy style, although I should warn you that shouting into your wristwatch isn’t going to make you many friends.

The 2 megapixel camera, which poked bulbously from the strap of the original Gear, is now built into the body of the watch. And it takes acceptable pictures and 720p video in good light. I found myself using it more than I thought I would to capture those fleeting photos of pets and family members that wouldn’t have waited for me to take out my phone.

Battery life is vastly improved. My unit lasted two days between charges. Another big plus is the Gear’s now water resistant, so you can use it while exercising, swimming and showering.

And speaking of exercise, there’s a range of fitness apps, including a pedometer, running and cycling trackers you can use with the built-in heart rate monitor, though the latter was a bit tricky to use.

Would I buy one? If I already had a compatible Samsung smartphone and could spare R4 000 – or the monthly contract repayments – I’d certainly give it serious consideration. If there’s one thing giving me pause is the impending release of several smartwatches running Google’s new Android Wear operating system that’ll work with any Android phone. - Sunday Tribune

If you’ve got any questions, pose them to @alanqcooper on Twitter, or e-mail me at [email protected]

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