Samsung (SSNLF) had high hopes for its Galaxy Gear. The 2013 release was the first smartwatch from a big consumer electronics giant. The Galaxy Gear meant Samsung was first to market, ahead of Apple (AAPL), Google (GOOG) and Microsoft (MSFT) — all of which are suspected to be furiously working on smartwatches of their own.
The problem is, Samsung made a number of mistakes with the Galaxy Gear, from the single-day battery life, to the camera embedded awkwardly in the wristband, the lack of compatibility with its own smartphones and the steep $299 price tag.
The result? Sales were dismal and of the few Samsung managed to move off shelves, a whopping 30% were returned by unhappy buyers.
But Samsung is nothing if not determined. Just five months after releasing the Galaxy Gear, Samsung introduced the next generation Galaxy Gear smartwatches, just prior to the start of the Mobile World Congress event in Spain.
Here’s what you need to know:
New Gear 2 Smartwatches: New Name, Goodbye Android
There are some dramatic changes to the Galaxy Gear, both on the surface and under the hood.
First of all, forget about the “Galaxy” part of Galaxy Gear — the new device is not the Galaxy Gear 2. Samsung’s smartwatch is now referred to as the Samsung Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo.
That’s right, there are two models replacing the single Galaxy Gear of 2013, and Samsung has dropped Android in favor of its own Tizen operating system — the OS that SSNLF is positioning as its wearable technology platform. There will still be apps, but kiss the Android compatibility of the original Galaxy Gear goodbye.
New Gear 2 Smartwatches: Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo
So what is the difference between the Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo?
Clearly Samsung learned a few things from the Galaxy Gear smartwatch flop. Among those lessons: $299 is probably too high for mainstream acceptance, and not everyone wants chunky mini computers on their wrists.
The Gear 2 most closely resembles the original Galaxy Gear (although Samsung has moved the camera from the wristband to the watch body, making band replacement a less expensive prospect). The Gear 2 Neo is virtually identical, but lacks the camera, shaving some weight in the process. Both new Samsung smartwatches are svelter than the original.
Samsung hasn’t released prices, but the Gear 2 Neo should let it offer a smartwatch that’s a little less expensive than the camera-equipped Gear 2.
New Gear 2 Smartwatches: Connectivity, Fitness Chops, Better Battery
One of the headscratchers about the original Galaxy Gear release was its lack of support for most smartphones –including Samsung’s own.
Considering the fact that the Galaxy Gear required a wireless connection to a smartphone for much of its functionality, being compatible with only the Galaxy Note 3 phablet and the newest Galaxy Note 10.1 tablet on launch resulted in confusion and seriously limited the number of potential buyers for the Samsung smartwatch.
This issue had to be addressed with any Galaxy Gear 2, and SSNLF says the Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo will be compatible with dozens of Samsung smartphones on launch. (Just don’t expect it to work with your iPhone.)
Samsung has also upped the built-in functions on the Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo, clearly targeting the growing health-monitor market. Both Samsung smartwatch models feature a built-in heart rate sensor, exercise modes and their own music playing capability. For the couch potatoes, the device also includes an IR remote with WatchON television remote control.
The lousy one-day (at best) battery life of the Galaxy Gear is also addressed. SSNLF says the Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo should last 2-3 days of “typical use” on a charge, despite having a beefier CPU and smaller capacity battery than the original.
New Gear 2 Smartwatches: Specs
- 1.63-inch Super AMOLED display at 320 x 320 resolution (the same as the original Galaxy Gear)
- 1.0 GHz dual-core processor
- 512 MB RAM, 4GB storage
- Gear 2 has 2.0 MP autofocus camera (no camera on Gear 2 Neo)
- Heart rate sensor, pedometer, exercise modes, downloadable sleep and stress features
- Standalone music player with MP3/AAC/M4A and OGG file support
- WatchON IR TV remote
- Bluetooth 4.0 for pairing with smartphone for functions like notifications and voice call
- IP67 certified dust and water resistant
- Gear 2 weighs 2.4 oz, Gear 2 Neo weighs 1.9 oz (original Galaxy Gear weighed 2.6 oz)
- Runs Samsung’s Tizen OS
- 300 mAh Li-ion battery rated for 2-3 days of typical use, 6 days of low use (original Galaxy Gear had a 315 mAh battery rated for roughly 1 day)
- Changeable strap in variety of colors
New Gear 2 Smartwatches: Second Time’s a Charm?
It’s not often that a consumer electronics company beats the competition to market in what’s expected to be a “next big thing” product category and then gets a chance to release a second generation version while everyone else is still scrambling to put together their first. Sony (SNE) saw this play out with its SmartWatch — also now on its second generation — but even the revamped version has failed to generate much in the way of interest.
Samsung has been fortunate enough to enjoy this scenario too, and it hopes to make more of its good fortune than Sony did.
The Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo smartwatches address many of the shortcomings of last year’s Galaxy Gear, but we won’t know how consumers will react to these new and improved “Galaxy Gear 2″ smartwatches until they hit store shelves in April. And price — the one thing Samsung didn’t announce yet — is likely to be a big factor.
With Apple’s iWatch expected to be released this year, not to mention smartwatches from Microsoft, Google and others reportedly in the works, Samsung isn’t likely to get a third shot at establishing an uncontested leadership in the smartwatch race. SSNLF fans will have to hope the Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo have what it takes, because the smartwatch market is expected to get crowded with contenders later this year.
As of this writing, Brad Moon did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.