Review: Samsung Gear S Smartwatch

Review: Samsung Gear S Smartwatch


According to USA Today, 3 in every 10 people would go back home, no matter how far “home” is, to retrieve their phone.  I’m one of those 3. Positive Thinkers lets be honest, you probably are too!

Samsung is Ok with you leaving your phone at home.  In fact, they encourage you to do just that with their latest induction into their wearable’s line, the Gear S (the S in the name is for “Standalone”).

Although you could argue that the S could stand for “SIM” as this wearable is the first in Samsung’s line-up to have its own SIM card slot.  Effectively eliminating the need to carry a phone – or at least, that’s the idea.  Having its own SIM means you are able to make and recieve calls with the watch.

Way back in 1999 Samsung released its first smartwatch. Bulky with a green-screen, it would be considered the Delorean of smartwatches. It literally had a telescoping antenna that you extend to improve signal strength.  Although a crude beast, it was considered innovative and help to position Samsung as a wearable pioneer.

But what about the Gear S? Is it really a Standalone mobile device?

 Samsung-Gear-S-smartwatch-hands-onThe Setup

As an avid fan of all things tech and somewhat of a tech insider, I was excited to get my hands on the watch shortly before its official release date. Like a 5 year old me on Christmas day, I laid eyes on one of the largest watches I’ve ever seen.  It isn’t Flavor Flav clock around your neck large but large and curved.

With the “Standalone” moniker in mind, I unboxed this watch expecting to remove the back, insert a nano-sim card, power up, and whisk through a brief setup wizard.  These expectations were quickly dashed when I was instructed by the watch that I needed to:

  1. Connect to a recent Samsung device via Bluetooth
  2. Go to the Samsung Apps store (not the Google Play store)
  3. Download and install the Gear Manager App (adjusting settings, installing apps etc.)

After doing the aforementioned, the watch was ready to go.

The Design

I was given the standard “Dynamic Black” wrist watch strap version, my favorite of the 6 color selections.  The 2 inch screen appears vast yet sleek looking with a futuristic feel.  It obscures the entire topside of my wrist.

A metal-looking bezel surrounds the rectangular screen, complemented by a matching metal clasp for the attached black rubbery-ish band.

The curvature of the watch flows seamlessly into its band, so when I place it on my wrist, the watch almost contours to it.  Solid yet light, the Gear S weighs in at a little over 2 ounces. Almost feather light on the wrist, I forget I’m wearing it on occasion.

If you’re a fan of larger faced watches, then you’re used to your timepieces attracting an occasional glance.  If you want to upgrade from glances to peering, this watch will do just that.  It commands a lot of attention.  Within days of me getting the Gear S, I boarded a few flights from coast to coast and experienced everyone from flight attendants, passengers and random passers-by offering up complements and asking questions about it. Its a real attention grabber.

Phone Calls

I forwarded my phone calls to the Gear S and began using it for mobile conversations.  You have two options for talking on the phone:

  1. Embedded microphone – There’s no built-in ear piece so you’re conversing with your guest by talking to your wrist, Dick Tracy style.  The experience is speakerphone-like
  2. Pair with Bluetooth headset – Good for conversing in privacy

Leveraging a 3G band, this phone held calls with great clarity, through both Bluetooth headset and embedded microphone, surprising everyone I spoke with when I uttered the phrase “I’m talking to you on a watch.”

The Gear S uses the same full numeric keypad that you’d see on a typical android phone.  It’s a bit tough to dial on a 2 inch screen but the keypad was surprisingly accurate for my average sized fingers.  I ended up using S-Voice (Samsung’s answer to Siri) on multiple occasions to blurt out commands like “Call Mom.”  The watch responded in kind, calling Mom on demand.


The Health & Fitness Features

A mixture of health & fitness themed features are included as part of the Gear S:

  • Pedometer – It tracks my steps and awards badges for reaching goals. The watch will vibrate if it detects me sitting still too long, urging me to get up and walk while keeping a history of your progress.
  • Heart Rate Monitor – It does very accurate spot checks of your heart rate at a given time.
  • UV Sensor – A novelty feature that that measures current UV levels and keeps a historical graph of UV readings.

The Apps

To install apps on this watch, you need your Samsung phone running the Gear Manager app to access the Gear Apps store.

The selection of apps span the major categories you’d see in in average app store (Finance, Health/Fitness, Entertainment etc.) The section is somewhat limited but growing.  Both free and paid apps are available.

Once apps are installed on the watch, many of them become independent (not requiring a connection with the phone except to receive software updates). Others apps are the exact opposite – almost useless without an actively paired Samsung phone.

The Specs

Dimensions 39.9 x 58.1 x 12.5
Weight 2.36 oz
Display 2.0” Curved Super AMOLED (360 x 480)
Engine Dual core 1.0 GHz
Sensors Accelerometer, Gyroscope, Compass, Heart Rate, Ambient Light,UV, Barometer
Battery 300mA Li-on
OS Tizen
Connectivity Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, USB 2.0
Network 3G/2G
Memory RAM: 512MBStorage: 4GB Internal Memory


The Wrap-Up

Is  the Gear S really a standalone mobile device? Well No AND Yes.

  • No because you still need a Samsung phone to set the watch up, adjust settings, install and uninstall apps. Some apps are virtually useless unless the watch is actively paired to your Samsung phone.
  • Yes  because after setting up the watch, you can make and take calls without the need or presence of a Samsung phone.

Although the Gear S is good without your Samsung phone, it’s better with it!

Check out the Gear S page on the Samsung site for more info.




Samsung Gear S
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Journalism major slash tech nerd. Future world traveler. I eat, sleep, and write mobile.