The paradox of the smart watch is that it has had to become ever more watch-like to be accepted as an everyday device. Back before the idea of shifting our mobile life to our wrists was even an issue, the nascent smart watches were fearsomely digital devices, unashamedly aimed at the technophile who wanted to wear a very obvious sign of tomorrow. But as the tech has improved, classicism has emerged as the dominant form factor, harking back to traditional forms instead of looking forwards.
Samsung's new Gear S2 follows the new traditionalist mode. Its chief point of difference from the original Gear S is the shape of the screen – the latter was rectangular and slightly curved and came across as a little awkward. In contrast, right from the first time you strap on the S2 you get the familiar watch feel, almost as if the tech beneath has disappeared.
With discrete good looks, unobtrusive size and easy comfort on its side, the S2 is a contender before you've even considered the software and day-to-day operation. For the truth is that no one can state with much certainty what a smart watch is actually best at. Telling the time? Not all the time, as the battery drain means always-on screens are impossible. Receiving emails and other messages? Yes – but not so good at replying to them. Tracking exercise and fitness? Sure, but not as well as dedicated bands with their lighter wrist-print and bigger suite of sensors. Similarly, applications like mapping, listening to music and taking voice notes are all technically feasible but deeply compromised by the minimal buttons and small screen size.
The Gear S2 is also an outlier in that it shuns Google's Android Wear for the Tizen OS, an open source system that is slick enough but notably lacking in apps. Samsung's status and the need to pair your watch with a phone will probably lure developers, so the potential is there for some excellent bespoke integration in the future. The S2 is available in standard or classic configurations, the latter pairing the device with a leather strap. There's also a partnership with Alessandro Mendini, offering a Swatch-like line-up of different strap options, each with a matching unique face. A rotating bezel has been introduced as a means of scrolling through apps and pages and it works seamlessly with the two buttons on the side. A flick of the wrist usually brings the screen to life and the stock watch faces are well detailed and restrained.
So why the Gear S2? Apple is pushing upmarket with its watch (witness the latest Hermès edition) and other manufacturers are looking for smart functionality at a much lower price point. Whether you want to live life encircled by a daisy chain of devices, each feeding each other little bits of data about who, what, where and when, is up to you. But as an invisible umbilical link to your phone (a device which most of us treat as a permanent appendage in any case) the Gear S2 fulfills its role more than admirably.