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Samsung Gear S review: Bigger and badder, but not in a good way

Jared Newman | Nov. 27, 2014
As soon as I strapped the Samsung Gear S smartwatch to my wrist, I knew we had a problem.

As soon as I strapped the Samsung Gear S smartwatch to my wrist, I knew we had a problem.

The Gear S is by far the largest smartwatch I've ever worn, and it looks ridiculous. Granted, I'm a scrawny dude, but I've never been this anxious about sporting a smartwatch in public — not even when wearing the bulbous Moto 360, which at least paired well with business attire. The Gear S doesn't look good with anything, except for maybe an elaborate space-age costume.

I mention this right off the bat because every smartwatch needs to pass a basic fashion litmus test. If you don't feel comfortable wearing it in front of people, it's a non-starter no matter how useful it is. The Samsung Gear S failed my litmus test, and it's not even that useful.

The high price of smartwatch freedom

Instead of being thinner and smaller than Samsung's previous smartwatches — of which there are now five — the Gear S packs on more bulk in exchange for a larger screen and a built-in cellular connection. As such, it's the first smartwatch from a major brand that can take calls, send and receive text messages, get notifications, and connect to the Internet without a nearby smartphone. But while plenty of people think this is a great idea, Samsung's execution isn't fully baked.

For one thing, the Gear S has its own SIM card slot and its own phone number. Not only does this incur a $10 per month charge on most carriers ($5 for T-Mobile), it also requires some trickery to work with your existing number. To receive calls and text messages, your phone must be turned on and connected to the network. You must also manually turn on call forwarding to get calls from your number, and Samsung warns that this can affect battery life. Worst of all, unless the Gear S is paired to your phone over Bluetooth, any outgoing calls will appear under the new number, so your contacts won't recognize who's calling.

The Gear S isn't a fully independent device, either. You need a Samsung phone to set up and install new apps (including several apps that are pre-loaded on the watch itself), and there's no built-in GPS for turn-by-turn directions. Also some watch apps, such as Samsung's own Milk Music, won't work without your phone nearby.

For the untethered smartwatch to make sense — and to justify the additional monthly charge — it needs to be seamless, letting you leave your phone behind without any extra setup or drawbacks to connectivity. Samsung hasn't quite been able to make it work.

Android and Tizen make ugly enemies


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