Samsung Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo hands-on review

Our wrists get acquainted with Samsung's latest smartwatches

We had the pleasure of trying out both of Samsung's new smartwatches - the Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo, here at Mobile World Congress 2014.

From tracking steps to music playback and fashion, there's a lot to cover, so let's jump straight in.

READ MORE: Samsung unveils Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo one day before MWC 2014 kicks off

That's better

Samsung has obviously taken heed of the original Galaxy Gear's critics; the Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo offer a much improved design. The unsightly screws are gone, the design is sleeker and more streamlined, and the protruding camera bulge which plagued the strap of the original Gear is long gone. Hooray!

Samsung Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo hands-on review - That's better 2

The Gear 2 sports an all-metal watch face for a more premium look than the plastic Gear 2 Neo, and we think it looks rather classy. Even in gold. 

A new Home button on both devices makes navigation a little more intuitive too.

While the Gear 2 Neo has a plastic build, both devices feel sturdy and light. The straps on both models can be replaced with any standard 20mm watch strap, and they clip on and off in seconds. 

MWC 2014: Samsung Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo hands-on review

They're not much thicker than a standard watch (though the watch face itself is noticeably larger), but you'll soon forget you've got a mini computer on your wrist.

Just the way it should be.

We quite like the standard rubber straps, and found the metal clasps to be sturdy, with plenty of holes to allow for pretty much any wrist size.

Designing the Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo so that they'll take a standard 20mm watchstrap is a great move by Samsung; it'll allow you to express your own personal style with ease, and means that you can dress the smartwatch up to suit the occasion, rather than being permanently saddled with a device that looks like a geek toy.

Both models are available in a variety of colours, from funky orange to a more subdued charcoal black, which was our personal favourite. 

You can also change the background and clock face to customise it even further, or use the Gear app on a supported smartphone to create your own backgrounds.

More after the break...

Smile, you're on camera

Samsung Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo hands-on review - Smile, you're on camera 2Samsung Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo hands-on review - Smile, you're on camera 3

Unlike the Gear 2 Neo, the Gear 2 features a camera which is built into the top of the watch face. It's far more discreet than the previous Gear's camera, spies will be delighted to hear.

You're not going to win any awards with the snaps or video captured with it (especially in low-light conditions), but sometimes it's just nice to capture spur-of-the-moment events. Like an adorable squirrel chasing its tail, or the numberplate of a suspected KGB agent who's just tried to assassinate you.

The Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo also feature a built-in IR blaster, which will let you control TVs and other devices – and harkening back to the Casio glory days of old.

On the pulse

The Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo feature a heart rate sensor on the rear of the watch, allowing you to track how hard you're pushing yourself during a workout. 

It managed to detect our heart rate through our wrists within seconds, and it's much more convenient than having to wear a bulky chest strap. 

You can log heart rate information and other exercises directly into both Gear 2 variants, before syncing them up with your Samsung device (unlike the original Gear, the new models play nice with 15 Samsung devices, including the Galaxy S5 and its new S Health app).

Notifications also return, and you'll be able to select which third-party apps you want to receive notifications from, using the Gear app on a supported Galaxy device.

Music playback

Both models pack 4GB of storage, letting you listen to music directly on the device itself – as long as you've got a pair of Bluetooth headphones or speakers nearby.

The app is easy enough to use, and we pumped out tunes to Bluetooth headphones in seconds.

Initial verdict

Samsung claims that the Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo will last for three days on a single charge. A full test of the battery life will have to wait until we can get our hands on a review sample, but that aside, the new Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo smartwatches have addressed most of the original Gear's design flaws.

They're sleeker, sexier and a lot more wearable. For smart devices, that's the most important issue to address, and Samsung has done that rather well.

They're also more useful than the original Gear as they can play music without your smartphone - no more carrying your phablet around while you run. As long as the Gear 2 matches Samsung's claimed battery life, we'll be happy.

Of course, we'd be happier if they played nice with all Android devices, rather than just Samsung's own smartphones, but we can't see that happening anytime soon.

We're looking forward to putting the Gear 2 through its paces, so stay tuned for Stuff's full review.

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