The story behind the back-to-basics Samsung Gear S2 smartwatch

We spoke to its designers and learn what makes the smartwatch tick

Round is always better. After numerous iterations, Samsung’s latest smartwatch has come full circle, adopting the good old round shape.

The familiar shape is just one part of the equation. Because for anyone to adopt a smartwatch on their wrist, just going by the shape alone isn’t enough. Stripped of all its features, can Samsung’s latest Gear S2 excite even the most discerning horology expert?

Eunjoo Kim, principle designer of the Gear S2, relates to that quite closely. Kim points out that it’s not the shape, but the relationship with the watch that makes the Gear S2 relevant to its user. “We pay attention to what the timepiece really means to our daily life,” said Kim.

Its shape, however, is also telling of the users that Samsung is targeting - the group that feels comfortable having a round watch on their wrist. These users are familiar with the natural and intuitive user experience of a round watch. The rotating bezel is one such example that draws from the design of a diver’s watch. “Without looking at the watch, users know how to control the interface,” said senior designer Jaehyung Hong, who also adds that people feel more comfortable with the circular shape since it’s widely used in the market.

There are challenges associated with the circular form factor, one of which is the reduction of screen space. Compared to a square design, there’s less real estate to display information and interaction methods. “With the rotating bezel, users can control the interface without blocking the screen, interact faster and more precise with their smartwatch,” added Kim.

The other challenge is to convince someone that they need a smartwatch rather than the classic analog watch. As a fashion accessory that’s suitable for any occasion, matching the right strap and watchface to your outfit is crucial. “The Gear S2 Classic is designed with a modern classical look on elegant finish for the fashion-conscious user, while the Gear S2 is ideal for active lifestyle enthusiasts with its minimal but stylish design,” said Hong while he does a quick flick of the Gear S2 on his wrist.

While the stock strap options are limited to the plastic Gear S2 and leather Gear S2 Classic straps, Hong is quick to highlight that the latter allows users to switch out the strap with any 20mm straps. On a related note, the Gear S2 went with a one-size-fits-all concept and the reason, according to Hong, is quite simple. “It’s the optimal size that people feel comfortable with. This is not too big, nor too small,” he said.

The Gear S2 itself comes with over 6000 watchfaces, and when asked for her favourite, Kim had a conflicted look. “It’s really hard to pick one but if you ask me, my favourite is the activity bubble,” said Kim as she rotated the bezel and chose the said watchface, which highlights how long you’ve been sitting or walking with two bubbles.

But at the end of the day, it boils down to features. “Users can always stay connected with notifications, smart fitness functions that motivate them to stay healthy and active,” said Hong.

Considering how this year’s smartwatches have gone back to basics, what with the Moto 360, Huawei Watch and LG G Watch R all taking the circular approach, it’s quite telling that smartwatches are finally on the right path.

Samsung is seemingly headed in this direction too, but both Kim and Hong didn’t divulge much about future round smartwatches from Samsung. At the end of the interview, Kim does mention that the company listens to feedback and monitors market trends closely to meet different consumer needs.