If it wasn’t clear to first-generation Galaxy Gear owners that they were beta testing a new product category for Samsung, it should be obvious now: the company has just announced not one but two follow-ups to its original smartwatch. Both the Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo drop Samsung’s Galaxy branding and follow the original Gear by a bare five months.
Neither watch’s key specs differ all that much from the first Gear. Both of them have 1.63-inch 320×320 AMOLED displays, 4GB of internal storage, 512MB of RAM, Bluetooth 4.0, and an IR blaster, all identical to the first-generation watch. The biggest internal difference is probably a 1.0GHz dual-core SoC of unspecified make (one of Samsung’s own Exynos chips seems like a good bet), an upgrade from the 800MHz single-core chip from the first Gear. The extra performance should help to smooth out some of the performance jitters we noticed in the first Gear. Despite the extra CPU core and a somewhat smaller 300mAh battery, Samsung claims that both Gear 2 watches will last two or three days between charges, roughly doubling the runtime of the original Gear.
Samsung has made even larger changes to the software, jettisoning the original Gear’s customized Android 4.2.2 in favor of its own home-grown Tizen operating system. Tizen is a Linux-based mobile OS that rose from the ashes of the MeeGo project back in 2011, and counts Samsung and Intel among its major backers. Engadget notes that the Gear watches are two of the very first commercial products to run Tizen, after Samsung’s NX300M camera.
Visually, the new software is similar to the old—Samsung’s promotional shots all show light white text and images on a black background, saving power by keeping as few of the AMOLED panel’s pixels active as possible. However, using Google’s debug tools to hack around with the Gear will no longer be possible (not a huge loss, unless you enjoy minuscule games of Angry Birds and Candy Crush). We’ll need to wait to get some hands-on time before we can talk any more about how the new software differs from the old. It’s also unclear whether the Tizen watches mean that the old Android one will stop getting new updates and apps, or if Gear apps will be compatible with all three watches.
The differences between the Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo are relatively small. Both include a new hardware Home button on the face, and both will be offered with replaceable wristbands in a variety of colors (“Charcoal Black, Gold Brown and Wild Orange” for the Gear 2 and “Charcoal Black, Mocha Grey and Wild Orange” for the Neo). The Gear 2’s face is metal while the Gear 2 Neo’s is plastic, making the Neo a little larger but a little lighter (37.9 x 58.8 x 10.0mm and 55g for the Neo compared to 36.9 x 58.4x 10.0 mm and 68g for the Gear 2). Finally, the Gear 2 will include a 2.0 MP camera integrated into the body of the watch, while the Gear 2 Neo includes no camera option. The original Gear used a strap-mounted camera that added extra bulk and made the strap impossible to replace.
Both the Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo will be available worldwide in April for as-yet-undisclosed prices (expect the Neo to be the cheaper of the two options). Like the first Gear, the watches will only interface with compatible Galaxy phones and tablets and not products from other OEMs or software ecosystems. Thanks to the Android 4.3 and 4.4 updates Samsung has been distributing to its various devices over the last few months, that list should be much more expansive than it was when the original Gear launched.