This week I offer the third piece in my multi part series reviewing every smart watch I’ve encountered over the past eight years. If you missed Part 1 where I discuss all things Jawbone you can read it here. Part 2 delves into the worlds of Fitbit and Samsung Gear and can be found here.
Samsung Gear S2 Classic
After making the decision that I could deal with a smaller watch, I started looking for the next best option that still had plenty of features. I really liked the Samsung brand, and even though it ended up being a little big for my taste, I had no real complaints about the Samsung Gear S2. I thought about getting the S2 without 3G since it had basically everything I wanted plus a smaller frame, but I was ultimately swayed by the Samsung Gear S2 Classic, which featured a much smaller watch face with the look of a more traditional time piece. The Classic was also built to work with any standard 20mm watch band, so I was relieved by the idea of not being stuck with specialty bands. It was May 2016, and I had just finished grad school, so without much spare change to upgrade my smart watch, the $350 price tag was a little much for me. I debated about getting the Fitbit Blaze instead, but I decided that I really wanted to stick with Samsung and opted to get a certified refurbished device from Amazon to save some money.
When the Gear S2 Classic came, I was very pleased by its slim profile and more traditional looks. I also wanted to get a metal band for it so it would look even more like a real watch. I rushed out and got several bands and enjoyed being able to find them at the watch kiosk in the mall instead of having to go online and guess whether or not they would fit. I loved wearing the S2 Classic and got many compliments on it. It was a perfect size for a small wrist and looked fancy enough to wear to more formal events. I also did not miss the LTE connectivity and was very pleased at having traded this feature for a slimmer profile.
I may have worn this smart watch forever had it not been for a fatal flaw that developed just four months into owning it. The beautiful chrome bezel on the watch face started to tarnish. All of a sudden I noticed gold splotches showing through the platinum colored finish. It was not that bad in reality, but it was noticeable and made the watch look so dingy. I called Samsung to see of there was anything I could do to fix or replace the tarnishing bezel, but since I bought the product through Amazon, the warranty had expired, and Samsung customer support could not help me. It’s possible that the device I purchased on Amazon was a damaged good to begin with, but my faith in Samsung hardware was shaken. I had planned on being a Samsung patron for the foreseeable future, but with hardware that tarnished like that and looked so old and cheap after only a few months, I didn’t feel like taking any more expensive gambles.
When the tarnishing on the Samsung Gear S2 Classic got to the point where I couldn’t take it anymore, I decided to cast the net yet again and find a new wearable. I was sold on smart watch features, but I didn’t want any overkill and couldn’t really afford anything too outlandish. I went to Best Buy and talked to one of the wearables reps about what I was looking for, which was essentially a smart watch with advanced fitness tracking capability like GPS connectivity, heart rate, and a great fitness app, and he told me “sounds like an Apple Watch is what you’re looking for.” Oh dear.
I will admit that an Apple Watch was at that time (and still is) the majority of what I want in a wearable device, but I’ll tell you why I will never purchase one. After years of being a dedicated Apple patron, I felt like their innovation had really stalled on phones and laptops, and in 2014 I decided to purchase a Samsung Galaxy phone simply because it seemed so much cooler than the iPhone on the market at the time. I ended up having to get an iPhone 6 for work, and using it alongside the Samsung Galaxy exposed how glitchy, basic, and uncustomizable Apple products had become. Also, after seeing what the Android platform had to offer, I realized that I wasn’t really an Apple person in the first place. A few years later I ended up replacing my long held Macbook with a PC, and I’ve never looked back. Apple Watch does have incredible hardware and solid performance in all the categories I care about – smart notifications, slim profile for small wrists, fitness tracking, GPS, access to diverse and usable apps – but everything it offers exists within the Apple universe. I prefer Google software like Google Play Music and Google Maps to anything Apple has ever conjured up, and I will sure as hell never buy another iPhone, so Apple Watches will remain illusive to me until they decide to end their embargo on all things Android.
So, I tried on several Android Wear watches to see if any of those fit the bill, but none of them had the slim profile or advanced fitness features I wanted. The salesman asked me if fitness was the main thing I used my watch for, and I said yes, at which time he brought up the Fitbit Blaze, Fitbit’s first attempt at a smart watch / tracker hybrid. It had all the great fitness tracking that Fitbit is known for, and unlike Android Wear smart watches or the Apple Watch, the Blaze featured a battery that was meant to stay charged for longer than 24 hours. For me, that is a big deal. I use my tracker for continuous heart rate monitoring as well as sleep tracking, so the idea of charging it every night alongside my phone would cause me to miss out on some of the features I enjoy the most. I also didn’t think I needed all of the smart watch features and figured I could get by on the Blaze’s simple notification system that was still heavily phone-dependent.
While the Blaze felt a little boxy when I tried it on, I decided it was really the best option of features I wanted and decided to go with it. I enjoyed getting back to Fitbit’s phone app, which is far superior to Samsung’s SHealth, and the Blaze functioned pretty well overall. However, after having owned a true smart watch with Samsung, the Blaze felt like taking a technological step back. The screen felt rudimentary, and even though I got notifications, the device just didn’t really do anything that felt smart. Still, I was satisfied enough to go along with it until a few weeks later when Fitbit unveiled its newest creation…and that’s where I’ll pick up next week for the next installment of the saga!
Product Review Reflections Android Apple Apple Watch battery life Blaze customer service Fitbit Fitbit Blaze fitness tracking heart rate monitor notifications Product Review Samsung Gear Samsung Gear Classic Samsung Gear S2 Classic smart watch Smart Watch Review