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Sunday, August 14, 2016

Using Samsung Gear S2 + Tizen after 3 years with Android Wear

I have recently been on holidays for 6 weeks in North America; midway through my trip my 3 year old LG G Watch battery gave out and refused to charge/switch back on.  I expected it was probably due to voltage differences, but I felt lost without my Smartwatch.  First world problems of having to get my phone out of my pocket to view my notifications just couldn't be tolerated!

Now I really liked my LG G Watch for a number of reasons;

  1. I picked it up for a bargain $99 AUD on the Google Play Store
  2. Voice recognition in my car was terrible, so being able to just use my watch to initiate a phone call whilst driving was very useful,
  3. Google Maps turn by turn navigation on my wrist meant I didn't need to drain my phones battery by having its screen on and being able to just say "Okay Google, directions to..." with my phone safely tucked away was very handy.
Before I move on to my experiences with the Gear S2 I think its useful to know exactly how I was using my current Smartwatch:
  • Google Now was used extensively for making phone calls, texting people, getting directions, or just Googling random things like the weather at some destination.
  • I run my own business so being on top of my emails is important and I run Gmail.  Being able to quickly see my emails is vital to my organisation.  I'm the type of person that never has any unread emails in their inbox, and everything is filed and tagged, and the only emails that are in my inbox are the ones requiring action.  So being able to decide if I want to Delete a spam email or Archive an email directly from my watch helped with this organisation.
  • Facebook/Messenger integration means I could view comments on posts, including the entire conversation - so if there were big gaps in responses I could remember what the conversation was.
  • At home, I have a Sonos setup and use Spotify.  All of which I could Start directly from my watch using Google Now/Android Wear.
  • I also used the fitness integration to track runs, cycling, step counts, and even repetitions of situps, squats etc.  The latter being a bit hit and miss...  I didn't like having to manually tell my phone or watch to track these things, it should just do it.
I don't care that google can see everything I'm doing.  If it helps me, then that's enough.  After all I'm not doing anything suspect that would make me care.

What didn't I like about my LG G Watch? Well it's design was very uninspired.  It pretty much looks like someone got a screen and put a strap on it.  Also, at some point Google removed the option to reboot the device, and I only had an option to Power Off.  This meant if things weren't behaving when I was out and about, and I needed to restart it, I couldn't as I needed the charger to turn it back on!  As such I had been keeping track of the latest offerings from Samsung, Huawei, Motorola, even Nixon...  After all, I also wanted something that I could leave on when I went swimming.

My Nexus 5X accidentally went through the washing machine 9 months ago and couldn't be recovered, so I replaced it with my first non-Nexus device in 4 years, an opted for the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge.  To be honest the first thing I did when I got it, was eliminate all the Samsung stuff and replaced them with the stock Google versions.  I am really happy with this phone, its superfast, camera is great and the battery life is awesome, and this one is more waterproof - More resilient to the Washing Machine!  Also with this device Samsung hasn't gone too far from stock Android.  I like being able to move from one Android device to another and have everything work basically the same...  It sucks having to relearn things.

As such, being happy with one Samsung device, I started to learn towards other Samsung devices.  Now I did do a fair bit of research in the week I went without my smartwatch... I also considered waiting until I returned home, but I saved about $100 buying overseas so eventually I walked into Macy's and purchased the Gear S2.  I had read that it also supported Android Wear, which I incorrectly assumed that meant it could do everything my previous Android Wear watch could do.

The Gear S2 is about 1000 times better looking than my old watch.  The UI is very easy to use, and being able to use the bezel and buttons to navigate through it, means you are hardly ever blocking the screen with your finger to perform actions.  Getting to Apps and running them is very fast.  Overall, at first glance it seemed more intuitive, but I was used to Android Wear so having to relearn how to operate it, was slightly annoying, but Samsung makes it very easy.

After a couple of days of using it, I started to discover things that weren't as good as my 3 year old Android Wear watch:
  • Emails I could only Archive, no option for delete - tried switching to the Samsung version of the App but notifications were slower, and no difference in functionality.
  • No Google Now!!!
  • Turn by Turn Navigation wouldn't show up on my watch
  • S Voice almost never works - and doesn't understand an Aussie accent (MASSIVE KILLER - as I use voice operation a lot)
  • Facebook/Messenger conversations weren't viewable, just the latest comment, with a "Open on Phone" link
  • I couldn't initiate apps on my phone for music, once started on my phone, I could skip tracks etc, but that's about it.
So I immediately jump on the Galaxy Store to try and find an app for Google Now integration, but there is no such thing!  Why Samsung, why try and duplicate a service that works so well, instead of just using one that is already proven and works? 

Things aren't all bad, there are some things that work a little better:
  • S Health does a good job of notifying me to keep active and I like how it automatically starts tracking activities over 11 minutes.
  • Heart Rate, Stress, SpO2, Sleep tracking
  • UI is better
  • IP68 means it can get be submerged without too much stressing.  I did accidentally take it down a water slide and in a pool a couple of times, forgetting I had it on (It's not intended to handle this - IP68 is for submerging in Still Water, not handling the pressure of moving water) - but it didn't miss a beat.  I rinsed it in fresh water, and generally take it off, especially before going in salt water.
  • It's a really nice looking watch, and have already had a few people ask what it was and where I got it.
However, if I can't get the Voice recognition features working, I am strongly considering returning it (if I can - I'm back in Australia now, so that's going to prove difficult). Tizen needs to add integration with Google Now services, or vastly improve their S Voice features to match those of Google.  I've spoken with Samsung's chat support, but that was useless.  Overall I would have expected when upgrading from a 3 year old watch, functionality would generally increase, not decrease...

Hopefully others can evaluate their own uses when considering Tizen over Android Wear.  Tizen is nice, but Android Wear has it beaten functionality wise by a big margin and I'm not seeing much action from Samsung in improving this.  There are a lot of posts online from many months ago pointing out similar shortfalls still with no resolution.

UPDATE (30/08/2016):
After numerous correspondence with Samsung's email support - By the way the system is terrible, they don't even list Wearables as a product option, and you can't track a conversation, you constantly have to file new requests...  I've discovered yet again how terrible Samsung's support is.  It took 3 emails to get the answer of:
"I would like to inform you that we currently do not have the information readily available at this time. I have taken note of the details of your enquiries and rest assured that I will forward it to the appropriate department for their review and prompt response. We will get in touch with you as soon as we receive the needed information to address this concern."

I take this as basically, we have no intention of updating or improving our product, or offering a refund for our failure to meet your expectations of the device.  Unless Samsung ditch Tizen in lieu of Android Wear, I won't be purchasing another Samsung Wearable.  The Galaxy App Store has very little development and the apps that are there are generally low quality and there's no signs of it improving.  Samsung announced iOS support in January, its now end of August and its finally in Beta, and by all reports its very limited...  Samsung might have nice hardware, but their software side just doesn't have the commitment.

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