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Samsung Gear S2 Smartwatch Hands-on [Video]

In a fall tech season that has seen a lot of minor tweaks to first generation smartwatches, Samsung is making a bigger departure than most with their Gear S2 lineup. That becomes crystal clear just by looking at the new smartwatch — Samsung has completely abandoned the curved rectangular watch face for a round one more in line with what other Android-friendly smartphones are doing. Problem is, it’s still not very Android-friendly compared to those other guys.

The Gear S2 now has a circular 1.2″ 360 x 360 302 ppi Super AMOLED display on top of an 11.4 mm thick watch face — for what it’s worth in the world of tiny smarwatch screens, that’s easily one of the best you’ll find. The round design enables a new control system, too — a rotating bezel you can use to navigate menus alongside physical home and back buttons. The watch runs on a 1.0 GHz dual-core Pega-W processor with 512 MB of RAM and 4 GB of storage. Like most other smartwatches, the S2 will also pack in Bluetooth connectivity, Wi-Fi, fitness tracking sensors, and IP68 water and dust resistance. We don’t know much about the processor being used in the S2, but it must be pretty energy efficient — Samsung is promising an impressive two to three days of battery life on just a 250 mAh battery, which isn’t all that big compared to what we’ve seen in other smartwatches.

The difference between the Gear S2 and every other non-Apple, non-Pebble smartwatch is that it runs Samsung’s own Tizen operating system. Tizen is a completely unique OS, not a reskin of Android, which means you won’t have access to third-party apps you’d find available on Google Play for use with Android Wear smartwatches. Samsung is working on building up Tizen’s catalog of third party offerings, but it’ll likely never have as large of a selection as Google.

Instead, you’ll mostly be using applications of Samsung’s own making, which aren’t bad, but aren’t comprehensive, either. One of the biggest advantages of having a smartwatch is being able to enjoy those third-party features, whether it be opening electronic doors in hotels or checking on your car’s diagnostics. Tizen might get those apps and more at some point, but you have to go in knowing that some pretty cool apps will probably never work with the S2. On the flip side, Tizen is a very simple operating system, which is a boon for smartwatches that need to be simple and unobtrusive. It’ll also include Samsung Pay, thanks to NFC connectivity.

There will be three versions of the S2 available at launch — regular, classic, and 3G. The regular S2 will come in dark gray with a dark gray band and a silver case with a white band, and doesn’t do much for us in the fashion department. That’s where the S2 Classic comes in, which pairs a black case with a black leather band. The Gear S2 3G will be the standalone model, with 3G connectivity that allows you to make calls and use other smartwatch features without being connected to a smartphone (this one comes in the same color combinations as the regular S2). Accordingly, the 3G will pack in a larger 300 mAh battery, but will only get up to two days on one charge, instead of the two to three of the other models.

While Samsung says they’re working on partners to create alternate bands for the S2 (and we know they’re good for it, because we had options on the original), they might not be going fast enough — style has arguably become the most important spec on which a smartwatch is judged, and the S2, even the Classic, is looking awfully plain compared to a lot of other smartwatches out there, not least the Moto 360. It’s not all bad news for Samsung’s new smartwatch, though — unlike the previous generation, the S2 will work with more than just a few Samsung handsets. The smartwatch will work with any Android phone running Android 4.4 KitKat and above with at least 1.56 GB of RAM.

The Samsung Gear S2 and Gear S2 Classic will both be available in early October in the United States. We’ll have to wait a little longer for pricing and availability for the Gear S2 3G, but we do know that AT&T and T-Mobile will be carrying the S2 lineup when it launches.