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Recapping Samsung’s Big Unpacked Event: What Was Your Favorite?

by Brandon Russell | February 24, 2014February 24, 2014 2:15 pm PDT

Samsung, one of the biggest names in mobile, unleashed a handful of new products at Mobile World Congress this week. Some unveils were expected, while others a pleasant surprise. Expectations were very high heading into the company’s Unpacked announcement, and there’s certainly a lot to digest. A slightly upgraded Gear 2, a watered down Gear 2 Neo. Samsung is exploring Tizen. There’s now a Gear Fit. And more.

It hasn’t been that long since we’ve seen other iterations of these products. The Galaxy Gear was only just released back in September, but it was universally panned by the media, which is likely why Samsung fast-tracked a new, and seemingly improved, smartwatch. The Gear 2’s camera has been moved, and it now features a heart rate monitor right behind the watch’s face. The device also features Tizen, dropping Android, while the Gear 2 Neo is being billed as the more affordable option, coming without some of the Gear 2’s bigger features.

No pricing was mentioned for either product, but one of the market’s largest criticisms of the Galaxy Gear was that it was way too expensive, launching for a whopping $300. One would assume Samsung will reassess its pricing strategy if it wants to become a competitor in the smartwatch market, though that remains to be seen. With two different Gear 2 iterations, Samsung could keep the $299 price point for the Gear 2, while the Gear 2 Neo will be offered for $199. Those are just guesses on my part, but it might help Samsung justify a premium price point for one, while showing critics it’s willing to offer a more affordable option, too.

We’ve only spent a marginal amount of time with the new Gear smartwatches, so it’s difficult to say how much of an improvement they are over last year’s Galaxy Gear. In addition to some minor spec improvements, the Gear 2 also features an IR-LED, gyroscope and access to what Samsung promises will be a “rich” Tizen-based ecosystem of applications. The company hasn’t been quite so forthcoming about battery life, so that’s another aspect we’ll have to watch out for when it launches.

Before we move on any further, let’s address the elephant in the room: the Galaxy S5. Some people are considering Samsung’s big flagship, one of the most successful lineups in mobile history, an iterative upgrade as if it’s a surprise. Remember, the Galaxy S4 was only just released back in April of 2013, not long ago at all, so what were people expecting? Technology can only move so quickly, and with how frequently Samsung releases devices, the S5 can only include so much technology. It seems as though the rumors generated hype the S5 couldn’t match.

While it does feature a heart rate monitor and fingerprint sensor, this is largely being considered an “S4s,” as some people are calling it, referring to Apple’s iterative upgrade approach every two years. The design has opted for soft-touch this go around, but even Samsung managed to make it look weird. This band-aid comparison will certainly do it no favors, and even without that comparison, the pored design looks even wonkier with Samsung’s chosen color palette. Black and white don’t look so bad, however.

We’re not going to give our final determination on the S5 until we spend more time with it. Our gut reaction is that we’re a little underwhelmed, and frankly a little disappointed Samsung didn’t challenge itself with another design. Everything about the S5 is safe and expected. Fingerprint scanners are popular, so it’s no surprise that was included. Health is big, so no surprise there, either. Don’t mistake that for us considering the S5 a bad device. But this kind of feels like a missed opportunity, feeling like, “Is that it?”

Probably the biggest surprise from Samsung was its Gear Fit, which actually looks like the best activity tracker we’ve seen. Part mini smartwatch, part fitness wearable, the Gear Fit is attractively designed and includes a number of big features fitness nuts will love. Equipped with a heart rate monitor, 1.84-inch curved Super AMOLED display and a water resistant design, we’re more excited to test that out than we are out of everything Samsung announced. Maybe it’s because wearables are hot.

How would you assess Samsung’s Mobile World Congress announcements? As a Galaxy S4 owner, how are you feeling about the Galaxy S5? Do you feel compelled to upgrade?


Brandon Russell

Brandon Russell enjoys writing about technology and entertainment. When he's not watching Back to the Future, you can find him on a hike or watching...

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