The Gear S2 can be had for as low as $130-$140 now (if you’re willing to buy a certified refurbished model from Amazon), which makes it a tempting offer for those who deem $350 too expensive for the wearable. And yet, those looking for a budget-friendly deal have decided that the Gear S3 is not for them due to its high price tag. “I’ll wait until the price drops,” some say, convinced that the Gear S2 is good enough to be their smartwatch of choice until some time near year’s end (when Samsung has unveiled the Gear S4).
And, to be honest, the Gear S2 is good enough as is. It’s got the same rotating bezel you’ll find on the Gear S3; a display that’s wide enough for some (though not as wide as the Gear S3); and if you’re interested in the most independent smartwatch model, you can pick up a Gear S2 3G/4G model that doesn’t mandate spending a whole lot of money for it. When you factor in that Samsung is supporting the Gear S2 Sport and Gear S2 Classic for at least another year, and has brought a ton of Gear S3 features over to its predecessors, what’s to lose with last year’s smartwatch?
Well, not much. That is, unless you long for the full capabilities of Samsung Pay.
Yes, it’s true that the Gear S2 has Samsung Pay (as is the case with the Gear S3), but the Gear S2’s mobile payments functionality is limited as compared to the Gear S3. I noticed this immediately once downloading the Gear S2 Value Pack for my Gear S2 3G model: when activating Samsung Pay on the Gear S2, Samsung says that Samsung Pay for the Gear S2 can only access NFC. There are no MST capabilities for the Gear S2 because the Gear S2 doesn’t have an MST chip installed.
The Gear S2 only has an NFC chip for Near Field Communication (NFC) terminals. The Gear S3, if you remember, is the first smartwatch that has an MST chip from Samsung. MST, or magnetic secure transmission, is the technology that allows users to pay with their Samsung or Android smartphone running KitKat, Lollipop, Marshmallow, and Nougat (including the Google Pixel and Pixel XL) and make purchases at local stores at traditional card swipe machines.
While the Gear S2 does have Samsung Pay, though, it will only work at NFC terminals. Only the Gear S3 works at traditional card readers. In other words, though the Gear S2 has Samsung Pay, Samsung Pay doesn’t outperform Android Pay or Apple Pay on the smartwatch: having only NFC means that it does nothing more than Android Wear and WatchOS devices on the smartwatch. This isn’t to say that users shouldn’t be excited that Samsung Pay is on the Gear S2, because it’s a reason to celebrate. And yet, its limited functionality prevents you from matching the same experience you have on your Galaxy S7 edge, Galaxy Note 5, or other Samsung smartphone.
If the Gear S2 has NFC and the phone has NFC and MST, it’s easier to pull out your smartphone and pay (which some would say negates the purpose of having an independent 3G smartwatch in the first place). Bluetooth-only Gear S2 owners may not see this as a problem, but 3G/4G cellular model owners will.
The Gear S2 is a worthy buy, even a year later, and those who prefer a Bluetooth-only experience will be happy with it. And yet, the Gear S3 Frontier and Gear S3 Classic have MST while the Gear S2 Sport and Classic have NFC only: one series limits Samsung Pay while the other uses Samsung Pay to its fullest potential. That alone makes the Gear S3 Frontier and Classic smartwatches that, despite the price tag, are the better buy.