Hands-on with Samsung's first round Apple Watch rival

Having applied a scatter gun approach to the early days of the smartwatch space, Samsung has taken a step back over the past year, reassessed its efforts and, well, taken a long hard look at what the Apple Watch has done.

The result of this wearable soul-searching is the Samsung Gear S2, a stunningly finished round wearable that is ready to bring the fight to Apple's market-leading offering.

With all the usual smartwatch gumph present - as well as a few innovative surprises - the Gear S2's refinement is a pleasant surprise, and one which makes this a serious wearable to consider.

Having cluttered the wearables space with a flurry of devices boasting all manner of square and rectangular displays, Sammy has now embraced the circle, a la the new Moto 360 and Huawei Watch. This seemingly small switch in shape instantly gives the Gear S2 a more approachable feel, helping bridge the gap between traditional and 'smart' watches.

This wouldn't be Samsung without a little muddying of the waters, though. There are a number of Gear S2 models coming, with the standard Gear S2 lining up alongside a more traditionally styled Gear S2 Classic. There's a 3G-enabled S2 coming too, but we'd steer clear of that one unless you want to look a proper Dick (Tracy) making watch calls.

The Classic is really the pick of the two. More compact than its sibling, the 11.4mm-thick device features a textured rotating bezel that, although feeling a little plasticky, is particularly easy on the eye and a joy to use. It also comes bundled with a leather strap that can be switched out for all manner of bands.

That's not to say that the standard S2 is an ugly offering, however. The device is a little fuller in figure, but its more futuristic, rounded design and colourful, plastic straps are fun and fashionable. Despite their metal framing though, neither Gear S offering feels quite as high-end as the Apple Watch.

As well as the rotating bezel, there are two physical buttons on the Gear S. Fulfilling 'back' and 'home' commands, they aid navigation in an Android-esque manner.

And, as with any smartwatch worth its weight, there are dozens of customisable watch faces to choose from that further help make the device fit your style.

The Gear S2's screen isn't just round, it's easy on the eye too. The device's 1.2-inch, 360x360-pixel Super AMOLED panel offers sharp, bright images. This resolution might sound low, but on such a compact device, it's more than enough for impressively on-point visuals.

There's no Moto 360-esque flat tire base to the screen here either, just stunningly smooth curves and a bezel far more streamlined than on some rival wearables - we're looking at you LG Watch Urbane.

We're not letting the S2's screen off without a little talking to, though. Because of the necessary workings for the device's rotating bezel, the screen feels a little recessed. This doesn't necessarily diminish the overall viewing experience but it's noticeable, almost jarring at first, and would take some getting used to.

OK, here's the bit you really want to know about, the watch's rotating bezel. A feature that completely defines this device is, on first use at least, a hit. Samsung's answer to Apple's Digital Crown, the manoeuvrable surround has been elegantly implemented and really aids menu navigation.

Twisting left and right to let you scroll through app lists, sub-menus and selection options, the bezel is simple to use and makes controlling the accessory accessible and prompt.

Is it really necessary when you can simply swipe the touchscreen display? No, but it's a more satisfying experience. If you could depress the bezel to make a selection instead of having to revert to the touchscreen, we'd be completely sold.

A crowning glory, yes, but this isn't the S2's only feature. The heart rate sensor-equipped smartwatch is brimming with all the usual call-handling, message-displaying, notification-alerting options we've come to expect from a decent wearable. During our hands-on time with the device, however, we've been unable to put these features fully through their paces. Similarly, Samsung's claims of a 2-3 day battery life need further testing before final judgement can be passed.

There's no integrated GPS, which is a shame for navigation-loving, run-tracking users, but the Siri-rivalling S Voice will let you use voice commands to control the synced smartphone.

Unlike Samsung's past wearables, the Gear S2 isn't held back by its compatibility - or lack thereof. Previous devices have required a Samsung smartphone to work, but the Gear S2 is open to all Android 4.4 handsets or later. This is the difference the device really needed - a feature that will allow for widespread adoption.

Android Wear be gone. Your ever-present blandness has been subbed out. Instead, Tizen has been tapped in, with Samsung's own-brand OS impressing from the off, well, mostly. This isn't the Tizen OS we've seen on past devices, though, it's been refined, refreshed and, well, renovated in a clearly Apple Watch-inspired ilk.

Looking less like an Android re-skin and sporting a more iOS-inspired look and feel, the platform has been updated and is close to being great. It can still feel a bit of a mish-mash in parts, though, at times seeming a slightly unbalanced OS that is being pulled in separate directions by the lure of both Android and iOS functionality as opposed to forging its own path.

Styling has been improved but not yet mastered. The Gear S2 interface lacks some of the polish of the Apple Watch and the uniformity of Android Wear.

It's easy to use though, and with around 1,000 day one apps to be available, it's not wanting in terms of third-party support.

After a number of misses and also-rans, it appears Samsung has finally nailed the smartwatch space. A stunning, accessible design is complemented by an accessible, stylish OS and a collection of features that fall just the right side of the useful/gimmicky divide.

Is it an essential bit of kit? No, but then neither is the Apple Watch. If, however, you're insistent on joining the wearables revolution and don't own an iPhone, this is one of the best smartwatches we've seen so far.