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Galaxy Gear 2 and Neo kick off Mobile World Congress (+video)

Mobile World Congress, a major mobile conference in Barcelona, kicked off with a big wearable-tech announcement: the Galaxy Gear 2 an Gear 2 Neo, Samsung's two newest smart watches. But Samsung isn't the only one getting in on the wearable-tech fun. 

At Mobile World Congress 2014, Samsung stakes out its position as the fastest moving company in wearables with a whole new lineup. Samsung released its Galaxy Gear smartwatch just five months ago, and now it's intent on shelving that unit for not one, but two new models: the Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo. Alongside the refreshed smartwatch lineup is the Gear Fit, a fitness band with a 1.84-inch full-color screen that rounds out Samsung's continually aggressive and fast-moving push into wearables. Pricing details for the Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo have not been released, but Samsung says both will ship in April.
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On the eve of the official start of Mobile World Congress, Samsung debuted its newest smart watches, the Galaxy Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo.

Released only five months after the first Gear smart watch, the Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo offer just a few minor design and function tweaks, but have made a major software change. Both the smart watches now run on Tizen, a Samsung-created operating system, rather than Android, marking a shift away from Google. But Samsung isn’t the only tech company wearing its tech on its sleeve, which could indicate staying power for this wearable-tech fad.

The Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo look remarkably similar to the original Gear, though Samsung addressed two major Gear complaints. First, the band for each smart phone is now offered in three colors, offering more design versatility. Second, a 2-megapixel camera on the Gear 2 has been moved from the strap to the main body, making the overall design a bit more sleek, and the Gear 2 Neo forgoes the camera altogether.

That being said, the size of these smart watches is essentially the same as before – a 1.63-inch screen, measured diagonally – though the width is slightly thinner than the previous model. The design is relatively similar, still a matte chrome frame around a 320-by-320-pixel Super AMOLED display.

Function-wise, the two new Gears make small, though needed, upgrades from the last version. Samsung updated the watches’ fitness capability with a heart rate monitor, and also includes infrared technology, which enables the smart watch to be compatible with a smart TV. The battery life has also been improved from one day to two or three days of normal use – and six days of minimal use.

The most significant change by far is the switch from Android to Tizen OS. Samsung and several third-party developers designed Tizen, and Samsung says it will be released with “an enriched application ecosystem.” No word on what the new apps could look like, or who is developing them, but this marks a significant shift for Samsung away from Google. The Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo will still be compatible with a “wide range” of Samsung devices, says the company.

No word on pricing yet. Samsung says the devices will be officially released in early April.

In the meantime, other tech companies have been quick to jump on the wearable-tech bandwagon. Chinese smart phone maker Huawei announced its smart watch, TalkBand, though its approach is a bit different. With TalkBand, users can take the face right off the watch and hold it up to their ear in order to take a call, similar to a Bluetooth headset. It also has a pedometer and can monitor sleep patterns, and will sell for $139, less than half the price of the first Galaxy Gear smart watch. Currently, it is only compatible with Huawei devices, though the tech company announced it has plans to release it to more devices in the future.

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Tech evangelists have hailed wearable tech as the next major wave of innovation – and revenue, according to UK-based Juniper Research, which projects the size of the wearable tech market jumping from $1.4 billion in 2013 to $19 billion in 2018. But so far there hasn’t been a movement-defining device. That being said, 2014 could be the year: Google has said it may release Google Glass to the public this year, and rumors of Apple’s iWatch have been rampant for months.

Will Galaxy Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo be a game changer? History isn't in their favor. Though Samsung didn't release Galaxy Gear sales numbers, rumors have pointed at less-than-satisfactory figures. We’ll find out how the next generation of Gear does when it goes on sale in April. 

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