Here’s everything we know about the upcoming Samsung Gear S4 smartwatch

Samsung rumored to be switching to Wear OS for the Gear S4 smartwatch

Samsung wearable
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

After not getting wearables right for a while — see the original Galaxy Gear for evidence — Samsung really improved things with the Gear S2 and Gear S3, combining great design with a simple interface and that cool rotating bezel. Inevitably, rumors are gathering about a Gear S4 smartwatch, ready to replace the 2016 Gear S3. Here’s what we think we know about it.

Software

Samsung hit a home run with its Tizen OS. While Wear OS (formerly Android Wear) has improved by leaps and bounds, it’s still not as intuitive as Tizen. That said, we’d expect to see Tizen power the Samsung Gear S4 nonetheless.

So what type of changes should we expect to see in Tizen? First off, there’s a decent chance we’ll see deep integration of Bixby on Samsung’s next wearable. Samsung executives have said on numerous occasions it plans to integrate Bixby into all of its products, but hasn’t put forth a clear road map. With the improvements in Bixby with the release of the Galaxy S9 and a rumored Bixby Speaker on the way, it only makes sense we should see it appear in Samsung’s wearables in the near future.

In addition to Bixby integration it appears Samsung has some other tricks up its sleeve for the Gear S4. A report from SamMobile states the company is vastly improving its sleep tracking technology for the Gear S4 as well as improving its fitness tracking features.

Overall, we’re not expecting to see huge software changes the Gear S4. Samsung has already hit on a winning formula with Tizen, so its unlikely it will make drastic changes to the OS. We’re primarily expecting to see improved health tracking features and a more refined overall user experience.

But according to a recent tweet by mobile leaker Evan Blass, Samsung employees have been spotted wearing Gear smartwatches that are running Wear OS instead of Tizen.

While it’s still unclear if Samsung will swap out its own operating system for Google’s Wear OS, the rumor does come only a few weeks after Google I/O where the company expanded on a variety of features it’s planning to roll out this year. Wear OS was also recently revamped to include a new name and logo — by removing the Android name (from Android Wear), the hope is that people won’t think the OS is tied strictly to Android phones. That way, those with an iPhone will be eager to use it as well.

Design

While we have yet to see any leaked images or design hints about the Gear S4 (who knows, maybe it will be a pocket watch), Samsung may have been concentrating its efforts on that big wearable pain point: Better battery life. A patent filing in the United States suggests Samsung will use a special case to recharge a smartwatch, or other wireless charging device, on the move, simply by putting the two together — extending battery life without using a larger battery or reducing features.

samsung gear s4 news watch charging case

The patent describes a case, which looks like a regular folio case, with a wireless charging system inside and a USB Type-C connector that links it to the phone. Concentrating on the applications with the watch, it appears the two must be in contact with each other to activate charging. It may not happen over a distance, and so the watch, when on your wrist, won’t charge from a phone in your pocket. That’s a shame, but it results from a restriction of inductive wireless charging systems. For real short-range wireless charging, we’ll have to wait until systems like Energous are perfected.

Battery cases are often bulky, and it’s not clear whether the system uses the phone’s battery or one in the new case. The latter would be best, as it could charge up your phone, too. If you buy a smartwatch, you’ll want to make use of it, which you can’t do if it’s out of battery. The use of GPS is also becoming more common on smartwatches, and is notoriously power hungry. Topping up the battery without the need to carry around another charger, or find a power outlet, after a run or other sporting event would be a definite benefit.

Before we get too excited, however, it’s worth remembering that patents are filed all the time, and not all of them end up becoming final products. This one doesn’t specifically mention the Gear S4, but the timing may be more than coincidental. It also doesn’t provide solid detail about how the technology will work. It does sound viable though, and isn’t too futuristic. After all, the Gear S3 uses wireless charging now, through its own dock.

Specs

In terms of specs, there’s not a lot to go on right now. While we’re definitely anticipating a processor bump for the Gear S4, things are a little dicey. While Apple continues to update its processor each year for the Apple Watch, it seems like Qualcomm has all but abandoned its wearables processors. The company’s last processor, Qualcomm Snapdragon Wear 2100, was already outdated upon its release over two years ago.

There is hope, however. In 2016 Samsung created its own wearables chip, the Exynos 7 Dual 7270. The chip used a much more efficient 14-nanometer processor scale as opposed to the 28-nanometer scale used by the Snapdragon Wear 2100. In addition to being more efficient, the Exynos chip also takes up less room, allowing for more battery space. While the Exynos 7 Dual 7270 is definitely a step up from the current generation Snapdragon wearables processor, we’d anticipate a newer chip for the Samsung Gear S4.

Speaking of batteries, we anticipate Samsung will improve the overall battery life of the upcoming Gear S4. A smaller, more-efficient processor is one way the next Samsung wearable could gain some much needed battery life, there’s also some more novel possibilities such as a secondary battery in the watch strap.

Release and pricing

In the past, Samsung has announced its newest smartwatches in August and released them shortly before the holiday shopping season begins in November. In 2016 however, the company surprised everyone when it didn’t introduce any new watches. So what should we expect in 2018?

Our best guess is that Samsung will get back to its cycle of announcing its wearable lineup at IFA 2018 in August. That means we would see the watches in store by November.

Details on pricing are sketchy as well, but we’d expect Samsung to keep at least one of its wearables in the smartwatch sweet spot of $350-400. We also wouldn’t be surprised to see a low-end model introduced to compete with the likes of Fossil Group’s affordable smartwatches.

While there’s still lots of details to be filled in, we’ll continue to keep you up to date as we learn more about the upcoming Samsung Gear S4.

Updated May 23: Rumors suggest the Samsung Gear S4 smartwatch will run WearOS