This much we can be sure, the Samsung Galaxy Gear is not a smartwatch. Sure, it can tell time, make calls, send alerts, and support apps, but it’s not a “smartwatch”. It’s actually a very high-end Samsung Galaxy Note 3 accessory, and it’s extremely limited when not paired with Samsung’s new phablet (phone/tablet).
Design-wise, it certainly resembles what you’d expect a smartwatch to look like. It has a 1.63-inch AMOLED touchscreen display with a 320×320 resolution, and sports an 800 MHz single-core processor, coupled with 512MB of RAM and 4GB of storage. It also runs a heavily modified version of Android, according to Samsung reps. It has a swipe-centric user-interface, with app shortcuts prominently displayed and navigated with swipes to the left and right, a dialer accessible with a swipe up from the bottom, and a camera monitor accessible with a swipe from the top.
That’s right, the Galaxy Gear also has a 1.9-megapixel camera, which almost matches the front-facing shooters on many modern smartphones. In a neat design twist, the lens itself is located on the strap, pointing about 90 degrees away from the screen. During a brief hands-on session, TechnologyGuide found the pictures to be passable, but the shutter did lag a bit. Photos are taken with a tap of the display, and there is an artificial shutter click that Samsung reps claimed can’t be turned off, just in case any TG readers were thinking of snapping any pics on the sly.
In another cool design feature, the Galaxy Gear microphones and speakers are located on the watch buckle, though TG can’t speak to their quality or the viability of using the Gear for taking or making a call, due to the loud nature of the demo station.
Other features include Bluetooth 4.0 Low Energy support (that’s how the Gear pairs with the Note 3), accelerometer, gyroscope, and a pedometer, making the gear double as fitness watch. It also has a 315mAh battery, which isn’t very large. In fact, Samsung reps suggested users charge their Galaxy Gear just about as much as they would their smartphone, which is typically every day.
Solid But Bulky
The Galaxy Gear is extremely well built, and surprisingly solid. While it weighs more than a typical wrist watch, it’s not heavy. But it is bulky, and the strap components, while innovative, do make for a stiff fit. The buckle and clasp are also awkward, and the TG team had trouble affixing the Gear to our wrists at first blush. With that in mind, the Galaxy Gear does not seem like it would make a good sports watch. There are better dedicated devices, which are built specifically to handle the strain of a miles-long trek or intense aerobic workout.
There are issues with the display as well. The 1.6-inch screen is just a bit too small for some of the features. Typing numbers on the keypad to make a call is difficult, and navigating some of the menus can be a challenge. TG didn’t get a chance to type any text, but it will likely be a frustrating experience, barring any inventive input methods.
Going back to the original point, the Galaxy Gear is more accessory than smartwatch. It must be paired with the Note 3 or new Note 10.1 at launch for most of its functions. On its own, it can snap pics, track steps, tell time, but not much else. Paired with a device, it can send and receive alerts, make calls, control media on the device, and more, thanks mostly to the 70 plus apps it supports at launch. While Samsung is undoubtedly pushing others to jump aboard, the big names include Evernote, eBay, Path, TripIt, MyFitnessPal, and Pocket, to name a few. It would be nice to see Twitter, Facebook, and some of the other social networking services also jump aboard.
The Galaxy Gear supports S Voice, which is Samsung’s answer to Siri. It can be used for basic device navigation and functions. It worked well in quick testing, or at least TG was able to set an alarm on the Note 3 with no problems.
While the Galaxy Gear has its own settings options on the wristwatch, most of the settings are controlled via a special Gear app on the Note 3, which appears when both devices are paired for the first time. Here, users can control apps and the watch, including the particular watch face. There is an impressive number of options available.
But again, the Samsung Galaxy Gear is extremely limited. Beyond a battery that needs charging every day, and even beyond the required Bluetooth connection for most of the smartwatch features, the Samsung Galaxy Gear will only work with the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 and Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 (2014 edition) at launch. This is because both run Android 4.3, which is the first and currently only version of Android to support Bluetooth 4.0 low energy. Bluetooth LE is just like any other form of Bluetooth wireless connection, though it is a considerably less drain on the device battery.
Nor can TG confirm the $300 price tag. Samsung reps played dumb when asked at the unveiling event, though there is a consensus among the general tech press. If that’s the case, than the Galaxy Gear accessory will likely cost at least as much, if not more, than the Note 3 through the carriers on contract.
For these reasons, it’s easy to think that the Samsung Galaxy Gear is just Samsung’s first go at the smartwatch. It could be that Samsung will use the Galaxy Gear to gauge consumer interest, and perhaps work the kinks out of the device, before launching a full-on consumer-ready smartwatch. Or maybe they just aren’t convinced wearables and smartwatches are viable product categories, but want to have some stake in them just in case they explode as tablets did in 2010, or smartphones a few years prior.
If that’s the case, keep your eyes on Samsung for its first real smartwatch, while the TG team looks forward to testing out this high-end accessory in the meantime.