IFA 2013 will be remembered for the fact that an entirely new market device category branched out from the experimental to commercial stage of development. We’re talking smartwatches, specifically, wristwatches that serve as a secondary screen, wirelessly connected to a smartphone.
Of course, this is far from the fact that smartwatches, or at least the two latest and most serious attempts from Sony and Samsung, have yet to reach a certain level of maturity that would guarantee them consumer acceptance.
Compared to regular watches, they are still huge, futuristic, and have poor industrial design. Battery life is an even greater problem, as it will not last longer than a few days on either model. On their own, smartwatches are inferior to even entry-level smartphones due to their low-resolution displays and relatively slow chipsets.
But if IFA proved anything, it’s that there is interest in this type of gadget, and early adopters will likely line up and consider buying these devices, despite their questionable practicality.
The TechnologyGuide team was in Berlin for IFA, and had the opportunity to try several smartwatches, but the two that garnered the most buzz on the show floor were the Samsung Galaxy Gear and Sony SmartWatch 2.
Just like with smartphones, the smartwatch display quality is key, and the Samsung Galaxy Gear sweeps the competition, especially compared to the Sony SmartWatch 2. Galaxy Gear comes with a 1.63-inch 320 x 320-pixel Super AMOLED screen, resulting in pixel density of 277 ppi, while the 1.6-inch LCD screen on SmartWatch 2 has a resolution of 220 x 176 pixels, making the pixel density 176 ppi. Compared side by side, the difference is stark. Even elementary icons on the Sony watch are teething, while all lines appear smooth and sharp on Galaxy Gear. Additionally, Samsung’s watch provides a much better contrast, sustainable from any viewing angle, while Sony cannot manage to reach the same contrast level.
As far as design goes, Sony has the advantage. True, SmartWatch 2 weighs almost double the Galaxy Gear (.25 pounds compared to .16), however, it is slimmer, feels more natural when worn, and is actually reminiscent of a common “dumb” watch. In addition, the Sony SmartWatch 2 has an IP57 certificate, meaning that Sony’s new Xperia smartphone, is waterproof. Finally, Sony’s watch will be available with either a silicone band in various colors or a metal band. The Galaxy Gear ships with a silicone band studded with a camera and a clip that doubles as a speaker/microphone combo. It’s available in various colors, but not materials.
As far as connectivity goes, Sony’s device also has a distinct advantage. Smartwatch 2 can be used combined with any Android smartphone running version 4.0 or later, while Galaxy Gear can only be connected to Galaxy Note 3 and the new Galaxy Note 10.1 tablet for the time being. Samsung claims that the Galaxy Note 2, S3, and S4 will soon be updated for support of the Galaxy Gear (it relies on Android 4.3), but it’s both unknown and unlikely the Galaxy Gear will be fully functional with other Android smartphones, even some recent Samsung models. Sony’s flexibility is a big advantage for the SmartWatch 2.
It is with the same ease that Samsung takes the lead in terms of functionality. The Galaxy Gear enables numerous functions that the SmartWatch 2 simply does not support. With a connected Galaxy Gear, users can make phone calls by moving the watch towards the face, as well as take photographs and then automatically transfer images to the connected phone. The camera on Galaxy Gear’s band has a 1.9 MP resolution, and it can also record 10-second HD video clips. In addition, the images are not bad, and their quality can be compared to those of mid-range smartphones. The Sony SmartWatch 2 does not even have built-in speakers.
Comparing battery life, the Galaxy Gear offers much less in this department. It will likely last just one day, meaning Samsung’s watch needs to be recharged every night, which is more than many smartphones. If Sony representatives can be trusted (and yes, we know companies very often exaggerate battery claims) the SmartWatch 2 will last three to four days, which is bearable to a certain extent, even though it is still exceptionally poor compared to regular watches.
TG can’t wait to test both these units out fully before rendering final judgment. Given the limitations of both, it’s hard to get too excited for any pending smartwatch revolution, should it ever come to be.