The Galaxy Gear, a wearable computing device from Samsung that looks
like a digital wristwatch, is certain to pique much curiosity when it
starts being worn in public. The intensely black rectangular screen and
orange strap on the wrist of a Samsung executive immediately caught my
eye as she entered a corporate meeting room to give a preview of the
Samsung will start shipping the $299 Gear smartwatch in
September, ahead of a similar product expected from Apple. I had a
chance to play with a pre-production unit for about 10 minutes and
briefly with the version that Samsung announced Wednesday in Berlin on
the eve of the annual IFA consumer electronics show.
products already being sold, the Gear is not an independent device. For
useful functionality, the Gear needs to be linked with a specific
Samsung smartphone or tablet computer. The pairing is done wirelessly
over a Bluetooth connection built-in to both sides.
display is a touch screen measuring 1.63 inches diagonally. Its strap
has an embedded camera. The Gear supports apps such as Facebook and lets
the wearer answer incoming calls or check email without picking up the
smartphone that's paired with it. The Gear is not the smartwatch
disclosed in recent Samsung patent filings with a flexible display.
smartphones and tablets now ubiquitous, the mobile phone industry is
creating a new category of products to wow consumers. Many believe the
next big step for consumer electronics is advanced computing technology
in everyday objects such as wristwatches and glasses.
introduced its latest SmartWatch in June and unveiled an update
Wednesday. Google is working on Google Glass - a device designed to work
like a smartphone and worn like a pair of glasses. Apple is seeking an
iWatch trademark. Meanwhile, the response to projects such as Pebble, a
smartwatch that received more than $10 million in investment pledges
through funding website Kickstarter, also attests to the public interest
in this trend.
It didn't take me long to see what Samsung is
trying to achieve. It wants to attract not only tech addicts who must
have the latest gadget but also young, design-conscious consumers. The
Gear's design flair and ease of use are its sweetest attributes, but it
may not entirely please either group. Although powered by the Android
operating system, like many phones and tablets, it will work only with
Samsung devices - and only with newer models.
At about twice the
price of the Sony SmartWatch and the Pebble, Gear boasts a camera, a
speakerphone and plenty of apps - about six dozen, according to Samsung.
Apps include Twitter and sports services such as RunKeeper, which
tracks runs and other workouts. These are all great features, but the
1.9 megapixel camera is of poorer quality than a typical smartphone
camera. In addition, moderate use of the device will require a daily
battery top-up with yet another charger to keep track of.
imagine wearing the Gear with a casual dress or a formal outfit. It is
sleek, with a thin metallic bezel surrounding the display. The strap
comes in six different colors. But the screen, which is pitch black in
idle mode, probably draws more attention than a tasteful accessory
should. The dark recess in the strap where the camera's lens is embedded
will also elicit questions from the curious.
In terms of what the
Gear can do, the three features I tested worked efficiently. It was
easy to activate the camera and quick to shoot a photo. It left both
hands free while placing and answering calls. The Gear alerted me with a
nice soft buzz and showed a preview of a newly arrived email. The full
message can also be read.
Taking photos felt natural except at very high or low angles, which forced the wrist into an awkward position.
found easy navigation of the touch screen one of the device's biggest
pluses. Samsung has dispensed with buttons on the screen, so there's no
home or back button. There is a button on the top right edge of the
smartwatch face. Pressing it turns the display into a clock. One tap
anywhere on the screen takes and saves a photo in Gear and the
smartphone that's paired with it. In clock mode, one swipe from bottom
to top pulls up a numeric keypad.
Swiping from left or right shows
a list of icons, including the S Voice, Samsung's equivalent of Apple's
Siri digital assistant that responds to voice commands. You also get a
list of emails and notifications from social networking apps. At any
time, tapping the screen twice with two fingers conjures a pop-up window
that shows the time, the weather and the amount of battery left.
the combination of S Voice and the speakerphone in the strap, placing
and answering calls was much easier than a smartphone. I tested it in a
noisy setting and I had to speak to the Gear more than once to set an
alarm in my smartphone or to look up a contact to place a call. But it
did work without too much effort. I didn't have the device for long
enough to test how well it worked when not very close to the smartphone.
One downside is that the Gear doesn't support a wireless earpiece, so both sides of any conversation can be overheard.
big disappointment for Samsung gadget owners is that Gear does not work
with most of its phones and tablets. The Gear needs the Galaxy Note
III, a smartphone with a giant 5.7-inch screen and a digital pen, and
the Galaxy Tab 10.1, a tablet computer. Both will go on sale later this
month. At a later date, it will be compatible with the Galaxy S4,
released earlier this year, and the Galaxy Note II, which came out late
In some countries, mobile carriers will bundle the Gear
with the Note III on a two-year contract. In other places, consumers
will be able to buy the Gear without a phone contract.
the Gear gives us more ways to imagine what wearable computing gadgets
might do for us in the future. Gear is smart but in a limited way, as
it's essentially a slave to the smartphone it's paired to.
my brief hands-on experience, I decided the first generation of the Gear
was cool but not compelling enough to convince me to ditch my current
device, an iPhone.
Samsung Galaxy Gear smartwatch in pictures