Samsung's smartwatch sounds amazing and looks amazing--on paper. In the flesh, the Galaxy Gear is a seriously limited gadget that's tethered to a phone and/or tablet that no one owns yet. So much for innovation.
I donned the watch, which hits U.S. shelves in October (launching in 149 other countries Sept. 25) for $299, and played with its features for a few minutes in a crowded press room under less than optimal conditions. That said, I don't see myself ever owning a Galaxy Gear.
Style for miles
The 1.6-inch Super AMOLED screen is beautiful. I felt like Inspector Gadget when I glanced at my wrist. But the display and plastic strap are massive. Wearable tech continues to struggle to appeal to all types of people, because it has to be comfortable, stylish, and small. If you have tiny wrists, the Galaxy Gear is not for you.
Several people commented on the fact that the Galaxy Gear looks like those iPod nano watchbands that were en vogue a few years back. It's a fair comparison. The Samsung watch's display is definitely more rectangular than the Nano watch, but the glossy black display just feels like wearing a mini-smartphone.
The watch responds like a smartphone, too. Swipe to the left or right to access different screens, like your notifications, clock, apps, and more. Swipe down to return to the previous screen. The Gear is quick, like a phone. But it's an accessory. That much is obvious.
Samsung is tying the Gear to the Note 3: "Better together" is the duo's tagline. But hundreds of millions of people own Samsung devices that aren't the Note 3, and they can't use Galaxy Gear. That exclusivity severely hinders Gear's potential. The company said it plans to widen the Gear's compatibility with other Samsung devices, specifically the Galaxy SIII, Galaxy S4, and Note II, but reps couldn't provide a timeline for that rollout.
The watch has apps galore: Path, Runtastic, Glympse, Line, Vivino, and more. But none of the majors are there. Instagram? Nope. Vine? Nuh-uh. Facebook, Twitter, Gmail, and news apps for browsing the latest headlines are all missing. Anything I would want immediate access to--you know, without digging my phone out of my bag--I can't get to on Gear. It seems like it would work well as a pedometer tied to Samsung's S Health tracking features, but $299 is an awful lot to pay for a glorified health tracker.
You can answer calls with Gear--it has a speaker--but you have to hold the watch up to your ear to hear the person you're calling, thereby irritating everyone around you. You can also respond to messages, but only as a voice-to-text memo. I didn't get to test that feature, but voice-to-text is notoriously poor. I can't even trust Siri to understand my clearly enunciated dictations.
The Gear has a few cool features. The 1.9-megapixel camera, located on the north side of the watch strap, allows you to take undercover photos. It just feels awesome. The camera also shoots videos--neither camera nor video quality is very good compared to the smartphone, but that's to be expected.
The Note 3 pairing also lets you find the Gear if you ever lose it, which seems inevitable. (Watches, like sunglasses, tend to disappear into the Bermuda Triangle.)