Are We Ready For This Type of Technology? A Review of the Samsung Galaxy Gear Smartwatch

When was the last time you looked at the watch on our wrist and hoped to see more than the time or date? I can’t imagine that in today’s date and time, many people have such high expectations from their wardrobe accessories. Do you feel the need to talk to your watch instead of a telephone, or even capture a picture from your wrist? It all sounds like something out of a spy movie. Last year Samsung thought it was time for all of us to be able to do those things and move one step closer to 007 status.

In September 2013, Samsung introduced to us the Samsung Galaxy Gear smartwatch. It is a fancy accessory that comes in an array of colors and lets you interact with your phone while your phone itself remains in your, well, wherever it is you keep your phone.

Packed with the minor essentials for a tiny computer, the Samsung Galaxy Gear has the capability of providing information to you on your wrist in the form of short notifications and alerts. Syncing the Galaxy Gear to your smartphone is rather easy. With a few simple setup steps, the Galaxy Gear will provide you with notifications such as text messages, emails, and phone calls. The setup truly is the easy part. The hard part is it wont pair with just any smartphone.

Out of the box, Samsung has limited to the number of devices the Galaxy Gear can communicate with. You must have one of 3 devices: Samsung Galaxy S4, Samsung Galaxy S5, or the Samsung Galaxy Note 3. As you can tell, they immediately limited the number of interested parties.

As I stated before, the Galaxy Gear comes with the makings of a tiny computer. There is 4GB of on-board storage, 512 MB of RAM. It also sports a small 1.63″ Super AMOLED display. You won’t be spending much time playing Angry Birds on this thing. And with a display this small you can imagine how tiny the keyboard must be. Well, that’s just it. There isn’t a keyboard. So how do you interact with the Galaxy Gear? Through the use of gestures and voice controls.

Gesture navigation is relatively easy. Swipe left and right to go through your apps and settings. Swipe on any screen to go back to the previous screen. There isn’t a home button. Tap once and hold and you can access
 the recent apps menu. Swipe up from any screen to access the dial pad to make a phone call. Yes, a phone call.

With a built in speaker and two built in microphones, one used for noise cancellation, you can make and receive phone calls. While the sound is nice and loud for it’s size, the clarity is not the best. The experience is the same as talking on speakerphone with any regular phone. You don’t have to hold your wrist to your mouth or ear to make it sound clearer for either yourself or the caller. You can just talk normal and continue what you were doing. Again, just like on speakerphone. The callers on the other end told me that the sound was clear, enough. They weren’t constantly asking me to repeat myself. But also, they said that I sounded like I was on speaker phone which means distant and not directing all my attention to them. There was a slight break in conversation meaning if I talked before they were done with their sentence, they couldn’t hear me until they were done. We’ve experienced that before haven’t we, but it was in the past. Something that should have disappeared completely by now.

As you might have already guessed, there isn’t much you can do on a phone or tablet without a keyboard. So there is limited capability on the Galaxy Gear, because guess what? It doesn’t have a keyboard. There are a few note taking applications, that were originally built for phones and tablets, that will still take notes via voice dictation. However, Samsung’s proprietary voice detection is not as smooth as Google’s or even Apple’s for that matter. It’s not the same as voice recording either. Making a mistake would mean starting over.

Samsung has released six different color choices in watchbands with the Galaxy Gear: Wild Orange, Jet Black, Mocha Gray, Rose Gold , Lime Green, and Oatmeal Beige. These are some bold colors to begin with and choosing the wrong one could be costly, because they aren’t interchangeable.

This smartwatch does come with an addition that no one else has tried to accomplish yet. Samsung included a 2MP camera. It is located on the side of the watch band and use is very simple. Swipe down to access the camera software, tap once to take a picture. In the top left corner you can change out between pictures and video. This camera is capable of capturing 720p HD movies in 4:3 or 16:9 format. However, you are limited to a short 15 seconds. The pictures are as clear as a front facing cameras on your phone. Nothing gorgeous but fun for quick social sharing. One the contrary, the video is crisp and clear. AFter snapping a pic or video, the Gear will automatically sync that to your phone for easy storage and access to share in other ways you couldn’t do with the Gear alone. Such as text messages or emails.

Finally, the battery. Even though it only has a 315 mAh battery, the Galaxy Gear can still last for a couple of days without recharging. Although its rated at 25 hours of battery life, I was able to go through three days of use with no problem. This is mostly contributed to its limited functionality and my lack of needing to take pictures while at work. I did however snap some cool pics at a kids party and the Galaxy Gear’s battery still stood up to the test of time.

Photo and video samples:

Final Thoughts
The first iteration of the Samsung Galaxy Gear is a neat idea. They pushed the limits as far as they could go and tried many extra things with a watch. Many of those extras however, don’t seem rational. Taking notes on my watch, making grocery lists on my watch, continuing a lengthy chain of texts messages from my watch. While they all seem like a neat idea, in practice, they are all way too cumbersome to execute. The lack of a keyboard (and I’m not saying it should have one) but that’s just it, without the keyboard, that “extra” functionality is almost pointless. At first launch it was $350. It’s since been lowered to $300, and now $250. Still way too expensive for such a useless accessory.

Since the release of the Samsung Galaxy Gear, Samsung has released 3 more competitors in this smartwatch market: The Gear 2, The Gear Neo, and The Gear Fit. Please note that none of them have “Galaxy” as a prefixed name. This is because are not running the Android operating system, Samsung wanted to differentiate them from the predecessor in some way. I’m hoping to get my hands on some of these device in the future as well.