Samsung is entering the growing wearables market with its new Galaxy Gear smart device. The wristwatch was unveiled today in an Unpacked 2013 event held in Germany. We’ve already summarized the basic specifications of the device, and now it is time to take a deep dive and look closely at the underlying hardware and software.
The Galaxy Gear is a small device, and its diminutive specs match its size. It has a single-core 800MHz Exynos processor, 512MB of RAM and a 1.63-inch Super AMOLED (320 x 320) display. Every smartphone wristwatch needs a camera to achieve its expected level of Maxwell Smartness, and the Gear doesn’t disappoint. It packs a 1.9-megapixel module with a backlit illuminated sensor and autofocus, which is good enough for a device that sits on your wrist. There are two microphones with noise cancellation and one speaker built into the wristband that are used for James Bond-like communication.
Other details include Bluetooth 4.0 connectivity, 4GB of internal storage, and a 315mAh battery that charges via some funky microUSB adapter. It measures 36.8 x 56.6 x 11.1 mm and weighs in at a 73.8g.
While the hardware powering the Galaxy Gear is detailed in its release notes, information on the operating system driving the device is mysteriously absent from the PR. It’s likely a custom version of Android OS, which allows it to connect to Galaxy Devices running Android 4.3 or greater. It supports Samsung apps and services like S-Voice, Memographer, Voice Memo and ChatON and ships with a long list of third-party apps. Here is a rundown of the apps and services that are bundled with the device.
- Smart Relay alerts users of incoming calls, texts, emails and alerts and delivers a preview.
- Memographer allows you to record both photos and video and share them on their social networks.
- Voice Memo lets users capture important thoughts using their wrists and then save those voice recordings into texts.
- Auto Lock automatically locks the companion smartphone screen any time the Galaxy Gear is more than 1.5 meters away from the smartphone. It then unlocks the smartphone when the two devices are near each other again.
- Find My Device helps users find the location of their smart devices when they have been misplaced by making them beep, illuminate and vibrate.
- Atooma is a contextually aware horizontal intelligence platform that makes your Galaxy Gear smarter.
- Banjo gives you the power to see what’s happening right now, anywhere in the world
- Evernote watch app makes it easy to remember things by quickly capturing images and memories and bringing important reminders right to Galaxy Gear.
- Glympse allows people to easily share their location temporarily and in real-time, letting recipients see their movements on a dynamic map.
- eBay allows you to complete all your transactions on eBay with ease and in real-time.
- Line is a global messaging service available in over 230 countries worldwide.
- MyFitnessPal tracks your nutrition and exercise, empowering you to achieve your personal health and fitness goals.
- Path is the personal network designed to bring you closer to your friends and family.
- Pocket, the leading way to save web content to view later on any device, brings text-to-speech article playback to Galaxy Gear.
- RunKeeper is the personal trainer in your pocket, helping you track your runs, set your goals, and stay motivated.
- TripIt makes it easy to organize travel plans in one place.
- Vivino Wine Scanner allows you to take a photo of any wine and get to know all about it instantly.
Compatibility is a big disappointment, with Samsung confirming that the device will only work with the Note 3 and the Note 10.1 2014 at launch. That means customers will have to buy a new phone along with their Gear or wait until Samsung gets around to updating their other Galaxy devices to Android 4.3. The Galaxy S4 and the S III are expected to get the necessary updates in October, so, for some, that wait is not insufferably long.
Hands-On Review Roundup
Samsung made the Galaxy Gear available for reviewers to get some hands-on time with the device. Some have already chimed in with their first impressions on Samsung’s big foray into the world of wearable tech. Here is what they had to say about the Gear:
- CNET: “I was charmed by the combination of simplicity with function: it’s incredibly easy to control, yet does enough useful things to have this gadget fan convinced I need it.”
- ZDNET: “The “Samsung Unpacked” event should have been named “Samsung Unraveling.” That’s because, based on today’s unveiling of the tech giant’s anticipated entry into the burgeoning smartwatch market, it’s clear that Samsung has dropped the ball. It’s also evident that Samsung doesn’t understand the wearable technology market yet either.”
- The Verge: “Most of all, however, I find it hard to justify spending the $299 asking price on an accessory like the Galaxy Gear. It’s too dependent on its parent device for functionality — which will cost you a fair amount too — and, like all other smartwatches, fails to truly live up to the “smart” part of its name.”
- Engadget: “As we’ve come to expect with many first-generation devices, the Gear has quite a few shortcomings, some of which likely have yet to come to light. The prototype devices we used were noticeably sluggish and occasionally unresponsive, S Voice is not entirely hands-free, and battery life has been pegged at a full day, at best.”
- Wired UK: “The 1.63-inch Super Amoled screen has a 320×320-pixel resolution and is surrounded by a stainless steel bezel with screws inset in each of the four corners. This gives it a slightly industrial edge, which is likely to put off anyone with a fondness for dainty fashion. “
- Mashable: “Based on our limited time with the Gear, we can say it succeeds in some areas but fumbles in others.”
- SlashGear: “Nonetheless, we’re quietly impressed by what Samsung has achieved. We’ll need to live with the Galaxy Gear on our wrists for a while to see if the company really has cracked the smartwatch conundrum, but this doesn’t feel like the rushed, pre-emptive “iWatch” strike many had suggested it might be.”
- Forbes: “My general thought about this and other smartwatches is that — while a nice accessory — it’s not a game changer. Based on the bundled apps, the watch doesn’t do anything that your phone doesn’t already do … frankly, I’m just as excited about the pedometer and promise of other standalone apps as I am in how the watch acts as a remote control and screen for a smartphone.”
- TechHive: “Pebble proved a smartwatch is possible. Sony paved the way. Samsung has thrown down the gauntlet. It’s your move now, Apple.”
- LaptopMag: “Overall, the Galaxy Gear looks like a compelling entry in the emerging smartwatch category. The interface is intuitive, the design is attractive, and it offers just enough functionality without feeling overwhelming.”
Pricing and Availability
The Galaxy Gear will go on sale in more than 140 countries worldwide starting September 25. It will retail for $299.
The Galaxy Gear is an intriguing device, especially for first adopters who enjoy less-than-perfect, cutting-edge technology. Early reviews seem to be favorable, but there are still a few reported hiccups like slowed performance and an uncomfortable size. The real proof of success will come in a few weeks when these reviewers report back with their experiences. Will they still be using the Galaxy Gear every day or will the novelty have worn off?