Samsung Galaxy Gear initial review

Samsung's first smartwatch is expensive and lacking in some areas, but it also has plenty of potential

I'm trying real hard to like the Samsung Galaxy Gear. Having worn the Pebble smartwatch for a couple months now, I'm all for the idea of a smart device on my wrist. And the Galaxy Gear is undeniably better looking, more powerful and more feature-rich than the plastic darling of Kickstarter.

This thing even takes pictures, for Pete's sake.

Then why do I find myself already slipping it back off my wrist and reaching for the Pebble?

We've had the Samsung Galaxy Gear in hand for a few days now. A full review is forthcoming — we want to give the Gear the proper review it deserves — and there's quite a bit to get into, even with it being a pretty simple accessory to operate. For now, though, some initial thoughts on the Samsung Galaxy Gear.

Galaxy Gear design

I'm mostly in love with the look of the Gear. The brushed metal with exposed screws looks as sophisticated as ever. It makes the Pebble — which costs half as much as the Gear — well, look like a cheaper plastic watch. The band's a bit stiff still — Samsung says it'll loosen up a little, but I wouldn't count on too much — and I'd prefer traditional hinges near the body to keep things that much more flexible. But the rigidity is understandable given the electronics tucked inside the band.

The clasp/strap hybrid mechanism is easy enough to get used to, and it makes the watch easy to slip on and off, but it also is rubbing on the inside of my wrist a little.

Not so good is the protruding camera stack. Would I be willing to have a cameraless Gear in exchange for a sleeker look? Possibly. 

Using the Galaxy Gear

Samsung Galaxy Gear menu

Actually operating the Galaxy Gear is simple enough, but it necessitates that you own the new Galaxy Note 3. Right now, it's the only smartphone that'll pair with the Gear. That'll expand to other current and new Samsung smartphones in future days, but for now, it's Note 3 or nothing. 

The Galaxy Gear runs Android 4.2.2, but not so you'd notice.

Setting up the Gear was simple enough. Tap the Note 3 against the Gear's charging dock (which, by the way, allows you to connect to the watch via ADB), and the embedded NFC tag prompts you to download the Gear Manager app. It's worth noting that you're downloading it directly from Samsung and not Google Play.

Once you're all paired up — and the watch is worthless out of the box until you pair it with a phone — it's simple enough to use. Swiping down acts as back button. You've got a basic hierarchy going on — but it's a little confusing in that some of the top-level apps are also in the "Apps" section. OK, maybe not confusing, per se, but that means you're swiping through some of the same stuff twice.

Taking pictures with the gear is fun. Samsung's made it one swipe away from the home screen watch face — you swipe down to launch it. The end result is a 1,392-by-1,392 image (the default resolution at 1:1 aspect ratio; or you can opt for 4:3 at 1,280-by-960) that looks like a small, square, flat image. But it's still a fun little novelty. I'm not buying the "Never miss a shot" tag line (or whatever variation of that Samsung is using). If you're not ready to take a picture, you'll miss it. And the end result with the Gear is still nowhere near what you get with a smartphone, to say nothing of a proper camera. You can check out our example shots here.

A 1.9MP camera on a watch? Sure thing — just don't expect too much.

But, hey. It's fun. And you can have pictures upload automatically from the watch to the phone, saving you a little trouble. That's a nice touch.

Oh, and for those of you worried about creepshots — taking pictures of someone without their knowing — Samsung's made the shutter sound mandatory. Of course, you can just put your finger over the speaker, squelching any and all sound.

There's plenty more functionality to be had as well. Placing phone calls with the Gear (it's a Bluetooth device, after all) makes you feel a little like a Secret Service agent, minus the bad-assery. The mics are omnidirectional, so you don't have to put it up to your ear to speak. But the speaker on the end of the clasp — and the underside if your wrist — is very much a directional affair, so you need to contort your arm to hear the other person. Quality is OK, and it's definitely a fun thing to try in a car

Other built-in app options include a pedometer, weather, calendar, voice memos, media controller, and a stopwatch — and there are a number of other apps you can download directly from Samsung. Those include Banjo and Path and Runkeeper and Samsung's own ChatOn, to name but a few. There's also a "find my phone" feature — and it works in reverse from the Note 3 so that you can "find my Gear" if it's fallen in a couch cushion or something. (Both require the watch and phone to still be connected via Bluetooth.)

What's disappointing ...

Samsung Galaxy Gear notification error

My main use for a smartwatch thus far has been for quickly glancing at notifications. Is that e-mail important? Who's pinging me on Google Hangouts? But notifications on the Galaxy Gear are pretty limited — unless you're using the stock e-mail or messaging app, and even then there's a second step to take before you get a preview — you have to tap the notification itself. 

But if something comes in to a third-party app — Gmail, Facebook and Twitter, to name but three — all you get is a pretty icon of the app, and a message that you'll need to pull out your Note 3 if you want to actually see the meat of the notification. "For details, view this notification on your mobile device," it says.

Notifications, battery life and waterproofing prove to be troublesome.

You can set it up so the phone will automatically open the app for the notification you can't view on the watch — but that pretty much negates wearing the watch in the first place, so far as I'm concerned. For me, that's a deal-breaker. Fortunately, all this could be fixable with improved software. And Samsung should, in fact, add that functionality.

It's also disappointing that the Gear's locked into Samsung's hardware ecosystem. I get it, and it's a sound strategic decision, but it's still disappointing. I'd love to use the Gear with whatever phone I happen to be using. (And I'm fully aware that I'm a weird usage case.) And wouldn't Samsung love to see its products on the wrist of iPhone owners? Maybe it'll happen one day. 

Battery life is also a big question, and it really comes down to how long the display is on. I've been getting more than the day of use we were told to expect — but not nearly as long as the four or five days I'm used to with the Pebble. Different tech is involved, though, so it's definitely an apples-to-oranges comparison.

And, finally, there's the issue of waterproofing. The Gear basically is rated to handle your sweaty arm, and that's about it. Washing your hands, getting caught in a rain shower or hosing off a dirty kid and you'll need to take the $299 gear off your wrist. That's the price you pay for having that much electronics on your arm, I suppose.

More to come ...

Samsung Galaxy Gear weather

Those are my initial impressions after a long weekend of use. I still really like the idea of the Gear, and it's still a pretty impressive first-generation product from Samsung. Solid design — remember that it's available in a half-dozen colors, too — and some fairly simple, impressive software. It's even running Android 4.2.2 out of the box

The lack of sophistication in the notification is troubling, but fixable. The lack of waterproofing worries me more. And being locked into Samsung phones perhaps is troubling above all. 

But I still have hope for the Galaxy Gear. It's expensive, but it's interesting.

We'll be giving the Gear and its software — and the companion app on the Note 3 — a more thorough look in the coming weeks.

 

Reader comments

Samsung Galaxy Gear initial review

58 Comments

that WAS the only thing keeping me away. That and i thik its overpriced.. But after reading this, there is not a chance in hell i will be getting one.

The locking to its own eco system is just lame. If i wanted that i would have an iphone.

Do you expect Apple to do any different. You will not find their smartwatch to either be realistically priced or able to pair with anything other than ios devices.

as for the water proof of the watch:

"According to the deigner of the Galaxy Gear, Pranav Mistry, Galaxy Gear comes with IP55 certification."

you should be able to put that watch under water for 30mins at 3ft before it becomes a problem.

Thanks Phil. I have been wondering how 3rd party app notifications would show up, maybe they'll add that on in a quick update before the holidays to spice things up.

It's not the Samsung way... Historically, they just provide 16 months word of updates (i'm not counting bug fixes). Nexus provides about 25 months of updates. And iOS about 36 months of updates. Expect them to widen the number of compatible devices, but through a mix of phone releases and some phone upgrades.

Decent first effort (remember your first smart phone?). Make it third party app compatible, an option for no camera /changeable band, and usable with any android device and I'm onboard. Go Gear2.

Sounds like my old Sony Smart watch is better than this overpriced pos. I would like a mic and speaker and front facing camera however. I always wanted to be Dick Tracy!

Posted via Android Central App

If all you want is a watch phone they are quite cheap on dealxtreem
There are third party ones and I think LG make one of you want branded.

the killer feature is full message (or at the very least sender/title) Gmail and Text/SMS alerts. and they F'ed it up. hopefully they'll fix it with a software update. i'll probably never get one anyway - hard to wear something nerdy like this when i have a classic timeless $8K mechanical watch to wear.

--

To understand why brands of mechanical watches are so sought after you have to understand why the watches are sought after. To do that you’ve got to look at people like Brian Ehrmantraut. “It’s an antidote to the technology I work with every day,” says the semiretired techie. “These things are made by people sitting at benches, not computers. When you look at one of these things through a magnifying glass, you can see that a human being worked on it. It can never match a $50 Swatch, but I really like the futility of that–there’s something noble and tragic about it.” - Time Is Money - Forbes - 9-18-2000

1. This is fugly. Pure and simple.
2. As a runner/triathlete I've worn some big darn watches, this has to be the biggest of them all.
3. Fugly bears repeating. Fugly.

Of course, the opinion that it's "fugly" is entirely suggestive. Personally, I think the front-face of the Gear looks rather nice. That's not to say that *you* are somehow required to feel that way. Only that you have to realize that no design would have pleased everyone. We're all different, and everyone's opinion of attractive is different.

Thank god for that, I wouldn't have a girl friend ;)

I do think Samsung made some *big* missteps with this device, I just happen to think the overall design is not one of them.

...except for the hump where that stupid camera is, anyway...

As far as I know you kind of need android 4.3, because of Bluetooth.
S4, S3, note 2 are all first upgrading to 4.3 to get full support. For other phones I think 4.3 would really be needed before Samsung can support it

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I still remain unconvinced of my need for a smart watch or any smart wearable device. Just don't see that it makes me any more productive than pulling my phone out of my pocket and glancing at screen. Especially not for $250 and locked to a single manufacturer ecosystem.

The day may come when a killer app is developed that will change my mind. For now, all I see is another device I have to keep charged that doesn't offer much benefit to me.

A watch that connected to my smartphone as well as my bike computer and gps for running, that would be cool. This doesn't do that though, it's just a notification system with a really crappy camera attached.

I would like to see one paired with Navigation, so that the watch just displays very simple commands (Turn left on Broad St in 50 meters). That'd be handy for biking.

eahinrichsen, I thought the same thing when people were asking what we'd like a smart watch to do.

It would be especially handy for navigating on foot in the city.

That is an excellent idea. Something we'll probably have to wait for Google to release their own version, though, since it would probably require a tie-in to the Navigation app itself.

Yes! Come on Google update the MotoACTV! Unlike this POS, that was an awesome first attempt that was on the right track. Instead they canceled it, meaning I'll be sticking to my Garmin for the foreseeable future.

Think I'll go down the Sony Smartwatch pathway for now!! A Fortune for a Dumb 'Smartwatch' compared to 150 quid for a Smart 'Smartwatch' one that works with All devices and 3rd party apps (as long as a watch app has been made!)

This site is way too soft on reviewing horrible products. The verge gives this a nice display of what it does well, which isn't much, while skewering the rest, and doesn't even pretend that it has potential.

1) It's huge. Wear it for a year and your left arm is longer than your right arm.
2) If I'm charging a second device daily, it needs to offer a whole lot more functionality.
3) It's expensive. Three hundred clams is phone money.
4) Meh.

Is there a Micro-USB on the watch so I can charge it while I'm at my desk or do I have to dock it on some sort of pogo plug dock for power? I can deal with everything else other than carrying some stupid dock with me when I travel to charge the damn thing.

I'm an early adopter for most things but not this. I'll check in on v2.0.
Charge my watch daily? Umm, NO!

Agreed! If the pebble had a better display I can see that but this looks like a fancy calculator watch from the 80's...especially for the price.

There will probably be no v2.0 if Sammy doesn't see a market for this type of tech.

It's us early adopters who pay more for tech than it's probably worth, but we pave the way for future versions and tell OEM's this type of device is worth their time and effort.

With that in mind I will be picking up a Galaxy Gear this weekend. Sure $299 is high price tag, but when I purchased the original Galaxy Note phone I was all but laughed at.

Today, Sammy is laughing all the way to the bank, and this Friday will be releasing v3.0 of that device because us early adopters were willing to pay the price and suffer the ridicule.

At this point I am totally convinced that I won't be needing this at all! This makes as much sense as Google Glass

Over priced and under developed. Sticking with sw1. Nothing out yet (aside from maybe the sw2) to compare with the apps

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Just use the stock E-Mail client along with all the other stock apps. I am sure that Samsung will update that watch very fast. I really like the watch along with the Note 3 it makes a great tool for work. Being a custom home builder I could leave the Note 3 in my truck glove box and just wear the watch on the job-site and leave it on vibrate. When I get a message,E-Mail or even a call I can take it with the watch and not worry about my new Note 3. Love that entire concept. My Note 3 is on order in black and I'm going to wait until next month for the watch. Too many phones, too many great gadgets. I just love it all. Samsung really hit this one out of the park. This watch will get some major updates, the HP under the hood of that watch can handle plenty of updates. That watch has more power and ram than the Nexus One.

You do realize that bluetooths range isn't that far. I don't think you could leave the phone in your truck and get to far away before you drop the signal to the phone.

Posted via Android Central App

BT range is *about* 30ft. And, admittedly, at the edge of that range you wouldn't really be able to carry on a conversation with a BT headset.

But just getting notifications would probably work ok, depending on how close he parked his truck to the house he's working on. Signal may drop in and out to where he might not get some notifications "instantly" but it might work out for him. Just depends.

I'd be more concerned that it's not a very robust device, and it would really ruin your day to have your $300 watch get hit with a flying nail or something and shatter.

I'm probably going to get the Osmate Touchsmart because it cost less, and does way more.

StealthDroid - Working in the Nexus Lab

I'm sticking with my Pebble.. which is awesome by the way.
I only have to charge it once a week, there's no way in Hell I'm going to get a watch that needs to be charged every night.

Wow this thing is a total failure. Horrible effort by Samsung. Looks like I'll be waiting another few years to get a Smart Watch...if they don't die before they even take off.

I've already ordered mine and i'm picking it up tomorrow with my note 3, but as i read reviews i realize this watch is as dumb as that htc bluetooth phone...But like i said its already paid for so yea....