Long rumored, and frequently leaked, today the Samsung Galaxy Gear smartwatch is finally official, and we’ve had the chance to spend some time with Samsung’s new wearable device.
First things first, if you were concerned about an overabundance of glossy plastic or a cheap-feeling design — a common criticism of some Samsung phones — don’t be. The Galaxy Gear is an attractive, well-built piece of technology that looks like a premium sports watch. The front is furnished in metal and sapphire glass, while the matte plastic body blends seamlessly into the soft-touch, rubberized strap. It’s comfortable to use and comfortable to wear.
The Gear is, however, rather large — larger than the watch you’re wearing now, most likely, which could cause problems depending on the size of your wrists. The challenges involved in miniaturizing smart electronics into a package you can wear on your wrist mean that this is an issue we’ll probably see on future smartwatches, too.
Regardless, with the relatively large design comes a large touchscreen, for a watch. The screen itself measures 1.63 inches diagonally, and is home to a 320x320 SuperAMOLED panel. There’s a single button on the right edge, which functions as a home button and the watch can be charged through pogo pins on the underside. (There’s a special charging housing for the Gear that doubles as a sort of display stand.)
There’ll be six flavors of Galaxy Gear available — Jet Black, Mocha Gray, Wild Orange, Oatmeal Beige, Rose Gold, and Lime Green — which is actually more of a yellow. The orange and yellow models in particular are extremely striking, while the greys and blacks cut a classier, more understated profile.
The Galaxy Gear’s UI fairly unobtrusive, with a bare minimum of visual clutter. The main way you’ll interact with the watch is by swiping in various directions — usually left to right, to navigate between things like call logs, contacts, the clock face, notifications and favorite apps. Swiping down (to go up) will bring up the camera app.
That’s right, this is a watch with a camera — a 1.9-megapixel unit, to be precise, loaded onto the front of the strap. It sounds impractical, but we found it relatively easy to able to get into the camera app with a quick swipe-down and then tap the screen to take a picture. Image quality is likely to be roughly comparable with the kind of front-facing camera you’d find on a smartphone. 720p video recording is supported too, and there’s also a miniature gallery app to let you view your photos directly on the watch. (Pictures, incidentally, are synced between watch and phone.)
As a companion device to Samsung’s Galaxy phones, integration is rooted deep into the OS. Based on which message notification you’re viewing on the watch, for example the paired smartphone will know what to show you when you power on the screen. Other features include a trimmed-down version of Samsung’s S Voice assistant application, which allows you to set reminders and make calls using voice controls.
The Gear also doubles as a handsfree accessory, and can be used to make calls thanks to its array of speakers and microphones — though just like taking pictures with a tablet, you’ll look somewhat ridiculous talking into your wrist.
The device’s capabilities aren’t limited to first-party apps, however — Samsung’s also managed to bring in support from a strong line-up third-party devs including Evernote, eBay, MyFitnessPal, Pocket, Path, RunKeeper and Tripit.
All of this is managed on the smartphone side through the Gear Manager app. This is your one-stop hub for controlling things on a larger screen, and from here you can swap in watch faces, manage your apps and even cause your phone to ring if it’s lost. Another optional security feature lets you long-press the home key to activate a “panic” mode, using the watch’s camera to take pictures and send, along with a message, to emergency contacts.
So there’s a lot going on with the Galaxy Gear, and so unsurprisingly the watch’s battery life isn’t going to match that of simpler smartwatches like the Pebble, even though both use the Bluetooth Low Energy standard. Samsung tells us the Gear should last for around a 24 hours of heavy use, which potentially means you’ll have yet another thing to plug in at the end of the day.
For the moment, the Galaxy Gear is undoubtedly the most advanced smartwatch out there, but that could be about to change in short order, as arch-rival Apple prepares to enter the wearable computing space. What’s more, the requirement to use a Samsung smartphone with the Gear could limit its appeal. For what it’s worth, Samsung’s billing the Gear as as “companion” to the Galaxy Note 3 at launch.
But it’s still way too early to say how successful the watch will be in the long-run — the device is new and the competition unknown. But you can bet we’ll continue to bring you all the latest Galaxy Gear developments as the device approaches its Sept. 25 release date.