Samsung wanted to place their mark in the smart watch industry with the reveal of the Galaxy Gear a few months ago. Their physical take on the watch was what caught a lot of people’s attention, including mine. Now officially released along side the new and powerful Galaxy Note 3, did the Galaxy Gear smart watch live up to its expectations or was this smart watch all hype. With only being able to spend little time with the watch i was eagerly waiting for its release.
The Galaxy Gear is powered by a 800 MHz processor, 512 MB of RAM and 4GB of internal memory. It also includes a 315mAh Li-ion battery and boasts a 1.63 inch Super AMOLED display with a resolution of 320 x 320. The watch is a bit on the bulky side with the face being entirely made of steel, yes that’s right, steel. The band itself is made of a soft rubbery material which feels pretty good on the wrist but causes a bit of sweat when worn for a long time. The adjusting is bit weird with the Galaxy Gear and takes a little getting used to, but what really stands out is the giant hunk of metal on the bottom of the Gear. In that giant box of steel lies the speaker of the device. Now this very part of the watch becomes a bit annoying, especially when working on a desk area. Writing or even typing on a keyboard can cause that bottom steel to hit the table and just feel uncomfortable. The Gear also includes multiple microphones for noise canceling and better audio for phone calls and voice memos. You are also given a cradle that snaps on to the face of the Galaxy gear and includes a MicroUSB port for charging. The cradle has a special NFC file attached with it that when tapped to the Note 3, launches the download of the Gear Manager application. Overall, the design is an eye catcher but can become quite annoying and uncomfortable on the wrist when worn for a long time.
The Gear is powered by Android but its nothing Samsung has ever done before. This isn’t a watch version of TouchWiz but instead it’s own version. With no actual physical buttons aside for the power button, your way of navigating through the Gear’s menus is by hand swipes. It isn’t difficult to do and feels very natural once you get the hang of it. What does kill it for me is its menu layout. Each swipe either left or right reveals a new application to choose from; whether it be Media Control, Gallery, Pedometer or Contacts. Each app takes up its own screen and becomes very annoying when swiping multiple times like a mad man just to reach the app you want. What is interesting though is the “Apps” window when pressed reveals all other smaller and downloaded apps but not in the view as before. Samsung packs up to four apps per screen which is easier to navigate through. I know they want to show off the screen on the Gear but at least giving us the option to change the layout of its menus would have been a great feature.
As mentioned, swipes are everything on the Galaxy gear. Swiping side by side gets you access to the Gears applications, while swiping down from the top works as your ‘back’ button when on other windows. From the home screen swiping down from the top reveals your camera and swiping up from the bottom shows your dial pad. The dial pad works as it should. Typing in a phone number manually or going to a contact and selecting to call them takes you to the screen. The gear displays who you are calling as well as when you are receiving a call and have missed a call. You are allowed to accept or rejects calls straight from the watch, which is neat. Now what confuses a lot of people is this whole phone function of the Galaxy Gear. The watch isn’t a phone. It’s a Bluetooth accessory that accesses your phone to complete these tasks. The Galaxy gear is just acting like any other Bluetooth phone accessory would, so in other words, your phone is actually working while in your pocket.
Now you’re probably waiting for the negative about the software side on the Galaxy Gear, well it’s in its notifications. See the reason behind having a smart watch on your wrist is to not have to pull out your smartphone every couple of minutes or so. We do get notifications like text messages and It’s awesome to read them on the watch and even reply through S-Voice, but that’s it. The Galaxy Gear notifies you of incoming Tweets, Facebook messages, Google Hangout chats and even Gmail, but doesn’t allow for a preview of said messages. Instead you are prompted to check out the message on your Galaxy Note 3, which defeats the purpose of even owning the watch.
What I did absolutely love about the Galaxy Gear is its function to act like a mobile phone. With my Note 3 in another bedroom or simply out of reach, answering phone calls from the watch and talking on it was extremely easy and convenient. In quiet indoor areas the speaker on the bottom of the watch was very loud and responsive with the mic also being able to pick up my voice loud and clear. Now Samsung makes it seem like you have to talk into the watch like a secret agent, in fact you don’t. It works just like your average speaker phone so speaking a bit loudly will be picked up by the watch with no problem. The same can’t be said when outdoors. I have had instances where calls were great in non crowded streets, but once you hit a busy area there is no use for the watch at all. Another cool
It’s a clean software and Samsung is making the right choices in allowing third party applications to run on the Gear (Which can be downloaded via the Samsung App Store on the Galaxy Gear application.) Ebay, Evernote and MyFitnessPal can be accessed through the Gear Manager app and installed to the Gear watch. You can customize which apps give you notifications as well as adjust the clock faces. The cool thing is that there are multiple apps that allow for different clock faces and even ones that give you customization of it. The app is simple and easy to use especially when connecting or syncing the Gear.
The camera on the Galaxy Gear is more of a luxury rather than a necessity. Though there were many times where snapping a photo from the Gear was faster than pulling out my phone, unlocking it, opening the camera app, and firing away. It uses a 1.9 megapixel sensor with no flash and gives you the equivalent to a decent front facing camera. The Gear allows for either a 1:1 or 4:3 aspect ratio in photos and up to 15 second video clips in either 1:1 (standard definition) or 16:9 (720p HD) aspect ratios. The best thing about this is since the Galaxy Note 3 and Gear are synced via Bluetooth, you can transfer photos and videos within seconds from the Gear to your Note 3. It’s also to good to point out that you can’t transfer photos from the gallery app, instead you have to activate the camera and swipe to view your previous photos; it is there where you can select the transfer option.
Many people were quite nervous on having a camera on your wrist, but don’t worry, Samsung has made it impossible for you to remove the focus and shutter sound. But, it can easily be drowned out in a loud crowded area, also its pretty u comfortable to rotate your wrist and position yourself for a photo. Overall, having a quick access camera on my wrist came in handy at times in capturing fast moments with my family and friends. Quality is decent for fast pics and even Instagram uploads, but I can honestly do without having a camera the next time around.
For a smart watch, it performed fairly well. Notifications and vibrations happened less than a second from being received on my device. Bluetooth kept a very good connection between the gear and Note 3 with the only noticeable interference is when the Gear is far away from the device. Within 10 hours of the day I was reaching about 55-60% of battery life with many notifications entering. You are able to go the next day with the Galaxy gear if just on standby during the night, but do expect to have to charge it during the day. I chose to charge the Gear as soon as I got home and was surprised at how quick the Gear charges in its cradle. I got back to full 100% of battery in about 2 hours, which is great. When the Gear is secured in its cradle and placed on a night table, it actually looks really nice.
During the day of usage I experienced no hiccups or lag when multiple notifications were coming in. Swipe gestures were accurate and navigating around the watch can be done in seconds. Now the internals might not look good on paper but seriously, how much power do you really need to run a smart watch. A good friend of mine rooted his Gear and was able to side-load other Android apps. So we decided to run a benchmark on the watch and found that it reached numbers in power of that a cell phone of just 2-3 years back.
The Galaxy Gear was a bit of a let down for me. After first seeing it and being blown away at what it could do, finding the big misses in the watch itself was disappointing. I mean, the whole purpose of a smart watch is to never have to look at your phone right. Clearly there are some updates and app support that needs to happen on the Gear, because as of now the Gear is my favorite looking smart watch on the market, but I would still stick to something like the Pebble. The $299 price tag on this is ridiculous, especially if the only hands free things you can do is answer text messages and handle phone calls. Also, its lack of smart phone compatibility is killer. To be only paired up with a Galaxy Note 3 running Android 4.3 is insane; Samsung is literally forcing you to purchase the Note 3 and the watch itself. Though there are updates to be released for the S3, S4, Note 2, Galaxy Mega and S4 Active, I do believe the hype of the watch will die down due to the time frame in between. Samsung has the right idea, some tweaks and changes to its overall hardware appearance could make this a must have accessory in 2014.
Update: The Galaxy Gear has gotten an update via the Gear Manager app that finally allows full details on notifications to be shown on the Gear. It still isn’t perfect, but it’s a start.
- Handles phone calls nicely
- Brush metal design
- Lack of app support
- Software needs upgrading