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Samsung Galaxy Gear Review

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Review of: Samsung Galaxy Gear Review

Reviewed by:
Rating:
3
On 10/07/2013
Last modified:10/07/2013

Summary:

At this time, the Gear is an elegantly appointed smartwatch, but one that doesn't add much more value than the $150 Pebble. You get similar alerts for notifications while you gain a camera and speakerphone capabilities, but the value proposition isn't there just yet.

The Galaxy Gear is Samsung’s first foray into the wearable computing market, and Samsung is hoping that its first will beat Apple. However, is being first enough? And more importantly, will users find value in an accessory that costs as much as the phone that it’s designed to work with on a two-year contract in the U.S.?

At its heart, the Galaxy Gear promises to simplify the lives of its users by having notifications, alerts, and messages streamed from the Galaxy Note 3 to the wrist via a Bluetooth 4.0 Low Energy connection. Pairing is easy through NFC, and the Galaxy Gear is elegantly crafted to feel at home on a man’s wrist or woman’s wrist thanks to a number of different colors you can choose from, but choose carefully as the whimsical wrist straps are not changeable and you’ll have to pick your color choice at purchase.

The smartwatch category that the Gear appeals to is not a new one, and Samsung isn’t the first company to launch a connected watch. To clarify, this path has already been walked by Samsung’s and Apple’s rivals in the path–Google-owned Motorola had pushed forth with a fitness MOTO ACTV; Sony already has a second iteration of its SmartWatch and small upstarts like Pebble are creating small hits. Can Samsung be the first big name success in the category, and is the Galaxy Gear ready to take over your wrist?

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At launch, the Gear will only appeal to a limited audience as it is a watch with many potentials that is in large part hindered by compatibility issues. The Gear’s $299 price tag doesn’t help either when it only works with Samsung’s most expensive phones and tablets–the $550 Galaxy Note 10.1 2014 Edition and the Galaxy Note 3, which retails for $300 itself on contract.

The company does promise that after a forthcoming software update, the Gear will play nice with older Samsung flagships, like the Galaxy Note 2, the Galaxy S4, and the Galaxy S3.

S Voice turns the Gear into your genie with less tapping and more talking. Thanks to Samsung's voice app, you can launch apps, call contacts, and do a number of things. In reality though, S Voice is far less accurate on the Gear than it is on the Note 3.

S Voice turns the Gear into your genie with less tapping and more talking. Thanks to Samsung’s voice app, you can launch apps, call contacts, and do a number of things. In reality though, S Voice is far less accurate on the Gear than it is on the Note 3.

Samsung is allowing users a number of ways to interact with Gear–a side button can wake the watch up and launch S Voice, you can tap on the touchscreen to make selections or gesture the device with endless swipes, and you can also use it as a Bluetooth speakerphone thanks to built in microphones and a speaker on the clasp.

Galaxy Gear with charging cradle.

Galaxy Gear with charging cradle.

With the packed technologies inside Gear, there’s a lot to look forward to –it’s hardware offers software developers a lot of promise to re-imagine the computing experience once you interact with the ‘computer’–the phone or tablet in your pocket or bag–through your wrist. The main way to interact with the Gear is through the high resolution 1.63-inch 320 X 320-pixel Super AMOLED display. The screen is bright and rich and will automatically turn off after a few seconds of inactivity and will automatically turn on when you hold your wrist up to check the time or alerts. This smart activation feature is achieved through accelerometer sensing.

Galaxy Gear inside charging cradle and next to Galaxy Note 3

Galaxy Gear inside charging cradle and next to Galaxy Note 3

And despite its small display real estate, tapping on the screen is actually nice and responsive, and Samsung has also included a number of gestures to navigate through the heavily skinned version of Android 4.3 that powers the Gear. Double tap with two fingers to call up the brightness and notifications volume menu, swipe down from the main screen will invoke the 2-megapixel camera on the wrist strap, swipe up and you will get the dialer so you can handle your calls in the same way as a Bluetooth speaker phone. Navigating through apps will require side swipes, and the watch does come with 4 GB of memory to store all your data and photos captured with the device.

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In addition to telling time, the watch also supports notifications out of the box for a number of popular apps–Facebook, Google Hangouts, Google+, Twitter, Gmail, and Samsung’s pre-loaded Email application. The problem with the display of notifications to your wrist–what many people will buy the watch for–is that it only works well for some apps, but not for others. For example, notifications for Gmail and Facebook will alert you that there are notifications awaiting your attention, but won’t show you what the notification is–for that, the watch will direct you to pull your phone out of your bag.

Notifications? Some apps just tell you there is a notification and won't let you see or preview it. Facebook, Gmail, and Google+ are some of those apps.

Notifications? Some apps just tell you there is a notification and won’t let you see or preview it. Facebook, Gmail, and Google+ are some of those apps.

Other apps, like the Samsung email app, handle notifications better and will give you a pretty lengthy message preview and then direct you to view the rest of the message on your phone, a better way for notifications. As a result, I now use the Samsung Email app more than the Gmail app because it integrates better with the Gear for notifications.

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Side profile of the Galaxy Gear shows off the microphone hole for voice calls

To combat the jarring way that the Gear handles notifications, Samsung at least is building in what it calls a Smart Relay feature. With Smart Relay, if you start to view the notification–or notification alert–on your wrist, and you go to pick up your phone, the Galaxy Note 3 will open the specific app and message so you can get directly to the message when you pick up your paired Galaxy Note 3–no unlocking, no opening the app manually, and no scrolling to the specific message; everything is automatic, which is nice and cool.

The Gear can be used as a Bluetooth speakerphone for your Note 3. Use the Gear to dial calls and talk to your wrist.

The Gear can be used as a Bluetooth speakerphone for your Note 3. Use the Gear to dial calls and talk to your wrist.

And images captured with the Gear’s 2-megapixel camera is surprisingly good. We didn’t expect much from the Gear’s camera, which by default shoots in a square resolution format perfect for Instagram, but the results were actually quite pleasant. Pictures had good detail, and the autofocus camera did a good job for the most part. Still, a wrist-mounted camera is still awkward to shoot and Samsung is appeasing privacy freaks by not allowing Gear owners to disable the shutter sound so you can’t covertly be a creep and snap an unknowing shot of someone when you’re not supposed to. As a result, the Gear is less James Bond and more of a fun toy for you to chase the kids and pets around on a sunny afternoon.

The following images were captured with the Gear’s camera. In good lighting, the camera handled perfectly, though in mixed lighting conditions, poor dynamic range means you’ll lose details in shadows and highlights.

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Poor dynamic range–details are lost in the shadows.

Those who don’t like the square aspect ratio can also switch to a cropped 4:3 aspect ratio for images by toggling the settings. Though the Gear has 4 GB of on-board storage, you can also transfer your captured photos as you shoot them to your paired Note 3 or Note 10.1 2014 Edition, or you can turn off automatic transfer of images and do a manual transfer at the end of the day. I opted for the latter method and could go for a full day without having to worry about recharging either the Gear or the Note 3 with heavy photo shooting. 20130928_180331

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Photo Credit: Caroline Semerdjian, Sprint Corp.

The camera is an autofocus one, so to shoot, all you have to do is tap on the screen and the shutter will automatically activate, with shutter sound and all. There is no tap to focus, so you can’t choose your focus point manually. There is, however, an option as well for macro mode, surprisingly enough, for those who like to get up close and personal with flowers, bees, and bugs.

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Because of the position that the Gear’s camera is mounted on the wrist, it’s even harder to take a “sraight” photo. However, even with an image that has an off center of gravity, it’s nothing that a basic photo editor cannot fix to straighten out the photo.

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A little bit of blur in this image. Although the sign seems to be fine, the mushrooms suffer from blur, likely due to a shaky wrist.

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With good lighting, the Gear manages to surprise us with great photos that show good depth and details.

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In harsh lighting conditions (bright skies and dark shadows), the Gear’s 2-megapixel camera did not handle dynamic range well. The sky is blown out and details are lost in both the bright and dark areas. We’ll compare the 2-megapixel Gear camera to the camera on the Nokia Lumia 1020 with the following photo.

 

This square crop of the same image above is captured in a 5-megapixel original resolution on the Nokia Lumia 1020. More details were retained and better dynamic range was achieved in this image compared to the above captured with the Galaxy Gear's camera.

This square crop of the same image above is captured in a 5-megapixel original resolution on the Nokia Lumia 1020. More details were retained and better dynamic range was achieved in this image compared to the above captured with the Galaxy Gear’s camera.

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READ: Galaxy Note 3 Review and LG G2 ReviewBe sure to check out our reviews of these two phones to compare image samples taken with a regular smartphone and those taken with the Galaxy Gear’s 2-megapixel camera.

The Galaxy Gear can also record video clips, also in a square aspect ratio, for 15 seconds at a time. Video quality is nothing to write home about, and unfortunately as you can’t upload pre-recorded clips to Instagram (Instagram requires you to record live video as the moment is happening to upload and share), this feature seems less useful in reality.

Overall, the Galaxy Gear is a solidly built smartwatch, and one that takes a lot of inspiration from high-end Swiss watches. From the elegant deployment clasp rather than just a simple buckle on the strap, to a hefty weight and stainless steel finish, the Gear is comfortable, and playfully elegant in its design. Still, for a $300 watch–or double what Pebble is charging for its e-ink based smartwatch, the Gear could benefit from better craftsmanship. For one, though the four exposed screws on the watch’s face gives the Gear an industrial and rugged appearance, the screws don’t line up properly and makes it look rushed and not designed properly, especially for those who are switching from a regular watch.

Exposed screws on the Galaxy Gear gives the watch a nice rugged feel. However, I wish the screws lined up perfectly. As you can see, the screws are pointing in all different directions, marring what could have been a high-end watch experience.

Exposed screws on the Galaxy Gear gives the watch a nice rugged feel. However, I wish the screws lined up perfectly. As you can see, the screws are pointing in all different directions, marring what could have been a high-end watch experience.

And though the Gear pairs nicely with a number of Samsung apps–Email, S Health for pedometer tracking, and contacts–third-party apps are still lacking about a week since the device officially debuted in the U.S. and a few weeks out from the international availability date. Samsung promises that more apps are on the way, and developers only need to make a few simple tweaks in their codes to make their Android apps compatible with Gear, which should help spur up the Gear’s support of third-party apps. However, at this time, the Gear lacks a compelling purpose.

There hopefully will be an app for that. Samsung promises that developers could make a few simple code tweaks to make their Android-powered app compatible for the Gear. After all, the Gear does run Android 4.3.

There hopefully will be an app for that. Samsung promises that developers could make a few simple code tweaks to make their Android-powered app compatible for the Gear. After all, the Gear does run Android 4.3.

Without that one killer app, one does wonder about the future of Gear and the wearables category in general–why does it exist? If I still have to whip out my phone to see the full notifications–as the Facebook experience on Gear shows–why do I need a watch for that? If the Gmail app says, hey buddy, you’ve got a message, but doesn’t show me what that message is about, I still have to make the gamble on taking out my phone–it could either be an important work email from my boss or it could be spam. In the latter case, I had wasted more time looking at the Gear, deciding in my mind to check my phone, and then pulling out my phone, than I would have spent just by bypassing the Gear all together and looked at my phone.

The Gear's built-in accelerometer functions as a pedometer to track your steps walked. It will sync with the S Health app on the Galaxy Note 3--the same app that debuted on the Galaxy S4--and will hopefully inspire you to be a bit more active. Samsung says it hasn't forgotten about the S Health Band fitness accessory that was introduced alongside the Galaxy S4 either. That accessory is a more simple wrist band, a la Nike FuelBand and Fitbit, that will track steps but lack the smartwatch features of the Galaxy Gear. The company could not comment on availability for the S Health Band at this time, and that accessory is more fitting for users who may not need or want all the frills that come with Gear.

The Gear’s built-in accelerometer functions as a pedometer to track your steps walked. It will sync with the S Health app on the Galaxy Note 3–the same app that debuted on the Galaxy S4–and will hopefully inspire you to be a bit more active. Samsung says it hasn’t forgotten about the S Health Band fitness accessory that was introduced alongside the Galaxy S4 either. That accessory is a more simple wrist band, a la Nike FuelBand and Fitbit, that will track steps but lack the smartwatch features of the Galaxy Gear. The company could not comment on availability for the S Health Band at this time, and that accessory is more fitting for users who may not need or want all the frills that come with Gear.

At this time, the Gear is an elegantly appointed smartwatch, but one that doesn’t add much more value than the $150 Pebble. You get similar alerts for notifications while you gain a camera and speakerphone capabilities, but the value proposition isn’t there just yet. The Gear feels like a smartwatch with a lot of potential and the same amount of unrealized promise right now at its price point.

Tech enthusiast in Silicon Valley enjoying the possibilities of ubiquitous connectivity, information sharing, and collaboration enabled by mobile broadband. You can contact Chuong on Twitter @chuongvision or search +chuongvision on Google+.

21 Comments

  1. This to be gone

    10/07/2013 at 12:29 pm

    Just a look at me get attention gadget and looks so stupid!!! The idiot at store sho me this and it’s not impressive it’s slow as hell

  2. mary

    10/07/2013 at 12:55 pm

    Exactly how does the camera work? Where is the lens? How do you aim it?

    • Mark

      10/09/2013 at 2:19 pm

      the camera is on the side of the strap. You aim it by keeping your arm horizontally level with the ground. It takes surprisingly good pictures.

      • mary

        10/09/2013 at 3:02 pm

        Thanks. Am considering it…I can get the phone at no cost, with trade ins. So I’ll be checking this out. Need too find out how long the batteries are good since Bluetooth on a lot. I generally don’t keep mine on when not in use.

  3. akhil

    10/07/2013 at 11:26 pm

    can i find it in the indian stores….
    and send the cost in indian rupees…

    • This to be gone

      10/08/2013 at 8:41 am

      It’s not worth it, your rupees are far better!!

  4. Xain Chaudhry

    10/08/2013 at 4:01 am

    i realii want 2 buy :)

  5. NEELABOOOOO

    10/08/2013 at 6:38 pm

    Wait I really want this sooo badly for my bday on oct26tg!! I’m 12 and this would be great for skool lol

    • IOU812

      10/09/2013 at 8:12 am

      Ya you need school not skool and a great grammar class!! Not this ohhh look at what I got?? I saw this junk and you better off just the tablet phone

    • Mark

      10/09/2013 at 1:52 pm

      Your way young even having this,and just to have other kids rip it off and steal it from you!! Kid it’s just a sho off thing don’t go through the hassle if your with parents or friends ya but alone forget it there kid!!

  6. mary

    10/09/2013 at 1:54 pm

    Probably not a kid posting this.

    • IOU812

      10/09/2013 at 5:43 pm

      Ya really not a kid?? But who knows?? It’s just a sho off item to get ripped off but a cool thing I saw this and was not as impressive at looks!! Than what people driving with this too?? The phone it self is enough

      • mary

        10/09/2013 at 6:48 pm

        Well if it could teach you how to speak/write properly-it was very hard to follow a word you wrote-then get it.

        • IOU812

          10/20/2013 at 7:05 pm

          ok teacher bitch mary quiken trarry

  7. Marija

    10/18/2013 at 2:58 am

    I Like More the iWatch but this is also ok … Find Out the Top 13 Features of It! http://www.deluxebattery.com/samsung-galaxy-gear-hot-and-smart-find-out-the-top-13-features-of-it/

  8. King Dre For The Win (@KingDreFTW)

    10/19/2013 at 10:58 pm

    On Instagram you can upload pre recorded video.. Click the video icon in Instagram then the gallery button next to it.. I uploaded a video of my son that I took on the gears watch. Nice article tho.

  9. Allen Kipling

    10/25/2013 at 3:47 am

    with the world going from smart phones to smart watch …..
    may be the days are very near when we will get a smart car…..
    think guys ….. changing apps on the windscreen…..
    But any given day i would love to go with the normal watches we wear they are more stylish than the smarter ones

  10. Zara.P (@ZaraPerkins)

    10/29/2013 at 1:54 am

    I think the new Samsung Galaxy Gear is pretty fantastic. It’s also not so bulky and tech-nerd looking which makes me even happier . I was going to get the Sony Smart Watch 2, however with the much better specs on the Samsung http://versus.com/en/samsung-galaxy-gear-vs-sony-smartwatch-2#sony-smartwatch-2 my mind has been changed. Can’t wait to try it out !

  11. Jack Brown

    11/10/2013 at 4:43 am

    I honestly think Samsung made this product only because there were rumors of iWatch.

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