When the world’s largest smartphone supplier publicised its first smartwatch, the Samsung Galaxy Gear, our natural response was to sit up and take notice. But soon after the launching, the watch received labels like “rough first draft of what could be a great product” and “style over substance”. Let’s see how much sense these labels actually make.
- Operating system : Android 4.3
- Display : 1.6-inch Super AMOLED 320 x 320 pixels with RGB matrix
- Compatible with : Galaxy Note 2, Galaxy Note 3, Galaxy Note 10.1 (2014 Edition),
Galaxy S4 and Galaxy S III
- Battery life : 24 hours
- Storage capacity : 4 GB
- Memory : 512 MB
- Connectivity : Bluetooth
- Camera resolution : 1.9MP (with 720p video recording)
- Built-in Components : Bluetooth, Pedometer
- Weight : 74 g (Approx.)
At present, the gear is the only smartwatch that allows you to:
- Monitor and manage your phone at a glance with an amazingly stylish technology on your wrist
- Voice control and hands-free calls
- Quickly capture photos, videos and audios without bothering your mobile
Design & Display
The design is a clever and elegant mix of rubber and metal. Being a high-end watch, it deserves to give a premium air, so the chunky design, screws on the front and glossy look make a lot of sense. Unlike the Pebble, it’s not in the realms of sports watches, but rather looks nice poking from the sleeve of a sharp suit. Samsung offers six different hues for the Galaxy Gear including jet black, mocha grey, rose gold, lime green, wild orange, and oatmeal beige. Though slightly larger than the Pebble, the Gear doesn’t look bulky, however, it will not suit smaller wrists.
The 1.6-inch display with 320×320 pixel resolution is sharp enough to make the text easily readable. In fact, 278 pixels per inch are ideal for the things the watch is supposed to do. The Galaxy Gear has a more powerful, colour display as compared to the Pebble, which stays off most of the time to prolong the battery life. To turn the display on, just raise your wrist towards your face. If it doesn’t, a little flick of the wrist will do. 11.1m might sound a bit thick for a smartwatch face, but it doesn’t look inelegant on a manly wrist. The Galaxy Gear is not water-resistant so make sure you take it off before taking a shower, washing your hands or taking your dog for a walk in the rain.
The built-in camera is a blessing if you are an Instagram person and want your camera handy at all times. The minimum time it took me to take my mobile out of my pocket and take a snap was about 8 seconds – the galaxy gear allows you to do the same in just about 2 seconds! What came as an extremely pleasant surprise was the amazing image quality in different light settings – we did NOT expect such images form a 1.9 megapixel camera. It can also shoot 15-second long, 720p videos … not bad for “emergency” shooting.
The user interface is simply awesome. In addition to the touchscreen, there is just one button on the outside which is the function/power key. It can turn the device on/off, and activate the S Voice mode. You can also customise it to perform different functions of your own choice. We really liked the way this button covers up for the lack of “tappable” space.
The smartwatch is user friendly, but needs some basic setup in addition to the Bluetooth connection, for which you have to use the NFC caddy. The S Voice software sounds like a handy feature, but just like most other voice recognition systems, it’s far from being perfect. The built-in loudspeaker is useful, however, the microphone becomes a little tricky in noisy surroundings. The minimalist interface is backed up by a speedy 800MHz processor. All the data for an incoming call including the attached picture for saved contacts is displayed. The text messages and other notifications are also handled the same way.
The Pebble is peculiar when it comes to charging, since it requires the exclusive three contact pin charger. The Gear doesn’t lag behind when it comes to being a nuisance to charge, since there is no built-in Micro-USB port and you need a charging cradle. Not having a port for charger on the watch might help reduce the size of the watch, but carrying the cradle with you is obviously a hassle. Battery life is poor with about 25 hours of use. So you have to recharge the watch via the charging cradle every single day.
Compatibility and connectivity
This is the major area of concern for any Galaxy Gear user, as the watch doesn’t even work with the entire range of Galaxy devices. Currently it’s compatible with Galaxy Note 2, Galaxy Note 3, Galaxy Note 10.1 (2014 Edition), Galaxy S3 and Galaxy S4. Even Samsung’s Head of Technical Product Management Kyle Brown admitted this shortcoming in these words:
“In terms of our addressable market, making the Gear compatible only with Samsung-branded handsets has made it a harder proposition because we have limited ourselves.”
Even with the compatible devices, the notification system doesn’t work well with third party apps, while some important apps such as Gmail, are not compatible. Some reviews on the internet say that you can’t access your email at all on the Gear, but we installed the Samsung email app and about 15 lines of incoming emails were displayed, though there is no option to send an email. The Samsung email app is not as decent as the native Gmail app, but it’s not a bad option for the Gear users.
Feature and apps
The watch does a good job as far as making calls and sending texts, but that’s nearly all of the socialising you can do via it as no Facebook, Twitter or other social apps are available. Popular chat services like WhatsApp, Viber, Skype, Google Chat etc. are also incompatible. There is a third-party app store for the Galaxy Gear but has just a few apps, and even fewer are worth downloading.
The two notable apps of the Gear are a calendar and the pedometer. The calendar synchronises with the Google calendar on your cell phone, but it only shows the date, title and the address of an event. There is a media player, but it’s rather limited in functionality; you can play, skip and pause tracks, but you can’t change the album/artist or search a track.
Another app that I personally liked is the Evernote, which syncs across any other device that has the Evernote on it. This app allows you to quickly upload pictures as well as voice messages. You can also create and view notes across different devices; ideal for those who like to keep a to-do or shopping list. Other noteworthy apps include a timer, photo gallery, stock weather app, and customizable watch faces.
The Galaxy Gear vs others
We equated the Galaxy Gear with the Pebble throughout this review, the third notable contender is probably the Sony Smartwatch 2.
The Gear is on the losing side when compared with these two in terms of price or compatibility since it’s the costliest option and supplements only some of the Samsung smartphones while the pebble syncs with both Android phones and iOS phones and the Sony Smartwatch is compatible with Android 4.0+ phones.
The Gear is also the bulkiest, since it is 37mm x 57 mm while the Pebble is 34mm x 46 mm and Sony is 41m x 42 mm. The Sony Smartwatch 2 (with metal strap), however, is the heaviest weighing about 123g, while the Gear is the lightest, weighing about 74g. And if you’re wondering, the pebble weighs about 99g. All the three smartwatches are sturdy, SW2 is made of aluminium while the other two are made of stainless steel – no cheap plastic here!
When it comes to display, however, the Gear beats the other two hands down because of its much sophisticated, larger and high-resolution display.
The Galaxy Gear and SW2 have to pay for their more vibrant displays in terms of a short battery life. The Pebble can go on for up to 7 days, while SW2 will last anywhere between three to five days but Galaxy Gear’s battery might be drained within just 24 hours.
Owing to the small display screen, voice control can be a blessing for smartwatch user. The Gear is the only watch that features voice control. Though not perfect, it works well especially when you are dictating text messages.
Again, the Gear is the only one that allows you to actually make phone calls without having to use your mobile. This might be a charm for some, but totally awkward for others!
Limited compatibility, high price, short battery life and limited apps might sound like good enough reasons not to buy the watch. But guess what, at the time of writing this review, it’s the #1 bestseller in Smart Watches and Accessories and at #20 in Men’s Wrist Watches on the largest online retailer Amazon. So if you are a die-hard Samsung loyalist, the Gear will probably give you the best experience of a smartwatch.
But keep your fingers crossed, as Samsung’s Executive Vice President Lee Young Hee divulged in an interview with Bloomberg that Galaxy Gear sequel would be launched this year along with the much anticipated Galaxy S5 smartphone. There is, however, no word yet on the price or compatibility with other devices than manufactured by Samsung.
Samsung Galaxy Gear
Design & Display7/10
Compatibility and Connectivity2/10
Features And Apps5/10
- Quality design
- Strong, high-quality display
- Voice control
- 800MHz processor
- 1.9 MP camera takes amazing stills and also shoots 720p videos
- Not water resistant
- Lack of e-mail and social network support
- Compatible with just a handful of Samsung mobile devices
- Shorter batter life than its rivals