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Is Samsung’s Galaxy Gear, which features a 1.9-megapixel camera, the next big thing? Not quite.

It’s been fun wearing Samsung’s new Galaxy Gear smartwatch for the past week. Nearly everyone who sees it has some sort of reaction: “That’s so cool,” or, “it’s totally from the future,” or, “that looks like a kitchen appliance,” or, “when are they going to design one for girls?”

IMG_9823I’ve wanted to test out Samsung’s new device for a while, especially given all the hype around wearable technologies. As a 23-year-old, my peers and I wonder what tech device we’ll be using in two, five, or even ten years. When smartphones become obsolete — if they ever do — what’s next?

My first impressions with the Gear indicate that, yes, smartwatches really do have the potential to be the “next big thing.” But holy moly: There’s no way I’d pay $299 for Samsung’s first swing at a smartwatch.

Now, it’s worth noting that Samsung initially decided to make the Gear compatible with just two devices: the Galaxy Note 3 and Note 10.1 2014 Edition. This is quite silly and limits the number of people who can actually use the smartwatch right now.

The Gear, which cannot go online by itself, relies heavily on a connected Galaxy device for full functionality. While I’ve used a loaner Note 3 from AT&T to test out some simple call and text functionality, I’m waiting for Samsung to make my personal Galaxy S3 compatible. That way, I can receive all my notifications — whether it’s a call, text or Facebook message — via the watch. This, according to Samsung, should happen in the next few weeks, and I’ll plan on writing another diary post after that.

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The Gear’s 1.9-megapixel camera takes decent pictures, but it doesn’t quite compare to today’s smartphones.

But for now, I’ve worn the Gear every day, checking out the weather and time, taking pictures and video with the 1.9-megapixel camera, and testing out the built-in pedometer (which does not seem very accurate).

The Gear lets you accept phone calls Dick Tracy-style, but in public, it’s a little obnoxious listening to the caller’s voice without a headphone jack. While this is a neat feature and really impresses some people, it’s like having a smartphone that can only accept calls with speakerphone. Not exactly useful.

Seeing text notifications on your wrist, however, is nice. Even though the watch doesn’t let you type out replies, it’s kind of cool using the S Voice feature to “speak” your message and then approve it with a simple “yes.” The voice recognition was a little clunky, but once that improves, I can see myself preferring this method instead of taking my phone out.

The majority of people that saw my watch were most impressed by the Gear’s camera, which sits on the band just above the screen. While it’s fun taking photos from a watch, the quality isn’t great and it’s a bit awkward aiming your wrist to get the right angle. Also, unless you have the right app downloaded, you can’t share photos from the Gear itself and must transfer it to the Note. It makes more sense to simply whip out your smartphone and take a quick picture.

Samsung's Note 3 is only mobile phone compatible with the Galaxy Gear, unfortunately.
Samsung’s Note 3 is the only mobile phone compatible with the Galaxy Gear, unfortunately.

There are a bevy of other issues I had: The user interface is a little difficult to get used to, the app store only has 50 or so options and the “Media Controller,” for music is lackluster.

But despite all my complaints and the Gear’s inability to do much of anything at this point, I actually like wearing it. It’s nice being able to check the time or receive notifications without pulling out your phone, and the watch itself feels and looks good.

Still, though, I’m content with waiting for a better, more inexpensive smartwatch, even with devices from Pebble and Sony going for below $150. My friend made a good point about my Gear, telling me that it’s “redundant technology that doesn’t make life easier.”

That’s the thing, though — I do think there are ways that it can make our lives easier past what Samsung, Sony and Pebble have put out. That’s why I can’t wait to see what the other tech giants — namely Apple, Google, and perhaps Microsoft — can come up with. If the device looks amazing, is packed with useful features and the price is right, count me in.

Comments

  • Hadrian Hoar

    How can it be obnoxious to use a speaker phone.You say the Gear is incapable of doing anything then list what it does.To call it redundant technology is ridiculous and shows a complete lack of imagination.Only a few minutes ago I made a phone call on my phone the number had changed tried to use the keypad on the phone to record the number of course it stops the number being read out doh,no problem redial on the phone then use the Gear’s keypad to record the new number as it’s read out the number is ready to use, it’s a fantastic device.It is available to 2 devices mainly because of low energy blue tooth and 4.3 software as the new technology in smartphone updates it is compatible with more samsung phones

    • Taylor Soper

      It is obnoxious to use speakerphone in a public space. It’s like listening to music on the bus with a boombox.

      • Hadrian Hoar

        Well it’s obnoxious to run some one down in a car but you don’t blame the car

        • Hillvry

          To continue with your comparison…having communication technology that only works with speakerphone is like having a car that doesn’t have brakes, making it impossible to NOT run someone down and be obnoxious.

  • Jeremy Irish

    It would be interesting to see a review of the Galaxy Gear with the perspective of a Pebble user. It does seem like the device is trying to do too much.

    I’m a Pebble user and the text notifications and vibrate are the most important features of a smart watch – giving me information I need quickly without pulling out my phone. In social situations it is perfect since most people attribute my looking at my watch as checking the time and I can still check to see if there is something that needs my attention.

    Not to mention I actually get compliments on the Pebble’s design.

    • Taylor Soper

      Personally I think the Pebble looks clunky and old. Much prefer the Gear design. But you bring up a good point about the Pebble — seems much more simple to use. Maybe I’ll have to try it out.

      • Jason

        I agree. The pebble is a great device if you don’t expect much out of a smartwatch. But it does look outdated, something out of the 90’s.

        The Gear actually looks quite elegant. They do need to design one targeted towards women though.

  • Timo Bauer

    Congrats on this article. Finally a not so Apple blinded Silicon Valley article. I have the gear for several weeks now as our app is on it. I also have a Pebble and switch them all the time. It is comparing an ipad with a kindle. Pebble is good for notifications and probably the best watch for it. If you do want to generate content/photos and edit stuff like evernote the Gear is awesome. I take 30x the photos I took before from my kids as my phone is in the kitchen at home and I use the Gear to get the best snap shots of my kids. Also my 13 year ols is 100% on Gear. Also considering the prices of the watches people own the Gear is still a steal :-). I love the camera, love evernote and obviously Glympse. Coolest thing was to send a Glympse from my Gear in the airplane (thanks to GoGo partnership – ok this one is for the geeks:-)

  • John S

    I have been looking for a smartwatch solution for a while. I think samsung has taken some steps in the right direction but I think they missed the bigger picture.

    The problem: Nowadays in order to stay connected I have to have a bluetooth headset (because my phone is so big its annoying to hold it up to my ear), a phone and a tablet ( because there are things that are just better/ easier to do on a tablet than a phone)

    Available solutions: The “phablet” (get an even bigger phone and sacrifice a full screen of a tablet so you can get away with carrying around 1 less device)
    The smartwatch as a “companion device” (add another device for you to carry around but make it so you dont have to pull one of them out as often)

    What I would like to see: A smartwatch that replaces the basic features of a phone- make/recieve calls see and respond to text/email, calendar and so on. Use a tablet for everything else.

    In short if you made a list and categorized whether you wanted to use an application on your watch, your phone, or your tablet I think you would find very little you would rather use a phone for.

  • Troy

    Your comment- “The Gear’s 1.9-megapixel camera takes decent pictures, but it doesn’t quite compare to today’s smartphones.” It’s a WATCH! Why would you compare it to Smart phones?

    • Taylor Soper

      Some think that smartwatches are a smartphone companion. But others believe smartwatches may one day actually replace smartphones. If that’s the case, then the camera should stack up to what we have now on our phones.

  • IGHITST

    “It’s nice to be able to check the time… without pulling out your phone.” Probably this only strikes those over 40 as an absurd comment. After all, I do this with my $20 Timex.

    • Taylor Soper

      Yes, very few of my 20-something friends wear watches. But like I think watches, as a fashion accessory, can make a comeback — especially if they are packed with cool tech features.

  • Stefan

    Checking the time without pulling out your phone as one of two main likes? What a novel idea!

  • mike

    What smart watch would work with a windows phone now.

  • Joel Thomas

    I have the Samsung Gear and though I would not use the speaker phone in public places it was handy using while driving. A perfect hands free device whilst driving. Although it is just a 1.9 megapixel I find the quality of the pics to be quite nice. I have just had the Gear for less than two days and simply enjoy it as a companion with my Note 3. It did take some getting used to but I have figured out the swiping gestures quickly and can navigate just fine. It is just the first gen and the second gen will be probably be out around the time Apple releases there first. All in all, it looks good, takes pics, allows me to get my notifications without interrupting people and I can take a call in my car while driving. I live in Chicago and starting Jan. 1st using your phone in your car will result in a ticket of $75, that is very important.

  • louie

    Will it work on a galaxy s4

    • tony

      Yes

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