The word is: Wearables, especially watches is the next big thing. It would seem everyone wants a Dick Tracy watch. I don’t get it. Why spend big bucks for ever larger smartphone screens then spend more big bucks for an big, ugly, clunky gadget that provides a tiny screen to look at instead of the big state of the art screen on your new smartphone.
However my curiosity got the better of me when my friends at TELUS offered to send me the Galaxy Gear as the Galaxy Note 3 which is currently the only phone compatible with the smartwatch. The watch TELUS sent me had the latest firmware and is considerably more capable than the first model. But it is still big, ugly and clunky on my wrist and screams “I am a geek”.
The Galaxy Gear does exhibit a sort of geeky stylishness..a brushed aluminum top framing a 1.63″ 320 x 320 pixel Super Amoled touchscreen embedded into polycarbonate base. It is all tied together with a rubber bracelet which incorporates a 1.9MP camera. The whole thing weighs 73.8 grams which is surprisingly light for its size. The Gear also incorporated 2 noise canceling microphones and a speaker. The battery lasts about a day on a charge and must be charged in a snap-on plastic charging station which incorporates a Micro-USB port. If you forgot to bring the charging station along on a trip there is no other way to charge this watch.
After you power up the Gear for the first time, you’ll be prompted to take advantage of the NFC tag built into the charging station and tap it to your Note 3. Once the two devices recognize each other, the phone gets to work downloading the Gear Manager, activating Bluetooth and pairing itself to your phone — just follow the prompts on the watch and you’ll be set within a couple minutes, at most.
Once everything is paired, the Gear Manager acts as the primary interface for your watch and allows you to tweak settings, adjust the order of apps and even download third-party apps that have been specially made for the smaller screen.
Typically Samsung the Gear is loaded with features..starting with the dream prophesied by the original Dick Tracy watch, the ability to make and receive calls. The volume level is good enough for using indoors and the microphones are sensitive enough to pick up your voice, even if you aren’t holding your hand up to speak. You can also answer and reject calls using S Voice which I found worked well in low noise situations but less so in noisy locations. You can use the dialpad and I was really surprised how easy it was to type on the tiny numbers. S Voice can also be used to start apps, send text messages and read new emails. Again it worked well indoors with little background noise.
S Voice, Samsung’s branded method of voice control, can be hit or miss. You can tell S Voice to open apps, make calls, send texts, schedule appointments, set alarms and timers and ask what time it is in other cities. Compared to its counterpart on the phone, this is an incredibly basic list of options. S Voice successfully picked up my voice and granted my requests — as long as they were in the right form. For example, using the plural of email won’t work. “Set alarm for 9AM,” works perfectly, but you can’t do the same to turn off that alarm. S Voice understands “send text to Bob,” but not questions like, “Do I have any texts?” On the other hand it does understand “What is the weather?” It is a bit slow probably because it has to refer back to the phone.
The camera in the wristband would probably interest your inner voyeur. It takes half decent photos outdoors in good light but is not so hot in low light situations and of course there is no flash.
The Gear also has an accelerometer and a gyroscope which help it perform some neat gestures. For instance, you set the watch to show you the time or any other screen as soon as you make the motion of looking at it. You can also double tap the screen using two fingers at any point to check the battery and adjust the device’s volume.
Notifications is another cool feature. The Gear notifies you of new emails, alarms, appointments as well as notifications from third party apps. Another reason not to look at that high performance, bright, big screen on your smartphone.
Currently there are 86 apps available but there are a lot of duplicates such as different clock designs but the app store seems to be growing steadily.
While the idea of a smartwatch is not for me especially at $329. It needs to be more stylish and less geeky and the battery has to last longer than a day. Maybe that will come in Samsung’s next version which is expected to launch with the Samsung Galaxy S5 in the spring. It would be nice if it worked with other than Samsung smartphones as well.
Overall the current Galaxy gear is an interesting proof of concept but in my opinion is a long way from what I think a smartwatch has to be to interest me. I still don’t get paying for a huge screen on a smartphone then paying another 300 bucks for a tiny screen to replace it. Maybe I’m getting old. If this kind of device interests you, I would certainly wait a couple of months to see Samsung’s next version.
By the way I tested the Gear with Samsung’s Galaxy Note 3 which is a great smartphone it a little on the expensive side. It is loaded with features, the S Pen is a great addition for those who like handwritten notes and it works really well on TELUS’ LTE network.