Samsung Galaxy Gear Smartwatch Review

Written Nov 20, 2013 at 4:01 pm by
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H

ow many computing devices do you regularly use in a day? Whatever your numerical answer may be, Samsung and many other companies are out to increase it by at least one more. Smartwatches are on the rise and Samsung’s Galaxy Gear is first in the water…or in the wild. You pick your metaphor.

The Galaxy Gear, like many other wrist-bound smart devices, is meant to be a companion to your existing Smartphone–notably the Galaxy Note 3 for the Gear. It serves as a Bluetooth connected conduit between you and your Smartphone, providing brief notifications on the watch face for things like email, text messages, phone calls, Facebook and a lot more. It’s a great idea for business folks in stuffy board meetings or anyone looking to reduce the amount of times they brandish their delicate Smartphones.

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The Samsung Galaxy Gear is a good looking device. It comes packed with a charging cradle and AC wall charger that ends in a micro USB tip. I was surprised to discover no traditional USB charging cable. You also get a warranty and safety guide as well as a Quick Start fold-out. As you can see, it’s a fairly concise product package.

Yet before you drop the coin, take note. Galaxy Gear support is baked into Android Jelly Bean 4.3. Currently, here in the States, the Galaxy Note 3 is the only device supporting the Gear. Roll out…er, more the trickle is hitting some devices internationally. But we Yanks will have to wait until later parts of November before we feel the drizzle. Lets hope it hits waves of devices at once. Early adopters are forced to wait with their glorified timepieces or shell out for a Galaxy Note 3.

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The unit we received came with the standard black band. But there are other options in Lime Green, Oatmeal Beige, Rose Gold, Orange and Mocha Gray. The color options are for the band only. The face and back of the timepiece itself is always the same on each unit. Still the face is the showpiece of the thing and features a brushed chrome look. The Gear also has a relatively low profile or footprint on the wrist. Many speculated this would be a gaudy god-awful eye-sore. But Samsung has done a great job making the Gear work as a flashy jewelry-like accessory. It has a subtle flare that is both attractive and professional.

The Galaxy Gear can also take pictures. Yet there was no way of implementing a clicker without adding to the overall size of the watch. The camera lens protrudes up from the band like a new zit on a fresh teen face. This is the 1.9mp camera, which can also capture a few seconds of HD 720p video. If worn traditionally with the face atop your wrist, you snap pictures in relative secret–if that’s your thing–before someone notices the raised cyst-like lens staring at them. There is also a single physical button on the top right side of the watch, used for powering on/off and other functions.

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Unfortunately, getting the Galaxy setup and ready for wrist-time is overly complicated. You have to set the device in its docking/charging cradle. Connect the cradle to the AC adapter charger to charge. The unit must stay in the cradle but can remain plugged in and continue charging. Download Galaxy Gear Manager app to your Galaxy Note 3. This app is where you will adjust Gear settings and download supported apps for your Gear. We turned the Galaxy Gear on. Then we were asked to flip on the NFC radio on the provided Galaxy Note 3. A tap of the Note 3 to the back of the charging cradle began the Galaxy Gear Manager installation process on the Gear watch.

Pairing the two devices comes next. This is done using Bluetooth 4.0. Activate Bluetooth on the Note 3 and tap the back of it to the Gear’s charging cradle. Now select the Galaxy Gear from the onscreen list of BT devices. Confirm the pin code and accept the extensive EULA. The Galaxy Gear Manager should now list the device as “Connected”.

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The Galaxy Gear Manager phone app is your hub for managing gear apps, downloading new ones and app settings. I found some fun and cool apps but nothing must-have or anything that really made the watch more enjoyable from its default state and configuration. In fact the phone is astonishingly limited in its functionality beyond telling the time. You can receive notifications for email, text messages, phone calls, weather, Google Now, Google+, Phone alarm and calendar. A recent update to Notifications fixed a major issue I had with the Gear. With this update you can now read all your notification info from email, text and other notifications–right on the Gear watch. Before this update the gear would notify you of new of a new text, email etc..but gave no sender info or even a truncated copy of the message within. So you would forced to pick you your Galaxy Note 3 to find this information. It made the Gear redundant and counterintuitive. The new update does a 180 on all that and actually makes the Gear rather viable as a smartphone conduit.

Still a native alarm remains absent. The Gear will notify you of alarms set from  your Smartphone. But there is no alarm application. In its place are a Timer app, one for Stopwatch functions and a pedometer app. Other apps found natively on the Gear watch are a Gallery to view pics and videos captured, Voice Memo, remote media controller for your Smartphone, Weather, Calendar/Scheduler, Camera and a dialer for making phones. The calls, of course, are routed through your Smartphone with the Gear acting as a informative Bluetooth device.

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Adding a bit of insult to injury… You can only reply to text messages via the S Voice app. S Voice is pretty strong, however. You must still speak clearly and with volume but it works well to initiate calls, text, playing music, mapping routes and more. But on any day where surrounding ambient sound threatens to drown out your best S Voice attempts, it would be nice if we could pull up a mini keypad to type text replies.

The Samsung Galaxy Gear is a great looking timepiece. But for $300–the cost of a good Smartphone–the gear possesses less than a quarter of the features found in a Smartphone or tablet. Yet beyond telling the time, the go-to experiences are left flat. It’s not an ideal phone or watch. It’s a great conduit to your Smartphone, now with the most recent Gear update. Yet other features still struggle. For instance, there is a receiver below the face of the watch and a speaker on the outside portion of the clasp. During calls using the Gear, I could barely hear the person on the other end. They also had trouble hearing me unless I was indoors and in a relatively quiet setting. As merely a conduit the Galaxy Gear is expecting you to still use a Bluetooth earpiece or headphones for best case use-scenario. Is more volume too much to ask?

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In the end, the Galaxy Gear adds more steps and more cost to your garden variety mobile experience. The watch is sharp looking and tells the time just fine. The latest update helps Samsung’s promise of a feature rich smartphone conduit come full circle. I like that it’s smart enough to know when I’m sitting upright and looking at it, as that causes the AMOLED display to spring to life. The UI is super simple and navigating is genius where swiping, tapping or double tapping the screen leads to a ton of intuitive functions.  What’s really missing are hardcore, must-have applications to really sell the Galaxy Gear. Until we see either  a price drop or a some sumptious mouthwatering applications, I recommend this one bake a little longer on store shelves.


 
 
Overview
 

Release Date: Available Now
 
Price: $299
 
Weight: 2.60 ounces
 
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Positives


Great looking timepiece. Notifications are exceedingly more useful with recent update. A great way to preserve your smartphone. Camera on-a-watch can be fun. Reply to texts with S Voice.

Negatives


No alarm. Pricey. No typing function. S Voice is the only way to reply to text messages. Call quality volume is far too low. Battery barely lasts 24hrs of use.


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Shawn Sanders

 
Shawn loves gadgets, literature, history and games. For 10yrs+ he's straddled both the comic book & video game industries, as a writer, editor, marketing officer & producer. Shawn got his start in tech & games as an editor & Hardware Director for GameRevolution.com. More notable accomplishments include Executive Producer on mobile games Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved & The Shroud.


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