At my last count, I check my phone an average of 42 bazillion times a day. My iPhone's battery can barely make it through an average work day without screaming for more juice. You probably know the feeling.
That's part of the reason why many agree that the next big thing in tech will be wearable devices that eliminate the need to pull out your smartphone every time you get a new email, text, or tweet. Google is already noodling around with a wearable face-computer called Google Glass. Apple is reportedly working on a computerized watch. Same goes for Microsoft, LG, and HTC.
But Samsung is the first major tech company out of the gate with a modern wearable device, the Galaxy Gear.
The Galaxy Gear is a $US300 Android-powered watch with a 1.6-inch touchscreen. It only works if you tether it to Samsung's new Galaxy Note 3 smartphone or Galaxy Note 10.1 tablet using Bluetooth, but Samsung says it's working to add compatibility for other Galaxy devices.
I've been using the Galaxy Gear for five days, but didn't find it to be nearly as useful as I had hoped.
How It Works
The Gear setup process is pretty awkward. You have to clip it into a special charging module, then tap the contraption to the back of your Galaxy Note 3. This triggers the Note 3 to download a special app called Gear Manager that lets you control the watch. Gear Manager is what you'll need to adjust just about everything on the watch from notifications to installed apps. Without the phone, the Gear can't do much more than show you the time until you pair it again.
[image url="http://static.businessinsider.com/image/524ed426ecad04b42aa223e6/image.jpg" alt="Samsung Galaxy Gear with gear manager on galaxy note 3" link="lightbox" size="xlarge" align="center" nocrop="true" clear="true" source="Steve Kovach/Business Insider" caption="The Galaxy Gear only works with a special app on the phone."]
Out of the box, the Gear can alert you when you get a new email, calendar appointment, text, or phone call. You can answer incoming calls without pulling your phone out thanks to a built-in speaker and microphone on the wristband. You can also make calls either by typing in the number manually or using Samsung's virtual assistant called S Voice to tell the device to dial with a command like, "call Laura."
There are a slew of other basic features:
An internal motion sensor switches the screen on when you raise your wrist so you can get a quick glance at the time and weather.
There's a pedometer for tracking your steps. It syncs with Samsung's S Health app on the Note 3 to help monitor your progress.
You can bypass the passcode on your phone's lock screen if the Galaxy Gear is within range of the Note 3.
Samsung has a special store on the Note 3 where you can download apps to the Galaxy Gear, but the selection is limited. (More on that later.)
You can snap photos with a camera implanted in the wristband and beam them to the Note 3's photo gallery.
If you get a notification on the Galaxy Gear, simply picking up your phone will automatically launch the app you need.
The Galaxy Gear does its job well when it comes to incoming texts and phone calls. It's really nice to be able to glance at your wrist, see who's calling, and start chatting away without having to dig for your phone. I can also see it being a good hands-free alternative to a speaker phone system in a car, one that's always with you. I also enjoyed how the Gear detects when you lift your wrist, so you can quickly glance at the time and weather conditions.
But notifications for just about everything else don't work as well. The Gear doesn't have a lot of third-party app support, so you can't use it with popular services like Twitter, Facebook, Gmail, Instagram, etc. Samsung did add in a workaround for some services like Gmail and Twitter, but you only get a notification that you have a new item. You're still prompted to look at your phone to read a new Gmail message or tweet. And that completely defeats the purpose of what a smart watch is supposed to do. It's hard to justify using the Gear when it just makes you pull out your phone for most stuff anyway.
As far as apps go, the selection is pretty dim. Right now you can get Snapchat, Path, Evernote, and a few other apps you've probably never heard of. But those apps aren't that great. I had a lot of trouble getting Evernote to sync with the Note 3, and it's pretty awkward to shoot a Snapchat photo from your wrist. Path, a mobile-only social network, probably has the best Gear app right now, but only because it makes it really easy to check into a venue like you would on Foursquare. Other than that, you're pretty limited by the small screen.
[image url="http://static.businessinsider.com/image/524ed424eab8ea3d4c8b1696/image.jpg" alt="Samsung Galaxy Gear apps" link="lightbox" size="xlarge" align="center" nocrop="true" clear="true" source="Steve Kovach/Business Insider" caption="Some apps on the Galaxy Gear."]
The camera is a bit awkward to use too. It sits on the side of the wristband, perpendicular to the screen, which makes it hard to see what you're about to snap. Once you do take a photo, you can beam it back to your Note 3 over Bluetooth. Samsung says the Gear's camera isn't designed to replace your regular smartphone camera. Instead, it's a way to help you scan real-world items like barcodes or QR codes. Unfortunately, there aren't any apps that can do that with the Gear, and even if there were, you'd likely never use them.
I also had a lot of trouble with Samsung's voice assistant S Voice. In theory, S Voice lets you dictate a command into the Gear to make a call, send a text, check the weather, etc. But it was incredibly slow for me. In many cases, by the time S Voice was able to register my command I could've just done the task myself by pulling out the smartphone.
(Again, that defeats the purpose of having a smart watch. The point is to keep your phone tucked away.)
Design And Hardware
I usually criticise Samsung's products for being built with cheap-feeling plastic, but the Gear is different. This is the first mobile device I've used from the company that feels sturdy and well built. It's made mostly from metal, and the band is a durable plastic that fits comfortably around your wrist. I tested the black version, which is pretty inconspicuous, but the Gear also comes in several other eye-catching colours like orange or yellow.
[image url="http://static.businessinsider.com/image/524ed41b6bb3f7782da223e4/image.jpg" alt="Samsung Galaxy Gear" link="lightbox" size="xlarge" align="center" nocrop="true" clear="true" source="Steve Kovach/Business Insider"]
It's not that attractive though. The Gear is a lot thicker and heavier than I had expected, and has an odd industrial look on its face thanks to the four visible screws in each corner. It's essentially just a shrunken down smartphone, making it feel chunky and awkward on your wrist. The Gear is hardly the fashion statement Samsung execs made it out to be when the device was first introduced.
The Galaxy Gear is so limited that I can't even justify an excuse like, "well, it's just a first-generation product that will get better in time." The Gear feels more like an unfinished product, something Samsung rushed out just so it could be first to market.
The saying "measure twice, cut once" doesn't apply here. It seems like Samsung didn't even measure before rushing the Gear out the door. This is one product I don't think anyone should buy, at least until Samsung is able to add more features and convince other app developers to do the same.
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