OMG, it’s Galaxy Gear! This is a somewhat typical response wearing the brand new Samsung Galaxy Gear Watch out in the wild. This trendy new timepiece is a Smartwatch and is just short of being an actual phone. It relies on a compatible Samsung phone to unleash all of of its features. Here’s the highlights: it has a built in camera, can make and take calls over speakerphone, send and receive messages, record voice memos, and more. Oh, and it tells time! Quite nicely actually, you can choose your watch face and even create or download new ones.
Galaxy Gear doesn’t look drastically different from the iPod Nano watch; the face is similarly sized. The Gear build quality is better than you may expect. There’s a durable rubberized band with a brushed metal fold over clasp–the band looks and feels relatively premium. The band is adjustable and just takes a second to put on or take off of your wrist. The face is gorgeous. It comes in different colors, but every model has a brushed metal frame with 4 stylish screws. There’s glass covering the jet black screen.
Note: Gear has a big face for most wrists.
The 1.63 inch screen is super AMOLED with a resolution of 320 x 320. It’s gorgeous. The blacks are amazingly black. White text and icons elegantly float on top of the screen. The viewing angle is so nice it doesn’t even feel like you’re looking at a screen, until you’re looking at actual images. The pixel density isn’t retina, but for the screen size it’s perfectly acceptable.
At it’s most basic level, Galaxy Gear is still just a watch. The watch experience is well built. You have your choice of watch face and can download new ones. There’s analog and digital faces, and there’s also faces that display the weather, daily steps, calendar, or function shortcuts. Gear is supposed to turn on when you lift your arm, it’s not as sensitive as we’d prefer. Worst case scenario is pressing the side (and only) button to tell the time.
There’s a ton of Gear features, but for usability the notifications are the best. There’s a gentile buzz on your wrist, you peak over and see that you have a few minutes before your meeting starts, or you’re getting an email, text, or phone call. It’s a sly way of updating you on your phone’s notifications. You can decide which notifications you want sent to your Galaxy Gear. There’s one kicker though–for now you can only go into detail on certain types of notifications. For instance, email notifications allow you to see the sender, subject, and message. The Gmail app notification (or Google Talk notification) only tell you there’s a new message, for more info you have to check your phone. On the bright side, Samsung has a neat feature called Smart Relay that automatically displays notifications/content from Gear on your phone just by picking the phone up.
The App and Usability
The Galaxy Gear app on Android is awesome. It’s intuitive and will also teach you the ins and outs of the watch. The Galaxy Gear usability is a bit odd to figure out, but after one quick demo on gestures and features you’re instantly a pro. On the Android app you can download new apps for Gear, adjust notifications, change settings, change watch faces, or even “Find my Gear” if it’s hiding somewhere in your room. You can also “Find my Device” using Gear if you can’t find your phone.
I’m still not so sure why Galaxy Gear has a camera, but I’m pretty sure it’s just because. It’s a gimmicky feature that people are instantly amazed with. The 1.9 megapixel camera faces away from you (sorry, no easy selfies). The camera is decent quality given it’s size and placement, but it won’t compare to your phone’s camera. The real advantage is how quickly you can access a camera and snap a photo. You can also take 15 second videos. The greatest feature of the camera is that your photos and videos are wirelessly transferred to your phone within seconds.
You can fool all of your friends into thinking that Galaxy Gear is actually a phone, but in reality it’s a glorified bluetooth speaker. All of your contacts show up on the watch, there’s a dialer numpad, and even S Voice. You can make and take calls over speakerphone. You can send and receive text messages, but you’ll need to speak them over S Voice. S Voice works well if you’re good at speaking clearly. In practice using Galaxy Gear is not it’s best use-case, however it is a lot more convenient then finding your phone to answer a message or call…or reject one.
The Other Features
Gear can do a lot. It’s running Android, just a watered down version. It’s as powerful as cell phones were not too long ago (800 MHz processor, 512MB RAM). There’s already a bunch of Gear compatible apps, with plenty more on the way. There’s nothing that blew us away, but there’s still some cool stuff. Some apps (included or available) are voice memo, media controller, pedometer, stopwatch/timer, weather, photo gallery, Evernote, Runkeeper, Path, TripIt, Camera360, Ebay (notifications), Snapchat, or Vivino Wine Scanner.
Galaxy Gear vs Google Glass
It hadn’t originally occurred to me, but Galaxy Gear is the ultimate Google Glass replacement. Shy of cool augmented reality, they basically have all the same features. When it comes down to it, both devices’ greatest value proposition is their ability to alert and notify you. Galaxy Gear isn’t just less silly looking, but it’s arguably a way better way of receiving these notifications. Your watch is always on you and it’s always within eye shot. It’s less of a strain to touch your watch then touch the side of your face. At the moment they’re both a bit limited, but they’re both young and open to development and updates. Galaxy Gear happens to be a fraction of the price as Google Glass.
Battery and Charging
I went into this review expecting the strict one day battery life that everyone’s chirping about. I actually get two full days, or one and a half if I’m playing with Gear a lot. It’d be tough to completely kill Gear in a day. Charging every day is a drag, especially considering Gear requires a charging case before you can plug in the micro-USB cable. You can get in the habit of charging Gear every day or so, but it stinks to walk around with a watch that doesn’t work and can’t charge without its charging case.
It’s currently compatible with Samsung Galaxy Note 3 or Galaxy S4. Samsung extended compatibility to Galaxy S3 and Note 2 by updating to Android 4.3(Jelly Bean). It will later be rolled out to other Galaxy devices. It uses Bluetooth 4.0, so there’s technically no limit to compatible devices. We imagine Samsung will likely keep it in the family, so iOS users will likely be out of luck.
Galaxy Gear is great, it just depends on your expectations. It’s infinitely better than Pebble, I’m Watch, and the iPod Nano Watch. Other than a short battery life, the only real criticism should be the compatibility. As an iPhone user, I’m begging Apple to release something similar. If you have a compatible Galaxy device, then your only other concern should be whether you want a big watch face on your wrist. Personally, I love it, and would opt in for an even bigger face if it were available. Samsung did a great job with build quality on Gear. As a notification device that tells time, it’s been extremely convenient. I find it less distracting then picking up my phone everytime it buzzes. Pricing in at just under $300, it’s not outrageously expensive. Any nice watch is expensive, this one just does a lot more than tell time. You also get your pick of jet black, lime green, mocha gray, oatmeal beige, rose gold (pictured), and wild orange. Then you can customize your watch face and theme to as frequently as you like. The Samsung Galaxy Gear Watch is currently available from Amazon.com for as low as $279.99.
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The Good: Great build, attractive looking, color options, beautiful screen, good touch interaction, customizable watch faces, subtle notifications, can make/answer calls and texts, integrates very well with phone, unlimited possibilities through updates, comfortable, third party apps, built-in camera, decent photo and video quality, water resistant and voice activation.
The Bad: Only compatible with some Samsung Galaxy phones. Battery life is 1-2 days. Charging requires charging case and no headphone port