Samsung Galaxy Gear Smartwatch review

Is the Samsung Galaxy Gear the best smartwatch we’ve seen so far?

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Samsung Galaxy Gear review

For

  • Functional and premium design
  • Easy and intuitive menus
  • Built-in camera

Against

  • Dependency on the Note
  • Lack of apps
  • High price-tag

Is the Samsung Galaxy Gear the smart watch we've been waiting for or just another timepiece? T3 went in for a closer look...

Update: The Samsung Galaxy Note is now compatible with the Samsung Galaxy S3, the S4 and the Samsung Galaxy Note 2. Previously it only worked with the Note 3 and Note 10.1. An incoming software update will also make the Gear compatible with Samsung Galaxy S4 Mini, Samsung Galaxy S4 Zoom, Samsung Galaxy S4 Active, and the Galaxy Mega 5.8 and 6.3.

The Samsung Galaxy Gear is the smart wrist piece hoping to take on the Sony SmartWatch 2 and the Pebble. With the huge success of the Samsung Galaxy S4 and the Samsung Galaxy Note lines, Samsung is now hoping that its Android-powered watch will be the accessory to adorn your wrist.

Is the ability to read text messages, take voice memos and count your steps enough to justify the £299 price-tag?

Samsung Galaxy Gear: Size and Build

In the past, some have seen Samsung's design as plasticky and cheap, the Samsung Galaxy Gear is not. With an aluminium face and a rubber wrist-strap, it feels much more premium than the Pebble. It's not small, with a 1.63-inch screen, 11.1mm thickness and a width of 36.8mm, some would call it chunky, but we don't mind that in a watch.

It's not dull either, you can choose from your classic black, beige or grey and for those who like more colour, there's orange, green and yellow (or Rose Gold as Samsung likes to call it).

The clasp is a little bit fiddly but as soon as you've managed to wrangle it on, it feels secure on your wrist and there's no chance it'll fall off.

Unlike the Pebble and the Sony smart watch, the Galaxy Gear isn't water proof but splash proof. It'll survive the shower but not a dunk in the pool.

Samsung Galaxy Gear: Features

At the time of writing this review, the Samsung Galaxy Gear is only compatible with the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 and the Samsung Galaxy 10.1 but Samsung has promised to add the Samsung Galaxy S4 (via software update) by the end of October.

This is one of the failings of the Galaxy Gear, we would have loved it if it was compatible with Android devices as a whole rather than being locked to Samsung.

NFC will be your main port of call to pair up with your Galaxy device but in order to do this you'll need the charging case. You will only need to do this once but you will need it to charge up your device so don't go losing it.

The Bluetooth range is good, we got to around 150 metres before the Gear buzzed like an electronic tag to notify us that we'd gone too far from our phone.

As with the Pebble and the Sony Smartwatch 2, the Galaxy Gear's main use is to notify you of happenings on your phone. With text messages, you'll be able to receive and reply using S Voice but with emails and Twitter notifications, there's no preview. You'll only be told that you need to check your phone and deal with it there.

As we mentioned, unlike the Pebble, the Galaxy Gear does have voice smarts and you can also take calls on the device. Taking calls, the quality matched that of a mobile device and the loudspeaker is good enough to use but we'd opt to pair it with a set of Bluetooth headphones. Although it works, you still feel like a prize idiot when taking calls, a bit like when using Google Glass.

Samsung Galaxy Gear: Screen

The Samsung Galaxy Gear comes with a 1.63-inch screen with Super AMOLED smarts and 320 x 320 pixel resolution. It's the exact same size as the Sony Smartwatch 2 and although it's pint-sized, there's enough screen estate for a quick glance at text messages and notifications for missed calls and social network updates.

Navigating around the Samsung Galaxy Gear is a cinch. A swipe-up from the lock screen opens the camera, a swipe down for the dial pad. One tap and you're into the main menu and swipe across to scroll through your apps. It's quick and responsive although the dial pad is a bit fiddly for those with less-than dinky digits.

Samsung Galaxy Gear: Camera

The camera is a feature that the Samsung Galaxy Gear has over its rivals but it's more of a gimmick than a winning feature. At 1.9 megapixels, don't expect great shots, they're comparable to front-facing cameras on most smartphones.

We also experienced some lag between tapping the screen to take a picture and the snap being taken and the angle at which you have to take them means it's not very easy to get a good shot. Also, don't expect to be able to grab any (mildly creepy) covert images as the shutter sound is the loudest we've heard on a mobile device and there's no way to turn it off. Also, there's no flash, so it's not great in low light.

Samsung Galaxy Gear: Apps

The Samsung Galaxy Gear launched with 70 native apps but on the Gear and Note we tested we could only find 46 and ten of those were various clock faces. There are some big names on there like ebay, Evernote, Snapchat, MyFitnessPal and RunKeeper but not as many as we would have liked.

You'll need to download all your apps to your mobile but synching is instant. With Evernote you can do the basics like take a picture and add it to a document, read documents and add voice notes.

Snapchat is as it would be on any other mobile device but where the Gear comes into its own is with the fitness apps. It makes sense that you take your watch with you on a run, rather than a slab of a phone - the watch will work as a pedometer on its own, but if you actually want it to receive notifications while you're out running, you'll have to take your phone with you too (which doesn't make a whole lot of sense).

The number of apps is still limited and to make the most from the ones available you'll have to fork out for them.

Samsung Galaxy Gear: Performance

Inside the Galaxy Gear you'll find an impressive 512MB of RAM and also 4GB of storage. For a device that performs pretty basic tasks the RAM seems a slight overkill but it does mean that the Galaxy Gear is blisteringly fast; swiping through the menus and opening apps with ease.

It's fair to say the UI is uninspiring. It's very basic with large black and white icons but that does mean it's easy to use on the smaller screen.

Samsung Galaxy Gear: Battery

The battery life is another disappointment with the Gear. Samsung quotes 25 hours typical usage time on a single charge and up to 150 hours stand by. It doesn't even come close to the Pebble that can manage three days general use on full charge . Another niggle is the fact that you can't charge the watch directly, instead having to use the charging case.

Samsung Galaxy Gear: Verdict

The Samsung Galaxy Gear never made us feel like we needed it, in fact the more we used it the more useless it became. The notifications - its primary use - are basic, the apps are few and far between and the voice smarts are disappointing.

The camera is a nice add-on but even then we can't see us using it more than to show off, preferring to reach for our phones when spotting something we'd like to take a picture of.

Nothing in the Samsung Galaxy Gear justifies the £299 price tag and the fact that it's utterly dependent on the Galaxy Note means that to have a companion to your Galaxy device you're looking at over £500 for the pair. It's a brave move from Samsung, to be one of the first to unveil a smart watch but the Samsung Galaxy Gear is more a case of testing the water than the product to beat.

If the price were lower, there were more apps available and it was compatible with more products, we'd certainly reconsider our harsh, but fair, star rating.

Samsung Galaxy Gear release date: Out now

Samsung Galaxy Gear price: £299

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