Samsung Galaxy Gear Smartwatch review

Samsung Galaxy Gear Smartwatch review

T3 2
  • Is the Samsung Galaxy Gear the smart watch we've been waiting for or just another timepiece? T3 went in for a closer look...

    Samsung Galaxy Gear Smartwatch review

    Love

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

    Hate

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

    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.

  • Is the latest member of the Samsung Galaxy Gear smart watch really that smart? T3 was in Berlin at the launch for a closer look...

    Samsung Galaxy Gear Smartwatch review

    Love

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

    Hate

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

    In 2013, the tech has gone into smartwatch mode. Sony was the first of the big players to hit us with a serious contender in the shape of the Sony Smartwatch 2. Meanwhile the Apple rumour mill has been working overtime kicking out tales of the Apple iWatch.

    At the same time we’ve seen attempts to muscle in on the wrist action from smaller players like the Italian-born I’m Watch and to top it all off there’s been a myriad of different Kickstarter concepts all vying to raise the funds to become a wrist-borne reality.

    Now Samsung has finally joined the battle with the new Samsung Galaxy Gear, a ‘companion device’ for the new Galaxy Note 3 and other Galaxy devices.

    In simple terms this new ‘smartwatch’ piggybacks your existing smartphone but puts a lot of the functions on your wrist where it’s arguable that you need them most. But it’s more than that, it also comes with some hardware and software smarts of its own that makes it more than just a satellite of the Android device in your pocket.

    It comes with 4GB of internal storage, 512MB RAM and Bluetooth 4.0 connectivity. Article continues after the video

    Samsung Galaxy Gear: Design

    Let’s start with the looks. This is a good looking watch. It’s suitably techy so you get some welcome futurist gravitas but it’s also been designed with enough style to ensure it’s something you’d actually be happy to wear.

    That’s made all the easier by the fact the Gear will launch with six colour options: Jet Black, Mocha Gray, Wild Orange, Oatmeal Beige, Rose Gold, and Lime Green.

    We only had the chance to wear it for a short period of time but it feels solid and robust on the wrist. The overall design is sleek and minimal and the user interface has a distinctly paired back appeal.

    But does it successfully bridge the gap between a mobile device and a fashion item? We’d argue it does. It’ll certainly turn some heads.

    Samsung Galaxy Gear: Size & build

    The Gear hasn’t made the mistake of some smart or fitness watches we’ve seen in recent years. At 36.8 x 56.6 x 11.1mm and weighing in at 78g it’s fairly chunky but it thankfully avoids the over-bulkiness of the Motorola Moto Actv.

    There is one major flaw in the build that we found instantly – the strap. It’s impossibly fiddly to get on, largely due to the clasp being loaded with the microphone and speaker that enables you to talk into your wrist during phone calls. We watched lots of people struggle with this while we were having our time to test.

    Samsung Galaxy Gear: Features

    First things first, the Samsung Galaxy Gear is a watch. Shocking but true.

    You can customise the way it looks and how it tells you the time with several face options and the choice of ten pre-loaded clock types. So far so good.

    But what makes it smart? It notifies users of incoming messages, such as calls, texts, emails and alerts, delivers a preview of those messages and creates the opportunity for users to accept or discreetly ignore those messages.

    When an incoming message requires more than a quick glance, users can simply pick up their Samsung Galaxy devices and a clever Smart Relay feature will instantly reveal the full content on the screen of that second device. Very nifty indeed.

    Another impressive feature is Memographer. The Gear comes loaded with a 1.9 megapixel camera on the outside of the wrist strap that lets you capture photos and video on the move with a single swipe down on the screen, followed by a tap.

    You can literally shoot from the wrist in seconds and while we only saw the photos on the small 1.6-inch screen so can’t attest for the quality, this is still a really intuitive way to capture fleeting moments.

    All of this content can be easily and instantly shared across the social networks of your choice.

    All this is good but what about the phone calls? The Gear lets you make and answer calls without touching your phone. With speaker and microphone positioned in the wrist strap as part of the clasp, the idea here is that you can lift your hand to your ear as if you were holding your phone and they’ll be in the perfect position to carry out your call. We’re yet to be convinced that this is really a desirable way to talk on the phone, it still looks and feels a little weird.

    While on the subject of voice, there’s plenty of vocal smarts in here too. Voice Memo lets you capture important thoughts or conversations on the move and these recordings can be saved automatically as text on your companion Galaxy devices.  

    Unsurprisingly there’s also S-Voice control. When we tried it out we had a 66 per cent hit rate in a pretty noisy environment which bodes well as this will surely be an important part of the overall user experience.

    Fitness applications were always going to be desirable in a smartwatch. The Galaxy Gear answers that question in two ways. It works like a Pedometer to track physical activity via enhanced, built-in sensor technology. This feature systematically and automatically monitors users so they can track key personal data such as calories burned, steps taken and distance covered.

    It also pairs via Bluetooth with existing apps on your phone with the key stats designed nicely to fit within the Gear’s display.

    Samsung Galaxy Gear: Screen

    The Galaxy Gear boasts a 1.6- inch super AMOLED display. It’s sharp and crisp enough for what this will be used for. Photos, although small, are still clear. Videos were a bit of a struggle to watch when the content had any level of detail but would be ample for previewing the odd rapid Instagram video or Vine.

    Samsung Galaxy Gear: Apps

     

    The Gear will run its own apps. At launch you’ll be able to make the most of Samsung’s own apps like ChatOn and also big hitters in the fitness world like MyFitness Pal and Runkeeper Pro. Samsung has also promised that more apps are on their way and this could really enhance the power of this as a useful tool.

    Samsung Galaxy Gear: Battery

    Just like your smartphone, you’ll want the Gear to last day and Samsung happily claims it’ll survive a full 25 hours on a single charge.

    Which smartphones work with the Samsung Galaxy Gear?

    The new Samsung Galaxy Note 3 and Galaxy Note 10.1 will both be compatible with the Gear. The Samsung Galaxy S4 will be after a software upgrade and Galaxy S3 compatibility upgrades are pegged for October.

    Samsung Galaxy Gear: Verdict

    Smartwatches or ‘companion devices’ have to answer a few key questions. Do they look cool? The Samsung Galaxy Gear does. Is it comfortable to wear? Yes. Would I want to wear it everyday? Again, on first impressions, it’s a yes.

    But perhaps the toughest test is will it genuinely be useful? From what we’ve seen so far the Gear has enough tools to sway us. The camera is genuinely innovative and fun while the potential for more apps is an appetite whetter. As ever what will make or break it will be the price.

    Samsung Galaxy Gear release date: The Samsung Galaxy Gear will be launched with the Galaxy Note 3 in more than 140 countries around the world from September 25th, 2013.

    Samsung Galaxy Gear price:  TBC


    Hands-on review by Kieran Alger

    • Samsung Galaxy Gear smartwatch in detail
    • Samsung Galaxy Gear unboxing - First on YouTube
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