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Samsung’s Galaxy Gear Smart Watch: Review & UK Release Date

grand master

 

 

Last week, Samsung announced the Galaxy Gear smart watch. The Gear is designed to be worn on the wrist and provides quick access to smartphone notifications. It can also make phone calls using Bluetooth and has a built-in camera for taking photos. The accessory, which is designed to accompany the Galaxy Note 3, will be available in the UK from September 25th.

 

Samsung Galaxy Gear: A Mobile Device For Your Wrist

 

Galaxy Gear (Silver).jpgOver the past few years, smart watches have been heralded as the next phase in the mobile revolution. On average, we currently pick up our smartphones 150 times every day (about once every six minutes). This is often to check for new notifications: for example e-mails, text messages and social networking updates.

 

Smart watches and other forms of wearable technology aim to make information more easily accessible without the need to pull out a smartphone. With this in mind, Samsung has developed the Galaxy Gear: a smart watch to accompany their flagship smartphones. The new device shows notifications directly on your wrist. It also has the capability to take photos, to make phone calls and to run watch-optimised apps.

 

When it launches on September 25th, the Galaxy Gear will only be compatible with the Galaxy Note 3. Future software updates will add support for the Galaxy S4, the Galaxy Note II and the Galaxy S III.

 

Design & Form Factor

 

Galaxy Gear Orange.jpgAt first glance, the Galaxy Gear looks much like any other watch. It’s an accessory that’s designed to be worn on the wrist and has a body that’s been constructed from stainless steel. Upon a closer inspection, the standard clock face has been replaced by a 1.6-inch AMOLED display. The display is square-shaped and has a resolution of 320x320 pixels (the pixel density is 283ppi). The display is full colour and is touch-enabled which allows for the watch to be controlled. The display is rigid and isn’t flexible as rumours had previously suggested.

 

Upon the 1.6-inch display, the Galaxy Gear shows the current time as well as other information such as the current weather and relevant notifications. A key difference between the Gear and traditional watches is that the display turns off when not in use. You’ll need to tap a button whenever you want to see the time. This has been implemented to save power but it could be frustrating for those who are used to a traditional watch.

 

There are no physical buttons on the front of the watch: all applications are controlled directly through the touchscreen. Samsung has implemented a set of gestures: swiping downwards on the display will open the camera whereas swiping upwards will open the dialler. Other applications can be accessed by swiping to the right.

 

JK Shin Galaxy Gear.jpg
The Galaxy Gear smart watch as worn by J.K. Shin (the head of Samsung Mobile).

 

Design: Watch Strap

 

With the watch strap, the Galaxy Gear makes another radical change from the design of standard watches. With most watches, the strap or watch band is easily interchangeable: you can change the look of your watch by purchasing a replacement strap. With the Galaxy Gear, this is not possible. The Gear has a plastic strap but this is fused directly to the watch body. The strap is actually an integral part of the device: Samsung has embedded technology directly within it. There’s an integrated camera on the side of the strap and a speaker is hidden within the metal buckle. There are also two microphones for voice control and for making phone calls.

 

Smartwatch Colours.jpg
The Galaxy Gear doesn’t have an interchangeable strap. You’ll need to choose the strap colour when buying the device. Six colours are available at launch: Oatmeal Beige, Rose Gold, Mocha Grey, Wild Orange, Jet Black and Lime Green.

 

The Galaxy Gear weighs 73.8g and is IP55-certified. Whilst it isn’t waterproof, it should resist small splashes of water.

 

Quick Glance: Notifications On Your Wrist

 

Hands Free Call.jpgThe key benefit of having a smart watch is the “smart” functionality that’s enabled by the device. Once you’ve connected your Galaxy Gear to a smartphone, notifications received on the smartphone will also appear on the Gear. These include incoming calls, text messages, e-mails and other alerts. Samsung calls this feature “Quick Glance” as it saves you from having to pull out your smartphone.

 

If you receive a phone call, it can be answered directly on the Gear. The device has an integrated speaker and microphone although the speaker is a little quiet to be used in noisy environments. For replying to text messages, you’ll need to use voice recognition. Alternatively, you can switch to your smartphone to type out a full reply. The Galaxy Gear doesn’t have a keyboard due to its small size. 

 

Apps for the Galaxy Gear

 

S Voice.jpgAnother feature of the Galaxy Gear is its ability to run watch-optimised apps. According to Samsung, there will be 70 applications available from launch including eBay, Evernote, Path, Pocket, Runkeeper and Snapchat. Owing to the small display, these apps will only have a small subset of the features on the full smartphone app. Applications are installed through the smartphone-based “Galaxy Gear Manager”.

 

Samsung has also bundled a range of pre-installed apps. These include a pedometer for tracking exercise and S Voice which allows you to create alarms and to dictate text messages.

 

Camera: 1.9 Megapixels, Mounted On Your Wrist

 

The Galaxy Gear is unique amongst smart watches in having a built-in camera. The camera is positioned on the outside of the Galaxy Gear’s wrist strap. Assuming you wear the watch on your left hand, the camera should face outwards making it easy to take photos of what you’re seeing.

 

Galaxy Gear Yellow.jpgThe wrist-mounted camera makes it much more convenient to take photos. Instead of pulling out a smartphone, you can simply tap a few buttons on your smart watch. Because it’s fast, it reduces the chance of missing a short-lived photo opportunity. That said, you shouldn’t expect any awards for photo quality: the camera is only 1.9 megapixels and lacks an LED flash. This makes it difficult to take photos in low-light conditions (e.g. inside a restaurant). Realistically, most of us will continue using our smartphones for the bulk of our photography. However, smart watches can offer a convenient alternative for when image quality is less important. There is also the potential to use camera-based apps: for instance a price comparison app could use the camera to scan product barcodes. Prices could then be shown on your wrist. Apps such as Snapchat can also make it easy to share photos with friends.

 

The introduction of a smart watch camera raises some potential privacy concerns. As many of us are unaccustomed to people taking photos with a watch, it raises the concern of covert photography. According to Samsung, this shouldn’t be a problem as the watch makes a mandatory shutter sound every time a photo is taken. The act of taking a photo should also be quite obvious: it requires the user to fiddle with the watch: they’ll need to unlock it, swipe downwards and tap on the screen. Unlike Google Glass, the Galaxy Gear doesn’t have a notification light for when the camera is recording.

 

Battery Life: Around One Day Usage

 

Battery life is one of the biggest concerns when it comes to smart watch technology. Due to space limitations, smart watches are heavily restricted in the size of the battery they can provide. On many smartphones, we now have batteries approaching 3,000mAh. On the Galaxy Gear, the battery has a capacity of just 315mAh: around 5 to 10 times smaller than that on a typical smartphone.

 

According to Samsung, the Galaxy Gear is designed to last “around one day” under typical usage. To achieve this, the Gear has been designed to conserve energy. It has a small display, a single-core processor and uses technology such as Bluetooth Low Energy. In reality, we think it’s still quite possible to exhaust the battery before the day is over. Users will need to charge their watch at least once every day: this can quickly become a frustrating process. Battery capacity will also degrade over time. After a few months usage, it may be necessary to charge the watch even more regularly.

 

Samsung Galaxy Gear: Compatible Smartphones

 

Galaxy Note and Galaxy Gear.jpgThe Galaxy Gear isn’t a standalone device – rather it’s more of an accessory for your Samsung smartphone. To use the Gear in any meaningful way, you’ll first need to connect it to a compatible smartphone. This is achieved using Bluetooth 4.0 Low Energy.

 

At launch, the Galaxy Gear will only be compatible with two devices: the Galaxy Note 3 and the Galaxy Note 10.1 (2014 edition). As the required Bluetooth functionality was only introduced on Android 4.3, older devices will need a software update. Samsung has promised updates for the Galaxy S4, the Galaxy Note II and the Galaxy S III. The updates will roll out from October.

 

If you have a non-Samsung device, it’s unlikely you can use the Gear. For the time being, it looks as if the Galaxy Gear will only work with Samsung smartphones. The Sony SmartWatch 2 is an alternative to the Gear which works on any Android smartphone regardless of the manufacturer.


Samsung Galaxy Gear: Comparison to Sony SmartWatch 2 & Pebble Smartwatch

 

The smart watch isn’t a new idea. Wearable technology has been talked about for many years and rival smart watches have already made it to market. Amongst the Gear’s key competitors are the Sony SmartWatch 2 and the Pebble Smartwatch.

 

Rival Smartwatches.jpgThe closest rival for the Galaxy Gear is perhaps the Sony SmartWatch 2. Announced at Mobile Asia Expo earlier this year, the second-generation Sony smart watch works in much the same way as Samsung’s Galaxy Gear. Like the Gear, the SmartWatch 2 has a 1.6-inch display. However, it can also show off about having better battery life, support for a greater number of smartphones, a lower price and a larger library of applications. On the flip side, the SmartWatch 2 has a lower resolution screen and also lacks the camera from the Galaxy Gear.

 

The Pebble is another popular smart watch. It differs from the Galaxy Gear and the SmartWatch 2 by having a low energy e-ink display. This is the same display technology used on Amazon’s Kindle. As e-ink displays use very little energy, the Pebble can claim much better battery life: up to one week on a single charge. With the Galaxy Gear, you’re unlikely to get more than a day. The Pebble will also work with the iPhone as well as Android devices with Android 2.3 or later.

 

The three smart watches compare as follows:

 

 

Samsung Galaxy Gear
Galaxy Gear (Silver).jpg

Sony SmartWatch 2

 Sony Smartwatch SW2.jpg

Pebble Smartwatch

Pebble Smartwatch.jpg 

Processor

800MHz single core

TBC

120MHz single core

Display

1.6-inch AMOLED (organic LED) display

1.6-inch LCD display

1.3-inch e-ink display

Screen Resolution

320x320 pixels

220x176 pixels

144x168 pixels

Pixel Density

283 pixels per inch (283 ppi)

176 pixels per inch (176 ppi)

170 pixels per inch (170 ppi)

Number of Apps

70 apps

400 apps

230 apps

RAM

512MB

TBC

TBC

Storage

4GB

TBC

N/A

Camera

1.9 megapixels

No

No

Battery

315mAh (approx. 1 day)

TBC mAh (approx. 3-4 days)

140mAh (approx. 7 days)

NFC

No

Yes

No

Size

57 x 37 x 11 mm

42 x 41 x 9 mm

51 x 33 x 11 mm

Weight

73.8g

122.5g (with metal strap)
48.4g (with silicon strap)

38.2g

Waterproof

Splash-proof (IP55)

Water-resistant (IP57)
Up to depth of 1m

Waterproof (5atm)
Up to depth of 50m

Smartphone Compatibility

Galaxy Note 3
Galaxy Note 10.1 (2014 ed)

Any Android 4.0+ device

Any device with iOS 5+ or Android 2.3+

Connection Method

Bluetooth 4.0 Low Energy

Bluetooth 3.0

Bluetooth 2.1
Bluetooth 4.0 Low Energy

Watch Band

N/A (non-replaceable)

24mm

22mm

Approx. Price

Approx. £230 (TBC)

£160

£95

 

Samsung Galaxy Gear: UK Release Date & Price

 

Galaxy Gear Orange.jpgAlong with the Galaxy Note 3, the Galaxy Gear will be released in the UK on September 25th. The UK pricing for the device is still to be confirmed. However, we know it’ll cost $299 over in the US. After accounting for exchange rates and tax, consumers in the UK are likely to pay around £230.

 

To make full use of the Galaxy Gear, you’ll need a compatible Samsung smartphone. At launch, only the Galaxy Note 3 will be supported. Software updates will follow for the Galaxy S4, the Galaxy S III and the Galaxy Note II. If your handset won’t be compatible at launch, it may be worth waiting for the software update before buying the Gear.

 

Your Thoughts…

 

The Galaxy Gear is Samsung’s attempt to build a smart watch. Designed as an accessory for the Galaxy Note 3, the Gear shows notifications from your smartphone and allows you to run watch-optimised apps. You can also take photos using the 1.9 megapixel camera. The key concerns are about battery life: with just one day’s usage you’ll need to charge the Gear on a daily basis.

 

What do you think of the Galaxy Gear? Were you impressed by Samsung’s latest announcement? Do you think smart watches are the way forward or are they an overpriced gimmick? We’d love to hear your thoughts: please drop us a comment below and let us know what you think!

 

Ken Lo writes about mobile technology and the mobile industry at Ken's Tech Tips.

22 Comments
Don't care about the watch, but pleased to hear the timetable for the 4.3 update. Looking forward to upgrading on my Note 2
giffgaff pensioner

Very interesting reading ......... I'm not really interested in smartwatches , But if I were  , I think it would be the Sony that would get my vote , the Samsung is ( at the moment , and possibly in the future ) to restricted and to expensive for what it offers ( and it's Big & Ugly )  . 

aspirant

I would love to get one of these Smiley Happy

novice

I'd like any smart watch I buy to be more of a...err... watch.  I know they want to save power but to press a button each time you want the time would be incredibly annoying.  I imagine charging would also be a pain as you'd have to take the watch off to do it.

rookie
Want one
expert

not bad  wouldnt mind one myself "maybe when they drop the price"  ;-) 

 

zac

lives and breathes giffgaff
The pebble sound the best though I'm sure I've read reports of early adopter who got them and they didn't work or very quickly broke I must read up more about them its the sort of thing the kids might like I doubt hubby and I would want them but then with me you never know. Hurrys off to research .......
lives and breathes giffgaff
I'm back pebble watch on amazon £200-300 a link to the £95 one would be much appreciated :/
grand master

Hi @pinkcalculator - the official Pebble website has them going for $150 (£95.33 by today's exchange rate)

http://getpebble.com/

 

Ken

lives and breathes giffgaff
Not forgetting the import fees and the royal mail £8 charge for collecting the fee are they still taking a year to arrive though ? Its the sort of thing I'd maybe get the girls for Christmas but as they aren't in the uk I'd be doubtful if they arrive in time plus another £48 on top for the two I guess that's why amazon are getting away with those huge charges.