Samsung Galaxy Gear hands-on review

BERLIN, Germany – While both the speculation and official announcement were exciting, there is nothing like one-on-one hands-on time with Samsung’s latest device. In this case, wrist-on time is probably more appropriate. 

As a journalist and consumer, the Samsung Galaxy Gear smartwatch has been much anticipated.  Not just because it was a race between Samsung and Apple to get one out first. The question I wanted answered was “will the device be so revolutionary that it creates a need we never knew we had?” 

Why after all, should you have to buy device, if you don’t need it? Right. 

Announced last night at Samsung’s Unpacked 2013 Episode 2 event, the Galaxy Gear smartwatch is built as a companion product to Samsung’s Galaxy line of smartphones - meaning it’s less of a standalone device, you’ll need a Galaxy smartphone to maximize the Gear’s features. For now it only works with the Galaxy Note 3 with updates for the S3, S4 and Note 2 coming in October.

Specs wise the watch has the power of a low-end smartphone. Powered by a single-core 800MHz Exynos processor, the device comes with 4GB of space and has a 1.63-inch Super AMOLED display with a 320x320 resolution. Battery life is pegged at a full day.

IT’S A WATCH

Shocking! The Galaxy Gear is first and foremost a watch. You have several watch faces to choose from, including a more retro-style clock face and one that includes shortcuts to most frequently used functions. To change watch faces though you’ll need the Samsung Galaxy Gear Manager app installed on your smartphone. Use the phone to select a face and it will immediately reflect on the watch. 

IT’S ALMOST A PHONE

There isn’t a sim card slot built in so you won’t be able to make phone calls from the watch per se but when paired with a Galaxy smartphone via Bluetooth you can use the watch to make and answer calls. There is a built in speaker and microphone on the bottom of the watch, the part where you snap in on shut. Despite the small screen, I didn’t have trouble dialing a number on the watch although it is easier if you just dial from your contact list. Call quality is great but I don’t know if users will choose to make calls this way (wrist to your ears).    

IT’S A CAMERA

You’re only limited to 50 shots, but the Gear’s built-in 1.9 megapixel camera is spy-worthy. The camera is located on the side of the strap facing away from you. It’s perfect for those stolen shots of that attractive person sitting across from you. Accessing the camera is an easy swipe down on the screen and taking a shot is as easy as a tap to focus and snap. Photos were okay, nothing spectacular. You can share the photos or transfer them to your Galaxy smartphone via a tap. 

IT’S A SMARTPHONE COMPANION

Android apps are being designed specifically for the Galaxy Gear. Social networking app Path comes pre-installed. Twitter and Facebook would make great additions too. Notifications on your watch make sense. The Gear will display notifications received on the smartphone like incoming text messages. Once these notifications include Facebook, Twitter and Whatsapp, it will be golden. No more awkward glancing at your phone to check messages during meetings or dates, then again looking at your watch isn’t any better. 

There are other things the Galaxy Gear can do, there’s a built-in pedometer, lost smartphone tracking, and the ability to control media playback on your phone. There are also versions of Pocket, Evernote and RunKeeper among 70 apps designed specifically for the device. 

But is it a device you need? I’ll reserve judgement till I’ve used the watch for at least a week. But for now kudos to Samsung for its first entry into the wearable computing space. Google has Glass, and one can only hope Apple’s iWatch will come. Once users start using the device, they will be able to dictate the terms of future iterations of the Galaxy Gear. I’m hopeful that the Gear branding is indicative that the smartwatch won’t be the only device in this lineup either.

I hear the Galaxy Gear will arrive in Philippine soil very soon with a media launch expected within the month. Expect the watch to go on sale soon thereafter. Pricing info has yet to be released, I estimate it to be somewhere around the 15,000 peso range. The Samsung Galaxy Gear smartwatch is available in 6 colors. Aside from what I playfully call Rappler orange (seen in the photos) it is also available in Jet Black, Mocha Gray, Oatmeal Beige, Rose Gold, and Lime Green. Rappler.com