The Samsung Galaxy Gear smartwatch reviews are out, and that red glow you see on the horizon is from the blushing faces at Samsung, visible all the way from Korea. The reviews are not, to put it kindly, overwhelming in their enthusiasm for the device.
A smartwatch the Galaxy Gear is not. Frankly, I’m not sure exactly what it’s supposed to be. Samsung describes it as a companion device, and the Gear is indeed chronically dependent on an umbilical link to another Samsung device, but it never left me feeling like it was a helpful companion. The notifications are Orwellian, the media controls are exiguous, and the app selection has no substance to underpin the hype. Samsung’s attempt to turn the Gear into a style icon is also unlikely to succeed, owing to the company’s indecision about its target demographic. Trying to please all tastes has resulted in a predictably charmless and soulless product.
The Gear’s camera and phone calls are both surprising and delightful, but they’re unfortunately isolated highlights. When all is said and done, I expect the Galaxy Gear will be looked back upon as a rough first draft that helped the Korean chaebol steer a better course en route to the goal of producing a real smartwatch. As it stands today, though — unintuitive, oversized, overpriced, and in constant need of a Galaxy guardian — the Galaxy Gear might have been better off staying on the drawing board …
Gizmodo described it as little more than an expensive novelty item:
There’s so much lag (likely due to the lowly 800MHz processor and half a gig of RAM), that you often don’t know if it didn’t read your touch or if it’s just hesitating. So you take a guess and either tap again or just keep staring. You will always guess wrong, somehow, so you’ll either end up somewhere you didn’t want to be, or you’ll stare at it until your eyeballs dry up.
Should you buy it? Only if you’re rich to the point that $300 means nothing to you. If you can drop that kind of money to satisfy a vague curiosity, then sure. But, actually, if you want it soon you’d better make that $600 so you can buy the Galaxy Note 3 as well (or shell out more for the Galaxy Note 10.1 2013 Edition tablet). Let us save you some money, though: It doesn’t do enough, well enough, to be worth it.
There’s a debate amongst the Gizmodo writers about whether or not a smartwatch could ever be a good thing. After using the Galaxy Gear I think I can see the potential. But that potential lies far off in the distance, barely visible, on a theoretical horizon.
CNET liked the looks, but said that it was missing even the most basic of features:
Samsung’s first smart watch looks really classy and has potential, but it lacks some really basic features. Its battery life isn’t good enough either, and it only works with the Galaxy Note 3 right now. Definitely not worth £300.
A Samsung exec recently admitted the Gear was “lacking something special”. This might be straight out of the Gerald Ratner school of marketing [a reference to the CEO of a UK jewellery chain who admitted at a conference they sold ‘crap products’], but it’s not far wrong. While the Gear’s design is really classy, its features are sadly lacking.
It’s not that it’s missing something special, so much as several really basic features — email, Facebook, Twitter, music navigation. If Samsung can quickly add those to the app store, reduce the price and make it compatible with its most popular phones — the S3 and S4 — then it’ll be getting somewhere. For now, it’s not something we can recommend you buy.
In the end, the Galaxy Gear feels like a product that Samsung rushed to market in an effort to get a head start in the category many are calling the next big thing. Had rumors of Apple’s forthcoming “iWatch” not popped up late last year, the Galaxy Gear would almost certainly not exist. And if it did still exist, it wouldn’t exist as it does today.
Samsung’s first shot at the smartwatch category everyone is calling the future is hopelessly stuck in the past. It’s a tiny 1.63-inch window into a handful of basic smartphone functions. It brings nothing new to the table. It does not innovate or even try to. The Galaxy Gear is a “we were here first” device that feels like a half-baked response to an Apple product that doesn’t even exist.
If smartwatches are the future they will be nothing like Samsung’s Galaxy Gear.
Even the two kindest reviews essentially argued that the Gear is Samsung heading toward the right product, rather than actually arriving there …
There are some nicely executed elements of the Galaxy Gear. The device is well built and doesn’t feel heavy (although it is a bit bulky). Integration with the Galaxy Note 3 works well. The camera integrated into the wrist strap takes surprisingly decent photos as well. The calling-from-your-wrist experience isn’t great though, and the device itself isn’t waterproof (which is far more of an issue for something you wear on your wrist than something that lives in your pocket).
Ultimately the Galaxy Gear isn’t the perfect solution to wearable computing, but rather a first attempt. It’s more a proof of concept that you can own. If we look at Samsung’s history in nearly every market we’ve followed it (SoCs, SSDs, smartphones), the company has a tendency to show up early with the wrong solution, but iterate aggressively to the point where it ends up with a very good solution.
In terms of interim improvement – I’d love to see more/better watch faces, broader compatibility with Samsung phones and a persistent clock. Let’s start there and see where it takes us.
As it stands, the Samsung Galaxy Gear is an interesting device – a rather unique device at that, and a high-quality addition to the Galaxy collection of Samsung smartphones, cameras, and future line of wearable devices. Samsung proves here in the Galaxy Gear that they’ll be ready to roll when the time comes for them to create a stand-alone smartwatch: hardware, software, and a developer backing that reflects the already surprisingly diverse support this first iteration has seen.
At the moment, with a market limited to those looking to purchase the Galaxy Note 3, the Galaxy Gear is more of an exercise in paving the way for future devices. Samsung has already done a fine job with the software and the hardware this device comes packed with – now the way is made more than ready for a beastly follow-up.
On the plus side, I guess we all just saved ourselves three hundred bucks …