Samsung Galaxy Gear smart watch review

Samsung_Galaxy_GearThe Galaxy Gear is available right now, but it will cost you a staggering £299. Does Samsung’s first smart watch release really do enough to justify that price tag? We take a look at the design, the features, the specs, and the limitations in this Galaxy Gear review.

We’ve been hearing about how wearable tech is the next big thing for quite a while now and the charge is being led by the smart watch. Various manufacturers are believed to be working on smart watch devices and we’ve already seen a few releases from Sony, LG, and a host of smaller players. None of them has caught on in a major way yet, but there was some expectation that Samsung might change that.

Samsung’s Berlin event earlier this month revealed the Galaxy Gear alongside the Galaxy Note 3. It’s a limited device that only works with a small selection of Samsung’s Galaxy branded smartphones and tablets (currently the Galaxy Note 3 and the latest Galaxy Note 10.1, but support will be extended to the Galaxy S4, S3, and the Note 2). The fact that rumours about an improved Galaxy Gear 2 were circulating shortly after the unveiling could be interpreted as an indication that this device is a disappointment to most people. Should it be? Let’s take a closer look.

Design

Samsung can describe the Galaxy Gear as an “iconic fashion accessory”, but it’s doubtful that many fashionistas would agree. It’s basically a 1.63-inch touchscreen embedded in a chunk of stainless steel. The rubberized strap is stiff and the camera housing resembles a boil. What has been packed into this device is quite impressive, and it’s slim by the limited smart watch standards that have been set so far, but it’s far from the prettiest device we’ve ever seen.

In terms of actual measurements it’s 36.8 x 56.6 x 11.1 mm and it weighs 73.8 grams. That actually compares favourably with rugged sports watches, but it’s still a big watch. Your choice of wrist band colours includes Jet Black, Wild Orange, Oatmeal Beige, Mocha Grey, Rose Gold, and Lime Green.

Hardware

The Super AMOLED display has a resolution of 320×320 pixels and it is very bright and very clear. That 275 ppi (pixels per inch) is pretty respectable. Inside we have an 800MHz processor and 512MB of RAM, which is less impressive and results in some pretty sluggish performance. In the strap there’s a 1.9MP camera that can capture 720p video in ten second bursts. There’s also a speaker and two microphones. It has an accelerometer and a gyroscope built-in. The storage is 4GB.

A whole day of use from that 315mAh battery seems optimistic, but much depends on how you use it. It connects to your smartphone or tablet via Bluetooth 4.0 LE (Low Energy) and that’s one of the reasons it is restricted to specific devices, because Android 4.3 introduced support for Bluetooth LE.

Software and features

The Galaxy Gear is running a tweaked version of Android with an interface that is supposed to make navigation on such a tiny screen easier, and it mostly works well.

So what are the killer features of the Galaxy Gear? Think of it as an extension of your smartphone. You can use it to find your phone, check notifications, control music or other content, take photos or short videos, make and receive calls, and issue voice commands. It has to be more than just a way of not having to take your smartphone out of your pocket though, right? It can also serve as a watch, with 10 styles to choose from, and there are various fitness tracking possibilities. The real potential will be uncovered with innovative apps.

There are 70 apps available now and that number is expected to grow fast. Galaxy Gear versions of favourites like eBay and Evernote will surely prove popular, but there’s no getting around the lack of screen real estate.

Limitations

The big disappointment isn’t just that the Galaxy Gear is not a standalone device; it’s the fact that it can’t be paired with any old Android tablet or smartphone. The limitation to just the Note 3 and 10.1 is an immediate turn off and even when support for more Galaxy devices rolls out, this still limits the appeal a lot. It’s a clear sign that Samsung is looking to build its own ecosystem and lock people in. Without one of Samsung’s compatible Galaxy devices the Gear is not worth considering at all.

The performance is definitely laggy and it’s not easy to swipe and tap accurately on a screen this small. It’s not unusual to have to perform an action twice to get it to work. The idea of having a quick snap option through the camera is slightly diminished by the slow camera start up and limitation in quality. Talking into your wrist watch might make you feel like Dick Tracy, but the speaker is really quiet, and it was an idea that seemed futuristic in 1946. Is it really something you’d want to do every day?

The Verdict

Do you need the Samsung Galaxy Gear? Definitely not, it’s a novelty device right now and it doesn’t do anywhere near enough to justify the price tag. It’s also annoying, though not unusual, that Samsung is charging the same price in pounds as it is in dollars. There is no way the Galaxy Gear is worth £300.

When you get a new wave of devices in tech it’s rarely worth buying the first generation. They tend to be overpriced and full of flaws and kinks that have yet to be worked out. Whether we’ll ever see a smart watch that’s really exciting is debatable, but you’d be hard pressed to argue that the Galaxy Gear is worth buying.

About Simon Hill

Simon is an experienced tech writer with a background in games development. He has been covering the world of mobile technology for several years now and writes for a variety of popular websites.