If smartphone makers dipped their toes in the smartwatch pool last year, we can expect them to do the cannonball in 2014. Out of the all the smartwatches launched so far, the Galaxy Gear is by far the most interesting, not to mention packed to the gills with features. Despite Samsung’s heavy marketing budgets though, the Gear wasn’t exactly a runaway hit. The reason for is this we feel, is that Samsung seemed to have designed the Gear for loyalists, someone who’s current phone and future upgrade would be a high-end Galaxy device. After the dust has settled, Samsung has finally sent us a review unit of the Gear, which we tested with the Galaxy Note 3. Let’s find out what the fuss is all about.

Design and Build
The neon green version of the Gear is very striking and is quite the head-turner. Thankfully, the watch is also available in other shades which are a bit more understated. It’s a tad bulky but also light, so it’s not so bad. I found it quite comfortable during my week’s usage and after a point, you hardly notice it. The Sasmsung Galaxy Gear is built to last and that shows in its construction. The stainless steel frame around the display lends it a premium look and the rubber straps are firm, yet flexible enough to be worn comfortably. The 1.6-inch Super AMOLED display is also protected by a scratch-resistant coating.

Samsung Galaxy Gear

Looks quite funky

The Gear just has a single power button and that’s about it. Everything else is based on gestures, which we feel is the way to go when you have to deal with such a small display. Samsung has designed the UI for the Gear in such a way so as to take advantage of the AMOLED panel. The minimalistic icons are devoid of colour so there’s always more black, for which, the pixels needn’t power on. When needed though, the panel can reproduce rich, saturated colours for the gallery and third-party apps. Sensitivity is pretty good as well and the watch works quite well with (some) riding gloves.

Samsung Galaxy Gear

The charging cradle that’s bundled along

The Galaxy Gear comes bundled with a charger and the docking cradle. The cradle snaps on the Gear and is the only way to charge the watch as it has the microUSB port and an NFC tag. You can pair the Gear with a compatible Samsung phone using the NFC tag or manually via Bluetooth. We don’t get why it’s such a convoluted process to charge the watch as it would have made more sense to have the charging port and NFC on the Gear itself, rather than having to carry around the cradle everywhere. Wireless charging is also something that’s missing.

We found the Gear to be quite comfortable to use on a daily basis and the learning curve is very small.

Features and performance
Like any other wrist watch, the Gear too sports a fully adjustable wrist strap, making it a comfortable fit on most wrists. One of the highlights of the Gear is its ability to make and receive calls and for this, we have a dual-microphone array and a speaker that’s hidden at the base of the strap. The volume level is good enough for using indoors and the microphones are sensitive enough to pick up your voice, even if you aren’t holding your hand up to speak. This is great as you can go from eating a pizza to doing the dishes, without having to touch your phone. You can also answer and reject calls using S Voice. Besides voice commands, the Gear also has an accelerometer and a gyroscope which help it perform some neat gestures. For instance, you set the watch to show you the time or any other screen as soon as you make the motion of looking at it. You can also double tap the screen using two fingers at any point to check the battery and adjust the device’s volume.

Samsung Galaxy Gear

The Gear Manager app

You can manage the Gear and the notifications you wish to receive directly from the Gear Manager app on your smartphone. The app is constantly running in the background, monitoring the activity you perform on the Gear. You can select a variety of themes, clock faces and specialised apps from the Samsung Apps store.

Besides the usual fitness apps, there’s also Evernote, Line, Pocket and ChatOn to name a few. There’s no dedicated Facebook or Twitter app yet, but you can still receive notifications from them. There are a bunch of pre-installed apps as well like Find My Device, Media Controller, Pedometer, Weather, Stopwatch and Timer.

Samsung Galaxy Gear

A much more convenient way to recieve notifications

S Voice plays a big role in making the Gear a lot more intuitive. You can use this to reply to messages, email (only for the default app, not Gmail) and a couple more. Unfortunately, you cannot use this to interact with third party apps like Hangouts, WhatsApp, Gmail and the lot. You can also use S Voice to call people from your phonebook, text them or open an app. While the idea is good, S Voice isn’t. The whole process is very sluggish and it’s actually faster to get what you want with gestures rather than voice commands. It’s also not very good at understanding what you say. It works if you speak slowly and there isn’t much ambient noise but tough luck getting it to work outdoors.

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Outdoor shots aren’t bad

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Indoors is strictly average at best

The camera on the wrist strap is like the Holy Grail for voyeurs. The 1.9MP shooter manages 15 seconds of 720p video too. The camera quality is decent for outdoor shots during the day but in low-light and indoors, it is strictly average. You also get some of Samsung’s camera apps like Sound and Shot. Everything that’s captured is instantly relayed to your phone via Bluetooth. You can use some functions of the Gear, like the camera, even when it’s disconnected, which is where the 4GB of in-built storage comes in.

Battery life
Samsung promised about a day’s worth of usage for the Gear but actually managed to squeeze out quite a bit more. After the first charge, we got almost two days of continuous usage before we had to charge it. On subsequent days, it was a little less but it always went beyond a day. Now, we didn’t use the camera a whole lot but everything else was on. We made and received calls from the watch as much as possible and notifications for all commonly used apps were active.

Samsung Galaxy Gear

There’s a single physical button on the Gear for power.

Verdict and Price in India
Samsung has priced the Galaxy Gear at Rs 22,900 and whichever way you cut it, that’s a lot of money for a smartphone accessory. It only gets worse as the Gear is sadly, only compatible with a handful of high-end Samsung phones. The trouble is, even if Samsung wants to increase compatibility to more devices, they can’t because the phones have to be on Android 4.3 and above and they should support S Voice. The Gear makes a great companion to the Note 3 especially since it’s so much easier to stay updated with notifications on the watch than it is to constantly keep pulling the massive phone out of your pocket. To increase sales, Samsung could have bundled the Gear with the Note 3 for a slight premium, which would have made it a much better package for someone buying the Note 3.

There’s definitely a market for a device like the Galaxy Gear. The ability to make and receive calls from the watch is a very nifty feature in times when you’re simply unable to reach your phone. I personally felt the camera was totally unnecessary but they had to show it could be done, so they did it.

There are a lot of ways in which Samsung can improve the Gear in order to make it a better product. Their first attempt seems more of an engineering exercise to test the waters and see what sort of a response a device like this would garner. We have a sneaking suspicion that Samsung is working on a range of smartwatches, each one catering to a specific need. We’ll probably hear more about them at one of their Unpacked events or at trade shows like Mobile World Congress. So we recommend you hold on till then to see what the second wave of smartwatches looks like.

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