Hands-On: Samsung Galaxy Note 3 and Gear
The Galaxy Gear smartwatch is a device that offers a few unique features that should set the tone for what smartwatch is and isn't. It is not a stand-alone device. It is an accessory for the Galaxy Note 3 (and eventually other Galaxy smartphones).
The Gear is made mostly from plastic. It has a metallic face and comes in six different colors. The shades include black, beige, gray, green, orange, and gold. It looks really large when you hold it in your hand, but doesn't feel awkward or weird on your wrist. I had trouble adjusting the strap to fit, but once I found the right size it was comfortable. There is only one button on the watch and it is easy to find and use. It is a Home button that always takes the Gear back to the home screen, which is a clock and the weather.
The little screen looks surprisingly good. It measures 1.63 inches across the diagonal and offers 320 x 320 pixels. It uses an AMOLED screen and is bright and colorful. Though most of the menus are black and white, photos that I saw really popped. There's a pretty steep brightness cut-off when the device is viewed at an angle, though, and that's kind of crummy for a watch.
One of the surprising features include a 1.9-megapixel camera baked into the band that can also record 720p HD video and a speakerphone. The camera may not offer the best quality in the world, but it's a last resort for those can't-miss opportunities that sneak up every now and again. Using it wasn't too awkward, though it's hardly quick to launch. You can make it a favorite app which gets it higher in the menu hierarchy, but it is still several steps to open. The speakerphone is just loud enough to make using the Gear for phone calls a worthwhile endeavor.
The watch is not really a stand-alone device. It can be used without a smartphone, but will only be able to use some of the features. The Galaxy Gear does not have Wi-Fi, nor an independent connection to the internet. Similar to Sony's SmartWatch, it relies on a nearby smartphone for most of its functionality. This is perhaps its greatest strength and greatest limitation.
For starters, the Gear will only work with the Note 3 smartphone. Samsung said it hopes to offer functionality with other Galaxy smartphones later this year. It did not say if or when that might be, nor which phones (think Galaxy Note, Note II, and GS3, GS4). Though the Gear has plenty of its own apps, it can't be used as a stand-alone music player. In fact, if you want to listen to music, you'll have to do so with Bluetooth headphones, as the Gear doesn't have a headphone jack. The lack of an on-board music player stinks in my opinion.
The Gear runs on Google's Android operating system, but you wouldn't know it to look at the thing. The interface has been stripped down so it can be easily used with one finger by those on the go. It offers a handful of clock faces that also show the weather, and uses swiping gestures to get from screen to screen and app to app.
The Gear runs plenty of apps. It includes a handful of simple tools, such as a stopwatch, music player controls, and pedometer, as well as more advanced functions. The Gear has rich notifications that automatically interact with the Note 3 smartphone, and it can be used to dial phone calls directly rather than using the Note 3. It interacts with S Voice, Samsung's voice-command and search tool, and can also be used to find a lost Note 3 smartphone (and vice versa with the companion smartphone app). In addition to these, it comes with a handful of third-party apps from the likes of Evernote, eBay, MyFitnessPal, Path, RunKeeper, and Tripit. Samsung says more apps are on the way.
The Galaxy Gear is a capable device and sets the bar for what smartwatches can do. Whether or not the feature list is long enough, or if people will really buy it together with the Note 3 (a sizable purchase combined) is another story.