This past weekend I did something I’ve not done since the late 1900s: strap on a watch. Not just any wristwatch, mind you, but a smartwatch — Samsung’s Galaxy Gear, to be exact… paired with a Galaxy Note 3.
Back in 1999 I got my first PCS phone from clearNET, and the network-adjusted time on that “digital” phone made wearing a watch redundant — at least for me. I have at least one friend who has carried on wearing wristwatches to this very day; for me, the convenience of glancing at my wrist is made moot by the phone I usually have in my other hand.
So maybe I’m not the best person to be reviewing this early iteration of a nascent product category. But hey, if the Gear can win me over then it’s gotta be good, right?
The Galaxy Gear is sold with a plastic frame that snaps over the watch face. Ingeniously, it houses both an NFC chip and a micro USB charging port. Tap the watch face on the back of your Galaxy and Bluetooth takes over from there. It’s that simple.
Boy, is this thing ever uncomfortable to wear.
Part of it is me not being used to wearing a watch, and part of it is the Gear. It’s much heavier than a wristwatch should be, and the strap seems to have two only settings — uncomfortably tight or way too loose.
For me, the first and most obvious benefit to a connected watch — that is, a watch connected to something that’s connected to the Internet — is having the weather available on your wrist. I’ve used a weather widget on my Nexus phones since day one; having similar utility on a watch makes a lot of sense.
Probably the most expected smartwatch use case would be for fitness. With its brushed aluminum face the Gear is more executive bling than a runner’s best friend; despite this, it ships with a pedometer on board. It’s a fairly simple app that you can launch once and have it log your steps for the rest of the day.
I also downloaded a version of RunKeeper that works with Gear. It’s certainly handy to have controls for the app on your wrist, but you won’t find out that you don’t have a good GPS signal until after you start your walk or run.
Apps & Compatibility
Apps for the Gear must be downloaded from a dedicated section of Samsung’s app store — in other words, you’ll need a Samsung account.
Currently the selection is fairly weak, and some of the available apps are of questionable value. The Gear version of Pocket, for example, does nothing more than read your saved articles to you via text-to-speech on your connected phone. I’d rather read through them myself, thanks.
According to Bell Canada, the Gear is compatible with the Galaxy Note 3, Galaxy S4, Galaxy S4 mini and Galaxy S III.
I know exactly one person whose dream device is a Dick Tracy-style phone watch. Unfortunately for him, the SIM card in my locked-to-Bell Note 3 failed to activate, thus I couldn’t use the Gear to make a phone call. I tried using my SIP account, but no joy there, either.
By far my favourite thing about the Gear is its 1.9 megapixel camera. Instagrammers will like that it yields square 1392 x 1392 pixel results; I just think it’s great for candid shots. Parents and all the single ladies needn’t worry — each captured photo is accompanied by a very loud and mandatory shutter sound.
My Two Cents
Were it less than two hundred bucks and compatible with my Nexus 5 I’d be tempted to get a Gear for its sneaky-cam alone. But at $330 CAD and a Galaxy-only proposition it’s not going to make me change devices anytime soon.
The really odd thing about my weekend with the Gear was that in two full days of using it not a single notification appeared on my wrist; if an app like Tapatalk was compatible with the Gear this would not have been the case.
I’ll admit that I wasn’t really excited about smartwatches going in to this, and the Gear ultimately did little to change that. If you’ve already a watch on your wrist and a late-model Galaxy in your pocket then you might be a better candidate for it than me.
In terms of wearable tech I think that something like Google Glass holds a lot more promise. Anyone wanna hook me up with an invite for that?