You don’t have to be a tech lover to wear a watch. And if you’re wearing a watch, shouldn’t it do more than just tell time? If you agree, a smartwatch may be in your future. The Samsung Galaxy Gear is a smartwatch that does so much more than tell time, it may make that future come sooner rather than later.
What the Gear Can Do
A smartwatch is to a watch as a smartphone is to a phone. Yes, the Gear is a watch, but it’s so much more than a watch, it’s really a small computer on your wrist that can perform many functions. As with a smartphone, you may not realize its full utility until you start using it.
In addition to telling the time, you can use the Gear to:
- place phone calls
- answer phone calls
- read text messages
- see weather conditions and predictions
- take pictures
- display and share pictures
- control media
- count your steps
- notify you of emails
- find your phone
- store and display your contact list
- act as a stopwatch and calendar
- notify you of Facebook posts
- set and notify you of reminders
and more with additional apps. After you start wearing the Gear your expectations of what you wear on your wrist will rise dramatically.
What About Apps?
When it comes to the app store for the Gear, think dozens, not hundreds of thousands. But the apps that are available for the Gear make the watch much more useful. Some of the most popular apps for the Gear include Evernote, My Fitness Pal, RunKeeper, Path, Pocket and eBay. Having your favorite app available on a watch may be all the incentive you need for getting a Gear.
Using the Gear
If you’ve read 10 Top Tech Tools to Help Make Your Life Easier! and The Best Holiday Tech Gifts for 2013!, you’ve seen a sneak preview of my opinion of the Gear: I’m a big fan of this watch, though I have found room for improvement. As a fan of the Pebble smartwatch, I was excited to give the Gear a try. Verizon sent me a Jet Black Gear for review (yes, I’m returning it to them) and a Note 3 (yes, I have to return that too) which I will be reviewing soon.
Here are videos from Samsung showing the Gear in action:
In my daily activities I found the Gear to be extremely useful. Being able to see the weather at a glance, access the apps, use the camera and control my phone using the Gear was very handy. You know you enjoy tech if you miss it when you don’t have it. When I wasn’t wearing the Gear I wished that I were.
The watch is large, which has its advantages and disadvantages. The 1.63″ screen makes the display legible and allows the watch to deliver more information. You can change the font size to make the most of the screen real estate.
The band is adjustable for wrists from small to large, though people with small wrists may not be comfortable wearing a watch this size. Although the watch is large, I was able to wear it on my wrist without problems.
You can’t exchange the rubber strap for a different one due to the tech embedded in it, but the watch comes in a variety of colors to suit many tastes. No one will mistake the Gear for a fashion statement, but the style is techie without being overly geeky.
The watch does draw attention. I was often asked about the watch and people I showed the watch to seemed to enjoy the demonstrations that I showed them. I passed the Gear around the audience at a recent presentation on tech tools and received a lot of questions and positive feedback from the audience.
The most common question I was asked: Is it compatible with the iPhone?
Answer: No, it is not.
The Gear is compatible only with the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 and other Samsung mobile devices running Android 4.3 and higher. You should only get this watch if you have a currently compatible phone — without connecting the Gear to a compatible phone its functions would be far too limited to justify its $300 price tag.
The stated battery life is 25 hours, but I experienced a longer battery life for the Gear, even after heavy use. If I didn’t charge the watch overnight, I would often find the battery level to be about 30% in the morning. But 30% isn’t enough to get through the day so even with the longer battery life, I still charged the Gear every night.
As with a phone, you can extend the battery life of the Gear by adjusting certain settings, such as brightness, screen timeout time, intervals for syncing your photos with your phone, etc. Find out if you need extra battery life first before you start making sacrifices for added power. If the Gear’s charge gets you through the day you won’t have to worry about adjusting the settings.
Charging the Gear involves snapping it into a pod which connects to a power source with a micro USB cord. This actually is a handier way to charge the watch than trying to maneuver a micro USB plug into a port on the watch every night. I kept the pod connected to the cord and just snapped the watch into the pod.
Connecting the Watch and the Phone
Initially you pair your phone with the watch by tapping your phone on the plastic charge pod that comes with the watch. Pairing isn’t intuitive but the included instructions are easy to follow.
The phone and watch connect via Bluetooth with a range of about 25 feet. The watch vibrates when you wander away from the Bluetooth range of the phone, which can be helpful or annoying. If you leave your phone in your purse or on your desk and walk around your house or office in and out of range, your wrist may be vibrating frequently.
The connection between the phone and the watch can also help you if you misplace either one. You can use your watch to find your phone and vice versa, so long as they are within Bluetooth range of each other.
The 1.63″ screen of the Gear is a colorful touch-screen. You can adjust the brightness and set the display to outdoor mode so viewing the display in bright sunlight will be easier.
Presumably to preserve battery life, the screen times out and turns off until you turn it back on. You can adjust the time out period from 30 seconds to 5 minutes.
You can turn the screen on by pressing the Gear’s lone button, by raising the watch to your face or by moving your arm. Moving your arm to turn on the watch seems to work inconsistently so I ended up pressing the button when I needed to see the screen. But looking at the time inconspicuously is a challenge, the Gear makes telling time a bit more obvious than other watches.
Even on a dim setting, the Gear’s screen emits light, so if you’re clapping in a darkened theater, your watch may become a beacon. On the bright side, you’ll have a handy flashlight on your wrist (pun intended).
You can customize your Gear watch face with options ranging from a classic analog look to a functional digital face with apps on the home screen. You can even add apps to the Gear to give you a wider range of watch faces for the look of your watch.
The Gear allows you to choose the color of your watch face. You can select from:
The Gear has the S Voice feature so you can use voice commands to perform functions using the watch. You can use S Voice to place phone calls, send text messages, read text messages, take photos, open apps, set alarms, add appointments to your calendar, check the weather and more. Similar to Siri on the iPhone, S Voice can become your personal assistant on your watch. Unlike Siri though you can’t perform Internet searches with S Voice on the Gear.
Notifications on the Gear are a mixed bag. The Gear can notify you of incoming phone calls, text messages, email messages, Facebook posts and other events. Some notifications give you all the information, some give you part of the information and some direct you to the phone. I was able to get full text of Yahoo mail messages as well as text messages on the Gear.
For Gmail and Facebook notifications, you will see an alert on your watch that you have a new message with the option to open the message on your phone. By pressing OK you can turn on your phone and open your Gmail or Facebook from the watch. While that is handy, what would be even more useful would be to read those messages straight on the watch.
The Gear has a 1.9 MP camera on the wrist strap which may become your quickest way to take a photo. Turn on the watch, swipe down with one finger, and tap the screen. Instant photo! You can even take a video by tapping on the camera icon in the upper left corner of the screen.
The quality of the photos is better than you might expect, better than a feature phone camera or the front-facing camera on most smart phones. Here are some sample photos I took with the Gear:
The camera makes a shutter sound when taking a picture, though you can turn that off in Settings if you want to capture photos in a “stealth mode”. You can use S Voice to take a photo using voice commands.
You don’t have to worry about transferring the photos from your watch, they’re automatically synced with your phone. You can view the photos you’ve taken with your watch in the Gallery app on your watch or on your phone. You can also add your photos directly to Evernote from the Gear’s Gallery app.
What’s exciting about the camera is not only the ease of taking pictures but also its potential use as a scanner. Because it has a camera, the Gear could be used to scan bar codes to compare prices, add items to lists and retrieve data. So far only one app I’ve found to take advantage of the scanner capabilities is the Vivino app that comes with the Gear. Vivino uses the Gear’s camera to identify wine labels and help you remember your favorites.
Room for Improvement
While the Gear takes smartwatches into the future, it’s still a first generation model, meaning there is room for improvement. My wish list for improvements are software related, meaning that all I’m hoping for is an update to the software, not an overhaul of the hardware. Some improvements on my wish list may not be within Samsung’s control, but I’m including my desires, regardless of who can grant them.
While some may wish for a smaller watch, I would not want to sacrifice any of the functionality of the watch for a smaller size. I also enjoy the larger screen and wouldn’t want Samsung to reduce its size.
Samsung seems to regard the Gear as a watch instead of as a computer for your wrist. Whenever you turn on the watch, the home screen/watch face is displayed. That’s handy for when you want to know the time, but not so handy when you want to access your apps. Imagine if whenever you turned on your smartphone it opened to the dial pad screen.
You can access recently opened apps by pressing two fingers on the home screen, but I would rather have an option to have the watch open to the last app you used.
I would also like the ability to rearrange the order of the screens and apps as you swipe through them. You can swipe through the screens from the right or the left, but your favorite feature may still require a cumbersome number of swipes. You also have to scroll through the app screen to access your favorite apps. I would like to see the second screen be Favorites which you could then populate with your most-used apps.
While I didn’t mind having to snap the watch into its pod every night, I would prefer to use a wireless conductive charge pad. Taking the watch off of my wrist and placing it on a pad on my nightstand before bed seems like a very natural routine that people wouldn’t mind doing. As the watch requires charging every night, making the process as easy as possible would be an improvement.
Notifications need improving. I shouldn’t have to go to my phone to read Gmail messages or Facebook posts. Yes, it’s handy that the watch opens the phone straight to these apps, but the whole idea of having the watch is that I don’t have to touch my phone.
The few apps that the Gear has are very useful. The more apps the Gear has available the more useful the Gear will become and I know that additional apps will be added over time. I’d like to see Twitter, Dropbox, Chrome, Netflix, scanning apps and more on the Gear.
While the Gear screen might seem too small for video for some people, I would like to have video viewing available on the watch. I fondly remember watching Lost episodes on the 1″ screen of my iPod Classic back before the days of smartphones and tablets.
Expanded S Voice
I found S Voice to be extremely useful and to be a big “Wow” factor in demonstrating what I could do with the Gear. I would like to do even more with S Voice, including using it to perform Internet searches and find my phone.
The Gear is available for $299.99 from Verizon and other retailers in;
The Gear is compatible with Samsung mobile devices running Android 4.3 and higher, including the Note 3. Check your device or check with your carrier to see whether your device is compatible with the Gear.
The Gear is a watch for the future for those who have the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 (or other compatible Samsung device) and have $300 to spare. Those who will enjoy the watch most are people who enjoy cutting-edge tech, want the efficiency of a computer on their wrist, have medium to large wrists, and are willing to dive in to make the most of the Gear’s features.
What do you think of the Samsung Galaxy Gear? Do you like the idea of smartwatches? Would you like your watch to do more than tell time? Which features of the Gear would you use most? Which features would you like to see added to the Gear? Let us know in the Comments section below!