Samsung Galaxy Gear smartwatch review

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When the folks at Verizon asked me if I’d like to try out the Samsung Galaxy Gear smartwatch, I had to take a minute to make my decision. Truth be told, it’s been 10 years since I was excited about a watch. That was back in 2004 when Microsoft SPOT watches were popular. I wanted one of those watches so bad because I thought it would be the coolest thing in the world to be able to see stock quotes, weather and news on my wrist. That was before there were smartphones, so it was cool at that time. But today most of us have a smartphone in our pocket. Do we really need a smart watch too? Let’s find out…

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Package contents

Galaxy Gear smartwatch
Charging cradle
AC adapter

Hardware Specs

CPU Processor Speed: 800MHz
OS: Customized Android
Memory: 4GB + 512MB (RAM)
Display: 1.63″ Super AMOLED, 320 x 320 Resolution
Connectivity: Bluetooth 4.0
Camera: 1.9 Megapixel camera
Dimensions: 1.45″ (w) x 2.23″ (H) x 0.44″ (D)
Weight: 2.60 oz

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Design and style

The Galaxy Gear watch has a brushed metal case with a thick rubber strap that has a built-in camera. I was sent the silver version of the Gear with a grey strap, but the watch is also available with an orange, black, green or beige strap. There’s also a version with a gold case and a beige strap.

There is just one button on the watch which is used to wake the watch from idle state and if held down, it can be used to launch an app of your choice (the default is to launch the voice command app).

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The watch is attractive, but it was too bulky and heavy for me and I found it to be uncomfortable to wear for an extended period of time. Granted, I don’t really like wearing anything on my wrists, including bracelets, but the overall size of this watch is obviously too large for my wrist which is 5.5 inches around. While I was reviewing the Gear, it often annoyed me by catching on my shirt cuffs and coat sleeves, and rubbing against the desk or keyboard as I typed.

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The good news is that the wrist strap is fully adjustable. It has a metal clasp that slides up and down the strap to make it larger or smaller depending on the size needed for your wrist.

In the image above, you’ll also notice that the bottom of the watch has a row of five electrical contacts. These contacts are needed for the included charging cradle.

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I have a one word question for the person who designed the charging cradle. Why? The watch has to be snapped inside the plastic frame and then the included AC adapter with a microUSB cable plugs into the bottom of the cradle. It’s not difficult to insert or remove the watch from the charging cradle, but it seems like it would have been more convenient to have a dock that you rest the watch on instead of having to put it inside a plastic contraption.

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The charging cradle does have a neat feature that you will need to use in order to get started using the watch. It has an NFC tag embedded on the bottom which you use to install the Gear Manager software on your smartphone. This is the software that is used to customize the Gear’s features. The Samsung Galaxy Gear smartwatch is currently only compatible with the Samsung Galaxy Mega, S3, S4, Note 2 and Note 3 (depending on carrier and version of OS). That’s right, you can’t use this watch with all Android smartphones… it has to be one of the newer Samsung phones. For this review I did my testing with a Verizon Samsung Galaxy Note 2 with OS version 4.3. My experience with the watch paired to the Note 2 wasn’t the best. I had a lot of problems with some of the features. And yes, I made sure the watch was updated with the latest firmware.

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Features and user interface

The Gear watch connects to the smartphone using Bluetooth. Although the watch isn’t capable of making and receiving calls all by itself, it can be used like a Bluetooth speakerphone that you wear on your wrist. The watch will show you who is calling so that you can answer or reject a call right from the watch. If you reject a call, you can choose to send a text message to the caller from a list pre-defined list of messages.

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Calls are placed using the address book or by the onscreen keypad. The touch screen is small but useable. I didn’t have too much trouble with it recognizing the taps and swipes needed to navigate through the screens. I even found that I could use the touch screen with gloves which weren’t even special touch screen style gloves. Results with gloves on weren’t 100% accurate, but it was doable, with a little effort.

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The display is bright and easy to read. I wasn’t able to test it in full sun outdoors because it’s winter here in Indiana, which means we don’t see the sun for weeks / months at a time.

In addition to notifications for incoming calls, the Samsung Galaxy Gear smartwatch will also display text messages and emails. At least it’s supposed to do that. During the few days that I had the Gear, I only received a handful of message notifications. They were all from Google Hangouts and none of them showed the actual message or even a short excerpt of the message. The watch would just display a notice saying I had received a message and to go read it on my phone for the full details. Tapping that notice on the watch would wake up my phone and display it. Wow, that’s super useful – not. I never received any SMS messages through the watch even though that option was turned on. I had several people sending me messages to test the feature and although the text messages showed up on my phone, they never registered on the watch.

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Do you want the good news or the bad news first?

The bad first? Ok, here we go.

  • Compatibility limited to Samsung phones.
  • The watch is not waterproof.
  • Battery life is short… only around 1 – 1.5 days. For me, this is one of the biggest annoyances. I already have to charge my phone once a day. I don’t want to charge my watch too.
  • I wasn’t able to test the S-Voice feature because each time I would try to use it, it would ask me to accept the disclaimer on my phone, which never appeared.
  • Call audio through the phone’s built in speaker is horrible. Even in a quiet room I had to turn it all the way up to hear the person on the other end of the call.
  • Can’t turn off camera shutter sound.
  • Doesn’t have a calculator app.
  • 25% of the time I lifted my arm to wake up the watch to see the time, it didn’t wake up. So I would have to perform the gesture a second time.

Now, let’s have some good news…

  • You can extend the capability of the watch with small apps. There aren’t a lot of Gear apps available right now, but that may change if the watch becomes popular. The default apps built into the watch include a timer, stop watch, schedule, contacts, weather, pedometer, voice memo and s-voice.
  • Different watch faces can be installed that let you customize the look of the clock app, from digital to analog, dual time zones and more.
  • You can have the watch send an audible alert to your phone so you can find it if it’s been misplaced somewhere close by. Of course it will need to be within Bluetooth range. You can use your phone to find your watch as well.

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  • The camera built into the strap takes surprisingly decent shots. That’s my friend Bill in the second picture. I know, he scares me too…
  • S-Memo app lets you make voice notes by talking to your watch and have them transcribed and stored on your device.
  • Easy swipe user interface.

As you can tell, I just can’t find that many good things to say about the Samsung Galaxy Gear smartwatch. It was fun to play with for about a day, but it became uncomfortable and annoying very quickly. I would almost never hold a conversation with someone through the watch for fear of looking like a secret service person talking into my wrist. The wonky text and email notification issues, short battery life, size, comfort and price are several reasons why I would personally not buy one of these watches. But the number one reason why I think that smartwatches are a fad that will last about as long as the Microsoft SPOT watch fad from 10 years ago is that these watches are completely redundant. Since you have to use a Bluetooth connection in order to use the main  features of this watch, that means your smartphone is already very close by. So just use the phone… it’s much easier and will save you $300.

 

Product Information

Price:$299.00
Manufacturer:Samsung
Retailer:Verizon Wireless
Requirements:
  • Samsung Galaxy Mega, S3, S4, Note 2 or Note 3
Pros:
  • Shows notifications on wrist
  • Answer, reject calls from wrist
Cons:
  • Expensive
  • Short battery life
  • Call quality not good
  • Bulky
  • Can't be used with all Android devices
Posted in: Android related, Featured Items, Reviews, Watches, Clocks

{ 21 comments… add one }

  • Steven Barrett January 19, 2014, 1:56 pm

    Really useful review. I have used my aging Sony smartwatch for about a year now mainly for twitter, linkedin, email & sms all of which work well with my samsung S3. I fancied the Gear but every review shows me the its functions are really limited so I will continue with my Sony until the GearII comes out at the end of Q1

  • William Ray January 19, 2014, 3:56 pm

    i do not recall signing a release for this photo. Fortunately I am looking good, so no legal action will be necessary.

  • JD January 19, 2014, 5:00 pm

    Thank you! I suspected this watch would be completely useless and your review confirms it!

  • Martin Cohen January 19, 2014, 5:02 pm

    The only way this watch might become popular is if Samsung gives it away to anyone who buys one of its phones. Otherwise, it is doomed.

  • Julie Strietelmeier January 19, 2014, 5:14 pm

    I have been thinking about what would make me want to wear a watch again and so far I haven’t come up with any reasons. The only way that I’d want a companion device like the Gear is if it had a MUCH longer range. For example, I could leave my phablet on my desk while I walked to another building to do some tech support. If a call or message would come into my phone left on my desk, the Gear would alert me and let me answer the call or send a text message. Other than long range features, I just don’t see the point of any of these smartwatches.

  • Dan McNutt January 19, 2014, 6:10 pm

    I’m interested in all the speculation about Apple putting a watch product out there. I figure things like battery and size are the forefront of why they haven’t released something yet. I read an article about the testing of the first iPhone product and the ideas were there, even years before, but not the technology wasn’t feasible early on. Personally I think a device like this will have to almost be used in place of your phone and not along side of it. Say you need to attend a movie and want to leave you phone at home. similar functionality and you can keep tabs and send simple responses, but for more detailed use you’ll want your phone.

  • Dan McNutt January 19, 2014, 6:14 pm

    And sweet detective comics issue. I don’t have that one, but represent!!

  • MorningBear January 19, 2014, 6:36 pm

    Well. . I got the watch as a Christmas present. .I was soo excited. . But. . Then.?I realized like many. .it only gave me # of notice. It was a hit/miss making calls out on it.. it would just disconnect. Using the S voice, ? Well. .you can say. . ” call bob” it would pull all the# & I would tap the screen. It was just okay. .eeh..tooo send a text . But I did discover that my LG headset, ? Well. .it worked well with the watch. I just couldn’t get the freakin watch to make a call for nothing. I hate to say this. .but you could get a ringtone or add your own wallpaper. .that truly sucked for me..because. .i searched high& low for the ( don’t laugh ) knight Rider ringtone. . Thinking it would come through the watch, ? Wrong! ! I even change my s voice name to kit..which the voice was kinda choppy..As many will find out. .The charger,? Well I thought. .how cool to wear the full charger as it’s charging my watch. . I was wrong. .& I was an idiot. So I’m going to wait for the 2nd watch too come out. .i have the galaxy s4 . But when it came to do the upgrade, ? Well it wouldn’t upgrade. I do have the 4.3 & still nothing. Right now. .it’s not worth $300. & I am totally a phone. .bluetooth. .gadgets. .geek of a girl. . So this says a lot! ! Hope this helps someone else.

  • AP January 19, 2014, 7:39 pm

    I have one of these watches and it’s great. It is another device to charge but when you are walking in the street and get a call or SMS, you have it in the ease of your wrist, while the phone can be in your pocket or bag.

    In work meetings i can just flick my wrist and I can see my emails, calls or SMS. For me, the wake up works all the time.

    I do not have any of the problems that are mentioned above (we have 10 of these at work for staff).

    The battery life is not the best, but what do you except from all the features.

  • Richard Raborn January 19, 2014, 7:56 pm

    Perhaps if it looked like the bracelets Wonder Woman wore?

  • Joe w January 19, 2014, 9:50 pm

    I’ve had my gear for few weeks and I love it. When I’m at work I can easily check my notifications without getting in trouble for pulling out my phone.
    I can see full txt messages and emails through Gmail (text only), as well as Facebook notifications.
    I’ve used the camera quite a bit because it’s right there, an easy swipe down instead of getting my phone out, unlocking, opening camera app.
    Call quality is not great but it’s mostly audio from the speaker, the person on the other end said they can hear me clearly.
    The charger is weird but I just charge my gear before I go to bed with my phone.
    I guess it just takes some real world use to appreciate the features instead of a few review hours.

  • Julie Strietelmeier January 19, 2014, 9:53 pm

    @Joe w I wore the Gear for several, so it wasn’t just a couple hours. I had the same experience with calls. People said I sounded just fine, but I couldn’t understand the very well at all.

  • MorningBear January 19, 2014, 10:43 pm

    Wonder Woman watch,? Would be awesome. I would buy it now that I no longer have my gear what I am back With… good morning Charlie …from the Charlie’s angels

  • Jose January 20, 2014, 2:29 am

    I bought the Atco add an open box to test if, I love the thing, I had an issue with the text messages, you have to make sure that the Samsung text messages app is the default app. I rear my arm if turns on, sens me updates from Google now and much more. The is an update that added a bunch of features and helped with distance and battery, I’m on the note 3 and my phone was in the house I was in my garage and I received a call and messages. So it all depends on you. I like when I’m driving someone calls I can quickly glance and see if I want to answer it. It also can be rooted.

  • Jose January 20, 2014, 2:32 am

    Wow read my post, Holly auto correct batman, I apologize on advance

  • Andrew Baker January 20, 2014, 11:59 am

    I wanted this so bad until I used it. The watch is large, I didn’t like that. A single day of use on the battery in my opinion was worthless. I’m always swapping roms on my Note II and getting the watch to work is a horrible pain. Samsung only supports a few phones officially. I can’t see spending $260 on a watch that will probably need to be replaced when I upgrade my phone. I played around with the pebble too. I like the interface much better. It is smaller, but looks very cheap. The Pebble steel looks much better but also with the $250 price tag, beyond what I feel comfortable paying. Get these to the $99 range and we have a deal. The Pebble also gets about a week per charge. Still would prefer something longer, but closer to reasonable.

  • Istiqlal Aurangzeb January 21, 2014, 8:14 am

    Will it work on my Samsung galaxy core i8262. I am very anxious to get the watch. Please tell me the requirements for this product.

  • Julie Strietelmeier January 21, 2014, 8:17 am

    @Istiqlal that was not one of the phones mentioned as being compatible when I wrote the review. You should probably check on Samsung’s Gear page for any updated compatibility lists.

  • Ashley January 21, 2014, 2:57 pm

    I was wondering, maybe the watch would work better in tandem with multiple devices?

    As in, the watch is not the last wearable tech you need for fully symbiotic relationship between all devices, in terms of wearable tech.

    Imagine if you will the following layout:

    Blutooth headset.
    Samsung Watch.
    Android phone in pocket.
    (Optional: google glass style product).

    Situation: Someone calls me. I see the info displayed on my watch, and press the button to answer. The call immediately switches over to my blutooth headset. I can pick up and hang up from a touch of the watch without having to awkwardly reach up to my headset.

    Example 2: control music from my watch to play on blutooth headset, never having to take phone out of pocket. Essentially, the phone becomes a mobile computer tower in my pocket to run my wearable tech.

    Now imagine the synergy with all those items combined with google glass as well.

  • johnnaryry January 22, 2014, 4:35 am

    Not Waterproof? Serious fail…

  • jgs April 1, 2014, 6:19 pm

    Just take a moment to remember disruptive piece of technology and each had its share of doomsayers. Is the Gear perfect? The more pertinent question would be “is any piece of technology perfect”?
    My journey down the path of a budding geek horologist leaves me with the following:
    1 Casio Databank 300 watch
    1 Fossil Palm watch
    1 Abacus Palm watch
    1 Sony/Ericsson M150 bluetooth watch
    1 Sony SW1 watch
    1 Pebble watch
    1 Galaxy Gear watch

    My favorite will always be the Palm based watches as they were the only ones that functioned in a truly standalone mode. But alas it was 2 years too late to the game.

    Now look how many smartwatches have emerged within the past year and it is mind boggling. For me each introduced an incremental dose of technology and we are all better off for it. Just look at Galaxy Note 2 and look back at say the Palm Tungsten. Not much difference in size and ease of use. The Palm connected via wifi. So where would we be now if these devices had never came to market?

    BTW I am loving my Gear and it does everything as specified.

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