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Samsung Galaxy Gear: Meet the smartwatch that simply tries too hard

Jon Phillips | Oct. 2, 2013
Is Samsung making a serious run at the smartwatch market, or is the Gear just a clumsy experiment?

Shake and wake (in theory)

IMAGE: JON PHILLIPS. Samsung's S Voice feature lets you use the Gear for hands-free access to various phone functions. In theory.  

The Gear features a 1.63-inch, 320-by-320 Super AMOLED display and a single-core, 800MHz processor. The display is too small to support an onscreen keyboard, so all data entry (if we can call it that) is handled by S Voice, Samsung's virtual digital assistant. With simple voice recognition commands, you can do things like check the weather, schedule a meeting, and get the time in another city. When the feature works, it's a pleasant convenience. But it didn't consistently recognize my very... carefully... enunciated... words. Google Now on my HTC One performs more reliably, and every time S Voice failed me, I lost confidence in its overall ability to perform.

Battery life is rated for a stingy 25 hours, but I found it reached its low battery warning message (which kicks in at 15 percent capacity) after about 11 hours of moderate use, two days in a row. Mind you, I wasn't using the Gear continuously. Instead, a few times every hour I briefly shot some photos, sent some texts, explored a few apps, and made some phone calls.

It's worth noting that when a smartwatch runs out of juice, you don't just lose smart functions. Your display dies, and you lose the ability to even tell time. At this point, you really need to appreciate the shiny brushed metal, because you're wearing nothing more than an expensive bracelet.

The Gear's touch screen display remains off by default, but thanks to a built-in accelerometer and gyroscope, you can (theoretically) wake it from sleep with a shake of your hand, or by simply turning your wrist and looking at the watch face. Shaking the watch almost never cajoled the display into action. The wrist-flip maneuver was much more reliable, but not consistently perfect. During testing, I often had to suffer the indignity of waking the Gear by pushing its home button. Yuck.

Regardless, once the device is ready for business, you can swipe the home screen left and right to access various functions. There's a voice memo app for five-minute audio recordings; a media controller for whatever music app you're using on your phone; a pedometer (whose step counts can be viewed in real-time, and appeared entirely accurate); and menus for Contacts, Settings and Apps, among other less glamorous features.

Your home screen can be customized with scads of different clock faces, some built into the watch, and some downloadable via your phone's Gear Manager utility. The faces range from traditional analog designs to modern digital styles, and the best ones integrate app shortcuts. For example, the "Weather clock" connects with your phone's location services to show the current temperature. Tapping on the temperature kicks you into the pre-installed AccuWeather app for a six-day forecast. But I chose the "Shortcut clock," which lets you pin three different apps to the home screen.

 

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