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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?

Maybe this is why Samsung didn't include email functions. And maybe this is why Facebook, Twitter and Instagram aren't Gear launch partners. A crappy app experience is almost always worse than no app experience at all. Nonetheless, a handful of third-party developers have decided to throw down, and their apps (which can only be downloaded from Samsung's Gear Manager utility) range from meh to categorically lame.

Take Tweet Quickview, an app that let's you read (but not send) tweets. The UI is crowded to the point of absurdity, and all embedded links are visible but not clickable. Or take Speedometer, an app that hooks into your phone's GPS to report your walking or running speed over time and distance. It sounds good in theory, but do you really want to go jogging with a Galaxy Note 3 strapped to your arm? And because the Gear can't multitask, you can't have Speedometer running in the background while using other apps.

Then there's Vivino. Open the app and snap a photo of a wine bottle label. If the label is in Vivino's database, you'll get a crowdsourced review rating, and information on food pairings. Sounds wonderful, right? Unfortunately, it misidentified two thirds of the labels I scanned.

Paradoxically, the one third-party download that didn't disappoint me is SnapChat, an app I never use with my everyday smartphone. It works just as advertised on Samsung's watch, though it's missing a critical SnapChat function: Because of the positioning of the camera on the watch band, it's essentially impossible to take selfies! But maybe that's OK, because I don't think that many teenage girls will be dropping $300 on this particular smartwatch anyhow.

Bottom line
Before the Gear launched, I was convinced I needed a smartwatch. But now that it's here, I'm changing my story. Every time the Gear promised me something wonderful, it let me down with compromises.

Want a beautiful screen and enough processing power to run apps? No problem. But you'll need to suffer poor battery life in return. Want to make calls without using your phone? We got you covered. But you'll have difficulty dialing contacts, and hearing callers once they're finally on the line. Want to take some photos with your watch? You can do that too. You just won't be able to take very many images, and sharing them with friends will be a chore.

And the final insult? That dizzying $300 price tag—and that's after you buy the new Galaxy Note 3. Jeez, really? Suddenly fishing my smartphone from my pants pockets a bazillion times a day doesn't seem so bad.


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