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Samsung jumps on smartwatch bandwagon with Galaxy Gear

Amber Bouman | Sept. 5, 2013
Samsung, it seems, doesn't believe in cultivating an air of mystery for its product launches. The Galaxy Note III and long-hinted-at Galaxy Gear smartwatch will both be unveiled just ahead of the IFA Berlin trade show.

On the software side, the Galaxy Gear runs a modified version of Android and syncs to compatible Android devices via a Galaxy Gear Manager interface. The Galaxy Gear will come preloaded with a number of apps, including Evernote, Path (a social network), Glympse (location sharing), Pocket (a "save for later" service), Line (a messaging service), and two fitness apps--MyFitnessPal and RunKeeper. More apps can be downloaded through the Gear app store, confirming rumors that Samsung would be eschewing the Google Play store.

To take photos with the Gear, you simply aim and swipe the screen. While 1.9 megapixels won't get you too far as far as "real" photography, they will facilitate what Samsung is calling "memography"--quick, spur-of-the-moment image capture. And, hey, who are we to turn our noses up at a camera inside a watch strap? Let alone one that captures images in a single gesture.

Pictures can be transferred automatically to a smartphone with Bluetooth 4.0 BLE. The Gear itself also features an image browser so you can see some of the pictures you've taken (as well as any you've transferred to the watch from the smartphone). And the camera doesn't just take pictures--it also has augmented reality features that can translate foreign languages into your mother tongue, and provide more detailed information about a product you're looking at.

"We want the possibilities of what you do with your Gear to be endless," said Pranav Mistry, Samsung's director of research, at the Berlin event.

There's not nearly as much fitness integration as was rumored. Still, the Gear does include a built-in pedometer to provide data to compatible fitness apps. Samsung has already dipped its toes into the fit tech trend with S-Health, so it's surprising it didn't announce any compatibility with this feature.

While the Gear will be available in six colors, it's not as durable as you'd expect for a device that sits on your wrist. It's rated IP55, which means it can withstand dust and water jets for a few minutes. Sony's recently announced SmartWatch 2 is rated IP57, meaning it can withstand submersion in up to a meter of water for 30 minutes.

In all, the Galaxy Gear looks to be a great companion for a crazy-large, 5.3-inch, phone-tablet hybrid. The smartwatch itself is launching in the U.S. in October, and compatibility with other Samsung devices is also scheduled for October. But that extended support can't come soon enough. The Note line has been a surprising success for Samsung, but the Galaxy S3 and S4 smartphones are the company's mainstays, and they give the Gear its best chance of becoming a legitimate smartwatch "thing."


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