Early reaction to Samsung's new Galaxy Gear smartwatch, announced Wednesday in Berlin, was decidedly downbeat if not downright negative.
Several analysts said that a $299 pricetag for the smartwatch alone is too expensive. They also objected to Samsung's requirement of pairing the smartwatch with a newer Samsung device via Bluetooth 4.0. Those compatible devices include the new Galaxy Note 3, a 5.7-in. phablet announced Wednesday, which could add an additional $150 to $200 to the total cost.
The Gear device can act as a voice dialer by using the Bluetooth connection, has a 1.9 megapixel camera and can run dozens of modified Android apps on its 1.6-in. Super AMOLED touchscreen. However, analysts were disappointed that the watch is missing a key element seen as vital in emerging smartwatch technology: It lacks biometric sensors that could be used to monitor heart rate, respiration and other body functions deployed in other wearable fitness devices.
"How much will people really be willing to pay for such limited use?" asked Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates.
"Samsung is pursuing a spaghetti-on-the-wall product strategy: Launch a smartwatch and maybe it will stick," said Forrester analyst Sarah Rotman Epps in an email and a blog. "Maybe Samsung will tap into unmet demand with this product, disproving naysayers as it did with the Galaxy Note, which succeeded after many 5-in. competitors failed — from the Sony Milo to the Dell Streak," Rotman Epps added.
Still, she not only dismissed the new Gear, but the entire smartwatch category: "My bet is that smartwatches are sci-fi inventions that are already anachronisms in this modern world."
Gartner analyst Carolina Milanesi had similar worries.
"I was expecting more sensors and more focus on fitness from Samsung," Milanesi said. "The price is high for what the device does. Overall, I think this is more an overpriced toy than a device that really drives value to consumers."
There were some voices of praise. Independent analyst Jeff Kagan said that linking the Gear with the Note 3 via Bluetooth and the newly announced Galaxy Note 10.1 tablet "is another step into the future. Customers should love this." Samsung said a software upgrade will also allow the Gear to pair with the Galaxy S 4 smartphone and eventually other Samsung devices.
Several U.S. carriers are expected to carry the Note 3 and Gear in October, but they have not announced a date or final pricing.
Kagan said Samsung continues to "push the innovation envelope" and predicted that the Gear will be as popular as its Galaxy smartphones and tablets. "Samsung beat Apple to the punch," he noted. Apple is expected to unveil its iWatch smartwatch as soon as next week.
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