Monday, 18 November 2013

The Samsung Galaxy Gear Review

I've spent a while with the Galaxy Gear, and lived with the product. Below is a review of the best and worst of the first Samsung smartwatch.

When early forms of technology are released, it’s always fun to look back in hindsight at the cumbersome, and clumsy look of it. The first camera phone for example – it attached to the bottom of the phone and had to be carried in a separate bag. I thought it would be the same for the Gear, that fitting such technology into a sleek watch was going to be impossible, but Samsung have done a good job on it.

The Samsung Galaxy Gear smartwatch - actually quite a masterpiece

The Galaxy Gear is made from a rubber strap, and stainless steel casing for a 1.63” AMOLED screen. It’s sleek, and doesn’t protrude extensively from the wrist. The materials are solid and certainly don’t feel cheap (even the rubber wristband). Granted, there’s always concerned about scratching the screen, but the opportunity for that to happen has arisen several times and the watch has stayed firm.

The Galaxy Gear doesn't extensively protrude from the wrist

Aesthetically, there is no problem for men, but there might be an issue with size for women. The Gear has attracted positive attention from onlookers and all of which wouldn’t mind strapping it to their wrists. I’ve been wearing the Gear for about a month now and haven’t been frustrated by its size or design, which is a great compliment to the job Samsung have done on it.

Setting up the Gear is a fairly cumbersome process for the moment. The Gear Manager app is only available in the Samsung App Store, and when downloaded and linked via Bluetooth, the user needs to go onto Samsung Apps via the Gear Manager app to download the apps desired. However, after this set-up, the Galaxy Gear and Note 3 synced beautifully and flawlessly. This was one of the most impressive features for me. Phone calls, notifications, photo transfer, are all immediate and easy to use. The range is a standard Bluetooth v4.0, with a distance of a good 10-15 metres.

The Galaxy Gear boasts an impressive engine for a smartwatch, with an 800mhz processor, supported by 512 MB of RAM and a 4GB internal memory. I’ve used the Gear for over a week and haven’t experienced a split-second of lag which is hugely impressive. Lifting your wrist to look at your watch turns on the clock face (which flicks on after a split-second), or there is a power button on the slide of the screen.
The battery supports two days of regular use which doesn’t sound great, but when you consider that a watch is usually removed overnight, the user might as well put it on charge, right? Therefore, I didn’t find the charging issue especially problematic. It’s an easy set-up for charging where the Gear fits into a small hold, which then plugs into a micro-USB to charge. One thing to note however, is that when the battery does die, it renders the whole product utterly useless. A power-saving mode that only allows the watch feature, would be a move in the correct direction.

The Galaxy Gear has been packed full of features, but there are a few to highlight:
  • Call rejection: If your phone is ringing then you can glance at the caller ID on the Galaxy Gear and decide whether to swipe to accept/decline the call. If you swipe to decline, then you’re presented with an series of choices for an auto-response text to the caller. For example, ‘Just in a meeting, will call you after’. These template responses can be customised.
  • Safety assistance: This is one of those features that hasn’t been shouted about because it’s not particularly glamorous, but in case of an emergency, the user can press the power button 3 times to send their location information to their saved contacts with message.
  • S Voice: Samsung’s answer to Siri is very accurate on the Galaxy Gear, and it needs to be given that there isn’t a keyboard to use. There are plenty of functions to the voice commands, including opening apps, responding to messages and calling contacts. When away from too much background noise, this is particularly effective, and for once, actually quite useful.
  • Find My Phone: Another simple but brilliant app is Find My Phone. Just a couple of taps on your smartwatch sets your phone ringing - even if it's on silent. For those that often can't find their phone around the house, this is very useful. 

On top of these, the contacts app works well, dragging over all contacts from the Note 3, onto the smartwatch allowing for quick calls. If you want to dial, then this can be done on a rather fiddly keypad brought onto the screen by swiping upwards from the clockface. S Voice instructions work well to dicatate a call recipient as well, as long as there is limited background noise.
On a media and entertainment front, the gallery is simple, but effective and displays both images and video. To transfer these to your phone takes a second to tap a button in the top right and selecting ‘Transfer’. Before you’ve looked at your phone, it will be there. Another nice addition is the Media Controller that allows users to control the music volume on their phone, and switch between tracks.

Music and entertainment controlling 

Finally, the watch has a pedometer tucked away that tracks steps taken, distance moved and calories burnt. It’s a nice addition, and appears to be accurate.

Without doubt, the Galaxy Gear will live or die based on the apps that are modified for the device, and ones created specifically for it. Currently, there are less that 30 apps available on the Samsung Galaxy Gear store, and quite plainly these are not enough. The key areas are covered, but not particularly well. There are unofficial Twitter and Facebook apps, as there is with Foursquare, but none of these are great. The syncing takes too long and they don't retain offline data, which renders the apps fairly obsolete. Not only that, official notifications from Facebook, Twitter and Gmail offer a button to ‘View on your device’ which is frankly a little pointless. These are sure to be developed further, and if upgraded correctly, would significantly enhance the experience of the Galaxy Gear.
Whilst the social networks aren't yet to be well represented, there are some positives with the apps:
  • Pocket: One of my favourite apps has gone up another notch in my reckoning by adapting their service to smartwatch. Before you ask - no you don't walk around reading articles on your watch, instead, articles are read to you on hands-free or out loud. It's not perfect as the voice is too robotic and articles don't always read that smoothly, but it's an intriguing development and one that makes sense for the smartwatch.

  • Snapchat: If ever a device was ready-made for Snapchat, it’s the Galaxy Gear. Okay, you can’t draw on the images, but the essence of what is brilliant about the platform is retained.
  • The clock faces: There are a range of different watch faces for the Galaxy Gear, and weirdly, this is a great addition. It has become ‘thing’ for me to change the clock face every couple of days.
A simple downwards swipe from the clock face brings up the camera, and after touching the screen to take the picture, a swipe to the left brings up the gallery. However, this is where looking at a spec is simply not enough. When I saw a 1.9mp camera, I thought back to the old days where I was taking very blurry images on my Sony Ericsson T630i. However, the Galaxy Gear camera was one of the most gobsmacking features on the Galaxy Gear. The pixel density is enough, but the most impressive part of the camera is the image stabilisation. I’ve taken over 50 photos on the Galaxy Gear and only when I’ve done my best to blur the image has it struggled, otherwise, it has been superb. I did have problems with when overexposed to light, as glare interfered with the photo but this was a minor issue.

The lens for a near-2mp camera

In an age where we’ve got Nokia’s Pureview 42mp camera, the Gear brings us back to the reality that snapping photos for sharing on social media (essentially most of what we do) doesn’t require that pixel density. I’m not saying the camera is perfect; it certainly isn’t flawless, but I’ve taken some photos of impressive quality on it, which is more than I expected to be honest. When taking the Gear out golfing, I came up with the following images. Quite impressive, eh.:

Overall, I’ve been extremely impressed with the technology behind the Galaxy Gear. Looking away from the purpose it has in everyday life (find out what it has been like to live with the Galaxy Gear, here) this is a strong showing from Samsung. The best part of the Galaxy Gear is that it’s only going to get better. Once the app store has been developed, the smartwatch will become instantly more integrated in the lives of the owners, and in turn more appealing to those purchasing.
The Galaxy Gear has just been made compatible with a host of Samsung devices; Note 3, S4, S3, Note 2 and the Note 10.1, the S4 Mini, S4 Active, Mega 5.8/6.3 and the S4 Zoom. These will become available through an Android 4.3 update. Whilst this will be a blow to those who fancy giving the Galaxy Gear a go, but have a different Android handset, there are plans in the pipeline to open it out to other manufacturers.

If you’re interested in purchasing the Galaxy Gear and Note 3, head over here.


  1. Smartwatches are really cool gadgets. In 2013 few smartphone manufacturers had launched smartphones like Samsung, Sony etc. These watches gives the ability to do much more apart from telling time such as emails, messages, social updates and calls. Samsung Galaxy Gear smartwatch comes with 1.9 MP camera which is really cool. But Samsung Galaxy Gear Smartwatch is compatible with only Galaxy 4 and note 3. Soon smartphones fans will able to buy smartwatches which will be compatible with all smartphones.

  2. I love it, it's great. I am thinking of getting one. What I don't know is if is this possible to download whatsapp or not. I use the watsapp a lot.

    1. Sorry for the slow response, Halman. Unfortunately not possible for the first Galaxy Gear, but it is possible on the Sony Smartwatch 2 and other new devices. Have you got a smartwatch?