Review: Capable - but imperfect - Samsung Galaxy Gear not for everyone

Posted by Matthew Fortner on January 25, 2014 

The Samsung Galaxy Gear may not have been a sales or a critical hit, but it has not needed to be yet. Samsung’s smartwatch became a popular punching bag for many technology enthusiasts, but the technology giant seems to be committed in the emerging battleground for wearable technology.

It was ultimately the Galaxy Gear's ambition that drew so much criticism.

Laden with features and capabilities, the Gear is arguably too complicated—but that is in line with the maker’s modus operandi.

Samsung devices can be manipulated with various magical gestures and secret handshakes—as long as you can remember them. This approach understandably appeals to a lot of users and is a direct challenge to Apple’s typically simpler product strategy.

When the Gear launched, I was among many with doubts about a $300 smartwatch that had essentially one day of battery life and that worked with a very limited number of devices.

After the dust settled from the initial media beating, I took AT&T up on a Galaxy Gear review unit paired with a Galaxy Note 3. The worst case scenario was having more time with the Note 3, which is a good thing.

The reviews have been out there for a while now, and long story short, the Gear lived up to the well-documented shortcomings—at first, but it got better.

Most of the complaints around the Gear stem from that it can do so much, but just doesn’t blow your mind doing any one thing.

Yes, you can make and take calls with the Gear. The audio is of decent quality, but the volume limits it in noisy environments.

The camera captures decent images and video for what it is, but pulling your smartphone from your pocket to take photos is far more satisfying,

The design is attractive enough, though not everyone is fond of the plastic wrist-strap. It is not petite, nor is it uncomfortable. The steel and sapphire glass construction is impressive.

A firmware update made the Gear much more useful.

Before, Google Hangouts notifications, for example, would prompt you with an annoying “see device” message rather than any details of the message. The update also significantly improved battery life from one day to two days.

No doubt the Galaxy Gear is a niche device rather than a “must have” gadget. It is essentially a Samsung beta for wearable technology in the real world.

Samsung is expected to launch the next iteration of its smartwatch this spring with its Galaxy S5 smartphone.

What might a Galaxy Gear 2 be like?

Samsung has indicated its next smartwatch will be slimmer and have more health-oriented functionality baked-in. Expect continued support for third-party apps as well.

Improved battery performance and a more elegant charging solution over the current cradle would go a long way.

Might Samsung use its curved display technology?

Will the Gear 2 continue or break the dependency on Samsung devices to pair with?

The bottom line on the Gear is that it appeals to early adopters who appreciate it's capabilities with the limitations of the device. The smartwatch market looks as if it could become a crowded space this year. Although the Galaxy Gear clearly did not please everyone, Samsung has no doubt been sharpening its teeth for the next Gear. We may see Samsung become one of the primary engines driving wearable technology development.

Side Note: AT&T Samsung Galaxy Gear 3

This stretch with AT&T's Galaxy Note 3 is the second round and the more time I spend with it, the more I like it.

The great looking 5.7-inch, 1080p display offers 386 pixels-per-inch. The S Pen and S Pen software improvements added a lot of functionality for note taking.

The 13-megapixel camera is among the top performers.

The loudspeaker remains clear even at higher volume levels and battery life easily exceeds a day of even heavy use.

Go for it if...
...size really does matter to you
...handwriting recognition and other S Pen magic can work for you.
...you want to run two apps on the screen simultaneously.
...you will spring for the Galaxy Gear Watch.
...you want to add your own microSD card.

Not for you if...
...you think less is more.
...you’re going to complain about it not fitting in your pocket.

Wrap up
It's a niche device too large for some. Others may find the $350 price also too large. The dazzling 5.7-inch display is large enough to purge my urge to grab my Nexus 7 so it really can play the dual roles of a smartphone and a small tablet. The S Pen is what sets the Galaxy Note 3 Apart from the super-sized competition, but Samsung has honed the Galaxy Note 3 into the best of the biggest smartphones.

What can you do with S Pen?

    • - S Finder: Search for keywords in items on your phone, such as emails, text messages and files.
    • - Scrapbook: Keep track of what catches your eye. Clip images with the S Pen and pin them to a virtual bulletin board.
    • - Action Memo™: Take handwritten notes with the S Pen, then compose emails or text messages by turning your handwriting into text.
    • - Screen Write: Capture screenshots, add your annotations and save or share them with others.
    • - Multi Window: Overlay and resize a floating app over another app, so you could watch a YouTube™ video without leaving the webpage you are reading.

Specifications
Display
      • 5.7” full HD Super AMOLED Corning® Gorilla® Glass 3 Touch Screen Display
Dimensions
      • 5.95” (H) x 3.12” (W) x .33” (D) inches
      • Weight: 5.93 oz.
Network
      • LTE, CDMA/1xEVDO Rev. A (800/1900 MHz)
      • Global Network: EDGE/GSM (850/900/1800/1900), HSPA/UMTS(850/900/1900/2100)
Operating System
      • Android 4.3 (Jelly Bean) & TouchWiz
Memory / Processor
      • Processor: 2.3 GHz Quad Core
      • Memory: 32GB on board memory + 3GB RAM (actual formatted capacity is less)
      • Supports up to 64GB microSD Card (sold separately)
Keyboard
      • Virtual QWERTY Keyboard with Swype
Battery
    • Standard 3200 mAh Lithium Ion Battery
    • Usage: Up to 24 hours
    • Standby Time: Up to 21 days

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