Hands-on Samsung Galaxy Gear review: Killing time with the new smartwatch
The age of wearable technology is well and truly upon us. First there was Google Glass, then the Sony Smartwatch, and of course the Pebble SmartWatch. Now there is the Samsung Galaxy Gear. We go hands-on to find out if this wearable tech train is showing signs of stopping or just speeding up.
The Samsung Galaxy Gear doesn't scrimp on design like some of its more plastic smartphone family members. It's slim and sleek, sits comfortably and thanks to the stainless steel and six colour options it should go with whatever you're wearing. The Memographer camera sits seamlessly into the rubberised strap and is completely comfortable.
Multiple face options mean you can personalise it, although we found our favourite early on and imagine we'd rarely change it. Perhaps if third-party faces are available too that decision may change.
Despite the 800MHz processor and 1.63-inch Super AMOLED (320x320) screen, it feels modern, fast and capable. Apps like Evernote, eBay, Spotify and location sharing Glympse run quickly and simply. This could be a great new platform for more mobile specific apps - it's as exciting a prospect for app development as the iPad was for mobile gaming.
The UI is simple. A gentle swipe takes you into a new section. Back require a down swipe. Once you've worked it out you'll be doing it all without thinking, thanks to how simple it's been made.
Out of pocket
The main reason for a watch that complements your smartphone is to save the hassle of constantly taking out your phone, unlocking it and dealing with it before locking and putting it back. The Galaxy Gear will display clearly any alerts that may be of interest, at a glance. That means phone calls, texts, emails, and even social media alerts that can be easily ignored at a touch, or accepted.
A nice touch is the Smart Relay feature: when you want to read a message in detail you only have to slide out your Samsung Galaxy device and the full message will automatically be displayed on screen. The watch differentiates between message types and shows who they're from so you can pick and choose - ideal if you're expecting an important message but are too busy to see anything else.
Another great touch, that any decent smartwatch should have, is a microphone and speaker that allows you to make calls. We loved this as it brought to life a dream we've had since the early days of James Bond. Yup, to talk when being called you simply raise the watch to your ear to chat.
You can also draft messages, create calendar entries, set alarms and check the weather all with your voice. Despite the noise in the testing room this actually worked well. Although unless you're in a private place we can't see this getting much use in the real world.
In a flash
Capturing a moment on camera is often more important that capturing it perfectly and at high quality. So having an, admittedly measly, 1.9-megapixel snapper, called Memographer, on your wrist is better than rifling around in your pocket to unlock your smartphone camera. In the testing room lighting shows that the camera does a decent enough job even without daylight. Ideal, for example, if you want to capture a funny moment you spot while out running. It does video too which works well enough for a Snapchat or Vine - ideal for these in fact.
The camera sits comfortably facing out so you don't have to twist your wrist too much. It's also easily accessible with a simple down swipe then click to snap - near instant. And sharing is built-in so you can send within seconds.
Another great touch is the ability to snap a sign and have Gear search more information about what you've snapped. Although we couldn't test that feature on the show floor, we've visions of snapping wine bottle labels, interesting-looking books and all sorts of other things.
Another way to capture things more quickly is through Voice Memo, which does exactly what you'd imagine. Could this be the death of scribbled notes at last? If there's an app that converts your voice into a document this very well could be: app developers, take note.
A wristed development
Having a smart wristwatch that connects to your phone is a great security opportunity that Samsung has cashed in on. When you're more than 1.5m away from your phone the device will Auto Lock, only to open again when you're near. We like the battery saving potential of turning your screen off as well as the security benefit. And of course if you misplace your phone the watch will help you find it by making it beep, illuminate and vibrate. No more asking your mates to call if for you.
The ability to control your music from your wrist is going to be well loved. We're already gagging to take this out for a run to see how easy it is to change tracks and volume without needing to touch a phone. You can even do this when the phone isn't in range. And yes, it even works with Spotify.
The Galaxy Gear also acts as a pedometer. Like many wrist-worn step counters it seems pretty accurate delivering calories burnt, steps taken and distance covered. Ideal for indoor tracking where GPS can't go. And since it works with MyFitnessPal and RunKeeper, tracking your entire training regime should be easy.
If you're considering joining the wearable tech movement, you like to go on runs, and find yourself without free hands to type, this is for you. It seems like a small thing but the convenience of not taking your phone out of your pocket shouldn't be underestimated. We've only had it for a short while and already going back to swiping our phone to change music tracks seems like a chore. And with a 25-hour battery it should last the day at least - assuming that's an accurate figure from Samsung.
The Samsung Galaxy Gear will be on sale from 25 September. Pricing has yet to be announced.