Tech giant Samsung released the Galaxy Gear "smartwatch" today. It's the first to market among a number of smartwatch products that are being developed by companies like Apple, Microsoft and Google.
While it's the first, and has a number of interesting features, it also has limited appeal. Mostly to consumers who are interested in monitoring their health and fitness.
First, let's look at the specs and features. The Galaxy Gear will connect to selected Samsung devices, take pictures, run apps and count your steps. All that and tell the time, too.
The Gear features a 1.63-inch display. It's stainless steel and comes in six colors, but only one blocky design. So it's unlikely to become a favorite of fashionistas.
While the Android-powered Gear can do many things on its own, it's really intended to complement a smartphone. Actually, for now, it'll pair with only one smartphone: the new Galaxy Note 3, which Samsung also unveiled today. The original Galaxy Note models, despite being a bit odd -- they use a stylus and are large enough to warrant the "phablet" label -- sold well. So there will be at least a potential initial market for the Gear. It's possible the two devices may be sold as a bundle.
The Galaxy Gear will be available in some countries by Sept. 25, and worldwide sometime in October, Samsung said.
So, will people buy the Gear? That depends on how much it costs, how easy it really is to use and how well it works in the real world. So far, all of these things are unknown.
Several Gear features do sound interesting, if a bit problematic.
For instance, you can point your wrist and do a quick swipe and a tap to take a photo with the Gear, and then tap again to quickly tag that photo so you remember what you were shooting and why. That beats the multi-step smartphone process to achieve a similar result. And you won't drop your smartwatch in the pool when you take that killer photo of your kid's swim meet.
Similarly, you can raise your wrist to your ear to initiate or answer a phone call, and then move your hands around while you continue to talk. Which is useful as long as you don't mind being on speakerphone. And as long as the Gear's microphone and speakers work well enough so you don't have to keep repeating yourself. And as long as you're not swatting mosquitoes, pulling up your jacket hood, or putting your hand under your head while you sleep.
You also can dictate text messages to your Gear, speak the recipient’s name, and tell it to send the message. Which sounds cool -- but speech-to-text on most high-end Samsung phones almost always needs close proofing and editing. Samsung didn’t demo how you correct typos on the Gear. But Gear users probably will quickly get used to whipping out their phone when the first draft of a spoken text message inevitably goes awry.
Right now, the best use case for the Gear probably is for fitness. It comes with fitness-related apps (as well as other apps, such as Evernote) baked right in. And it includes a pedometer as well as an accelerometer and GPS. But if you're planning to swim, sweat or be out in the rain while wearing the Gear, you might want to wait for reviews about how waterproof it really is.
Samsung claims the Gear's battery lasts more than 25 hours, but the company neglected to mention whether this represents full-on use time or when it's just sitting on your wrist, looking chunky. And Samsung didn't say how you charge it. Or, for that matter, how you reboot it.
Perhaps the biggest letdown is that the Gear's camera is a mere a 1.9 megapixels. This weekend, leaked info claimed the Gear would have a 4 megapixel camera. Oh well, you can't have everything. But then, Dick Tracy couldn't monitor his health with his smartwatch, could he?