Samsung's Galaxy Gear, the smartwatch that has been rumored for about half as long as Apple's iWatch. The company announced it today, and the biggest thing I get from it is that it should have been called the Galaxy Fear.
Samsung Galaxy Gear Smartwatch
Specs and Features
First, the low-down. It's a smartwatch. A ginormous smartwatch. And don't get me wrong, I like big watches. It's not the surface area that I have an issue with, but rather the thickness. It's 11.1mm thick, 3.7mm thicker than the iPhone 5.
It doesn't look too thick in the product shots above, but if you look at the hands-on images and videos of this thing, it is ungainly, awkward, and grossly fat. The Verge has a nice gallery of hands-on pics.
It has 4GB of storage and 512MB of RAM. It features an accelerometer, a gyroscope, Bluetooth v 4.0 ＋ BLE, two microphones (one for noise cancellation), one speaker, a 1.63 inch display (41.4mm) with an impressive resolution of 320 x 320, and that tumor on the wristband is a camera capable of taking 720p videos.
It's running Android 4.3 Jelly Bean, and it interfaces with the Galaxy Note 3, the Galaxy Tab 10.1 (2014 edition), and there are software updates coming for the popular Galaxy S3 and Galaxy S4 smartphones to make it compatible.
You can place and take phones calls from your companion device, though (curiously) the speaker doesn't play music.
It runs apps developed specifically for it—there will be 70 of them when the device launches in October, and it will be priced at US$299. You can only put 10 of them on any given device, however.
Just Say No
That camera symbolizes the difference between Apple and Samsung. The late Steve Jobs, Sir Jonathan Ive, and current CEO Tim Cook have all spoken about the importance of saying "No," that what you say "No" to is more important than what you say "Yes" to.
This camera is ungainly—it's on the wrist. It's ugly. It looks like a tumor sticking out of the side of the thing. That was even more the case in the hands-on videos I watched. It's an example of putting a feature on a device because you can rather than because you should.
Galaxy Gear's Camera
Being on the wrist, I imagine one could take a very stable video when holding your arm against your body, but no one is actually going to do so.
Someone should have said no to this camera.
And those screws? Here's one of my favorite watches, Edition 12 from Jörg Schauer. It has screws, but they're awesome.
Edition 12 by Jörg Schauer
There are several high end watches with screws in the bezel, but the screws in the Galaxy Gear make it look unfinished, hackneyed. In the videos, I thought the screws looked even worse, but enough about the screws.
Galaxy Gear Front
Yes, It's Possible to Be Reactionary When You're First to Market
The race to get a smartwatch out on the market before Apple's rumored iWatch hits (I expect it in 2014) is fascinating. That's why I think this thing should have been called the Galaxy Fear—it makes me think Samsung is desperate to beat Apple to market.
Worse, it makes me think Samsung believes that doing so, that beating Apple to market, will cause us to think it's not a reactionary device. That said, I've already seen phandroids out there claiming just that, but that's par for the course for that lot.
If anything, the Galaxy Gear is proof of the opposite, that Samsung does its best work when it has Apple to copy from. To that end, Samsung should have waited to see the iWatch before unveiling the Galaxy Gear. We all know that the first post-iWatch version of the Galaxy Gear will hew far more closely to the iWatch than this rushed-to-market device. Why highlight that fact by releasing a convenient before-and-after comparison?
Some Things I Like
I like the overall design aesthetic of the Galaxy Gear—it should have fewer features so it could be thinner, but I can see this device evolving into something much more attractive. I like the colors, too. Especially the orange.
I also like several of the watch faces. Engadget posted an image of an orange face with the orange band, and I think it looks terrific. The font is excellent, and I'm totally OK with Samsung going with a thin font when Apple is doing the same thing with iOS 7. The problem is that you don't need a Galaxy Gear to get a great watch face.
I also love the deployment clasp on the Galaxy Gear. It's not only a classy touch, it's very practical. Deployment clasps are safer, more secure, and faster to fasten than a standard strap. I haven't tested the Galaxy Gear's deployment clasp, but it looks solid. I hope that Apple does something similar.
I haven't handled one myself, but in the hands-on video Engadget posted, it struck me that many of the gesture controls are sloooooow. That is the sort of thing that will result in hordes of Galaxy Gears heading for a dresser drawer to live out the rest of their lonely days.
The Verge commented on this, too, noting, "There's a tangible lag to anything you do with the Gear, while the swipe gestures are hard to figure out and do different things depending on where you are in the menus."
This is going to end up hurting Samsung, and I suspect it will become the butt of jokes, and some of them should be on the late night talk shows. Watching Engadget's Zach Honig struggle to activate S Voice was painful, the kind of painful that will ensure no one does it more than once or twice.
The Galaxy Gear won't sell well, plain and simple. It's an early-generation device released by a company desperate to be taken seriously as innovators, but it only serves to prove it takes more to innovate than packing features into a device.
Devices like Pebble are far more interesting than the Galaxy Gear, even though—or because—it does less.