Samsung Galaxy Gear Smartwatch User Review

*This is a review of a loaned device from Samsung Malaysia*

Few days back, I just posted my full review of the Samsung Galaxy Note 3, the latest phablet in Samsung’s highly popular (it sold over 10 million units in 2 months) S Pen stylus based large screen smartphone. With the launch of this new Note 3, Samsung also announced a companion device, their first attempt at a smartwatch, the Samsung Galaxy Gear.

The Galaxy Gear is actually build and designed for use with the Note 3 and Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 2014 edition, which was launched together. In the last couple of months, Samsung slowly started adding compatibility with more Samsung devices namely Samsung Galaxy S4 (as mentioned in their FAQ here) for now. They’ll be adding support for more Samsung devices soon and (hopefully) other Android devices too.

Thanks to Samsung Malaysia, they arranged for me to review both the Note 3 and Galaxy Gear together. So I was happy to get the full experience of the Galaxy Gear smartwatch for my review.

See Also : Samsung Galaxy Note 3 User Review

First, let’s do a quick rundown on the technical specs of the Galaxy Gear:-

  • 1.63″ Super AMOLED display (320 X 320)
  • 800 MHz Exynos processor
  • 4 GB internal memory + 512 MB RAM
  • 1.9 megapixel autofocus camera (720p video recording)
  • 111.1 mm thin, weighing only 73.8 grams
  • 315 mAh non-removable battery (up to 25 hours)
  • Connectivity : 2 microphones, 1 speaker,  Bluetooth 4.0, Accelerometer, Gyroscope
  • Build material : Textured leather back with stitching details
  • Available in 6 colours : Jet Black, Oatmeal Beige, Wild Orange, Rose Gold, Lime Green, Mocha Gray

For more info and detailed technical specs, check out the Samsung Galaxy Gear Product Page at http://www.samsung.com/my/consumer/mobile-devices/galaxy-gear/android-os/SM-V7000ZKAXME

 

Hardware, Design and Build Quality

Samsung Galaxy Gear - Unboxing
Unboxing Samsung Galaxy Gear

The box packaging for the Samsung Galaxy Gear is pretty much within the same theme as the recent flagship Samsung Galaxy series Android devices. The same wood grain-like design on a cardboard box, just like with Note 3 and even the S4.

Inside the box, there are little items – the Galaxy Gear smartwatch, 3-pin adapter charger with microUSB cable, dock/case for pairing and syncing (more on this later), user manual and warranties.

Samsung Galaxy Gear - Hardware 1
Hardware overview of the Samsung Galaxy Gear

As covered in my hands-on time with the Galaxy Gear during the Malaysian launch about 3 months ago, I still feel that the smartwatch has good build quality and the potential to be a really good wearable tech that I might use.

Samsung Galaxy Gear

The smartwatch is reminiscent of old Casio calculator watches back when I was a kid (yes, I am THAT old) in terms of size and feel. The 1.63″ screen is capacitive touchscreen, the strap comes in 6 colour option (I got the grey coloured one), with an adjustable strap buckle that has a 1.9 megapixel camera on one side. The buckle itself has a microphone / speaker for phone calls. Yes, the future is here!!!

Samsung Galaxy Gear dock / pair "case"
Samsung Galaxy Gear dock / pair “case”
Samsung Galaxy Gear - microUSB charging in dock
MicroUSB charging in dock
Samsung Galaxy Gear dock
Charging the Galaxy Gear

There’s a docking case that comes in the box, which I found out was used to hold the face of the Galaxy Gear smartwatch with a micro USB port for charging.

Once charged, I can power on the  Galaxy Gear with a small  Power On/Off button on the right side of the face.

I am one of those rare people who still wear watches. It’s so much a part of my wardrobe ensemble and I feel naked leaving the house without a watch. So, replacing my regular watch with this Galaxy Gear smartwatch was not a big deal.

But yes, it is quite a big watch for a small womanly wrist like mine. It does look better in a man’s wrist. It bothered me a little in the beginning, but after a couple of days, I got so used to the size that I barely noticed.

Sasmung Galaxy Gear & Galaxy Note 3 pairing
Pairing the Galaxy Gear with the Note 3

To start, you need to pair the Galaxy Gear with the Note 3. You do that by launching the “Gear Manager” app on your phone, ensure NFC is enabled, and you tap the back of the phone to the dock of the Galaxy Gear. It was almost instantaneous, you follow the instructions on the phone screen and before you know it, the 2 devices are paired and ready to go! Easy peasy.

See Also : Samsung Galaxy Note 3 and Galaxy Gear smartwatch Launched in Malaysia (with hands-on)(updated)

Samsung Galaxy Gear and Samsung Galaxy Note 3
Paired, setup done, and ready to go

There are several toggles and settings you can adjust, either on the Galaxy Gear smartwatch settings menu or on the Gear Manager app on the Note 3. Either way, there are also on screen instructions on the basic gestures, swipes and taps that you can do on the watchface of the Galaxy Gear for the different actions.

 

Software and Features

Samsung Galaxy Gear - UI
Menu and navigation of the Galaxy Gear

Here are some key features of the Samsung Galaxy Gear :-

  • Enhanced Communication
    • Notification alerts – view alerts on incoming calls, SMS, emails and alerts
    • Smart Relay – check your messages on your Galaxy Gear, pick up your Note 3 and continue reading the same message
    • Hands Free Call – a microphone on the buckle enables you take a phone call on yoru smartwatch, with your phone in your pocket/bag
    • S Voice – use voice activated command to draft messages, create new appointment, set alarms, check weather and more
    • Music control – using the smartwatch to browse, play and pause music playing on your Note 3
  • Classy Design
    • Simple design – rounded corners with aluminium finishing
    • Customise your watch face – pre-loaded with 10 clock options, with ability to download more
    • Colour options – available in 6 colours to suit your style and personality
  • Live in the Moment
    • Memographer – A 1.9 megapixel camera on your wrist to record photo / video and share them on social network
    • Voice Memo – Save voice recordings as audio or text notes
    • Pedometer – track your physical  activities with the built in sensor, like running, calories counter, etc
  • Safe and Secure
    • Auto Lock – locks the pairing of your Note 3 and Galaxy Gear, up to 1.5 metres apart
    • Find My Device – when you lose or misplace either device, it beeps, illuminates and vibrates
Samsung Galaxy Gear - Firmware Upgrade
Samsung Galaxy Gear – Firmware Upgrade

After a couple of days of use, I got notification alert that there’s a new firmware update for the Galaxy Gear. It made me happy to get the new update and nice to see the familiar Android robot while the devices was restarting after the software installation.

Galaxy Gear - Gear Manager
Gear Manager app on Note 3

You can toggle settings and download more apps for the Galaxy Gear from the Gear Manager app on your paired Note 3 smartphone. The pre-installed apps like S Voice, Pedometer, Stopwatch, Timer, etc are handy basics. Samsung has over 70 apps supported and counting, so you’d soon be getting more apps to make your smartwatch almost a mini smartphone on your wrist.

Samsung Galaxy Gear
Pre-installed apps are good, but you can always download more

One of the cooler features of the Galaxy Gear is the Smart Relay function. Basically, when you’re on a call on your smartwatch, you can take out your Note 3 smartphone from your pocket or handbag and transfer the call over to continue talking on the phone. Same with notification messages. You can see the preview and short messages alert on the smartwatch,  pick up your phone and read the full message and reply.

Samsung Galaxy Gear - in wrist
Accelerometer wakes up your screen when you raise your hand

The built in accelerometer wakes up the screen on the Galaxy Gear everytime you raise your hand. Screen shuts off after a period of inactive time, just like with your smartphones. Although it is very handy when you don’t have to press the Power On/Off button everytime you want to check the time, it can get annoying sometimes when the screen keeps coming on everytime you move your hands.

Or maybe I move my hands a bit too much. *flailing arms*

This caused me some problems, when occasionally I would accidentally touch the screen of the Galaxy Gear and activated some app or made a call to the last called number. Hmm… Maybe this thing needs a lockscreen?

 

Microphone and Speaker Quality

Samsung Galaxy Gear - speakerphone
Buckle as speakerphone

Just like you’ve seen multiple times on old sci-fi movies, speaking to your smartwatch on your wrist is now reality. The Dick Tracy, Knight Rider and Jetsons references are all true.

One of the very first thing I did when I got the Galaxy Gear all setup and paired with the Note 3 was to run into another room and call my husband in the living room to test the audio quality of the speakerphone.

Good news – the other party can hear me loud and clear, almost like a handsfree Bluetooth call, but not soft or distorted or bad.

Bad news – on my end, the speaker wasn’t very loud at all. If you’re in a quiet room, the call volume is fine. If you were in a noisy, outdoor place, youd struggle a little. Likely holding the wrist very close to your ear.

In that weird smartwatch to your mouth and ear position, but you can always make it look casual if it’s a long conversation, by perhaps stroking your hair, scratching your head… and in my case, playing with my earring. Haha.

 

Camera

Samsung Galaxy Gear - Taking pictures
Taking pictures with your watch

You can activate the camera on Galaxy Gear by just swiping down on the screen. Quick one flick gesture, no need to hunt for the Camera app with multiple swipes and taps.

This can be a positive or negative feature to build a camera lens into the smartwatch strap. It is certainly handy when you are caught in a moment that you’d want to quickly snap a picture, but might lose the moment by the time you scramble to get your phone out, unlock your phone, launch the Camera app and snap the picture. With just that swipe down gesture on the Galaxy Gear, it makes it so much easier.

However, many are concerned about potential spy shots and having people take pictures (or videos) of you without your knowledge. The good news is, the camera shutter sound is still audible on the Galaxy Gear. So, you’d hear when someone has snapped a picture. The bad news is, if the person was taking a video with their Galaxy Gear smartwatch, there’s no sound so you’d feel a little violated. Yeah.

Samsung Galaxy Gear - Gallery
Browse pictures and videos with the Galaxy Gear Gallery app

The great thing about taking pictures with the Galaxy Gear is the ability to view the photos using the Galaxy Gear’s Gallery app. Best part – the pictures you took on the Gear is automatically synced to your paired smartphone. As soon as the image is snapped, I can open the Gallery app on the Note 3 and continue to view the pictures on a bigger screen there. AWESOME!

Here are some pictures taken with the camera on the Samsung Galaxy Gear. Pictures are unedited and not resized, so click to view enlarged version:-

Overall, picture quality from the 1.9 megapixel camera is not too bad. You’d think that pictures would likely come out horrible, but I was honestly pleasantly surprised. The images are of course in a square-ish resolution, rather than the traditional landscape orientation of 4:3 or widescreen 16:9. So, perfect for immediate posting to Instagram. Haha.

And here’s a spy video I snapped at a (ahem) HTC event.

 

Battery Life

Samsung Galaxy Gear - Battery Life
Samsung Galaxy Gear – Battery Life

Samsung states that the built in 315 mAH (obviously non-removable) battery can last you 25 hours of continuous use. There is some inconsistency here during my time reviewing the device.

Some days, I managed almost 2 days of use without having to recharge. Some days, it lasts exactly one full day of use, until I have to charge it when I go to bed.

Which is really not a big deal. I generally charge my phone every night anyways. This is just a matter of charging another device.

 

Pricing and Availability

Samsung Galaxy Gear and Samsung Galaxy Note 3

Samsung Galaxy Gear smartwatch is on sale at a Recommended Retail Price (RRP) of RM 999. But usually it’s bundled with the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 (RRP RM 2,399) at a discounted price, depending on the promotion.

See Also : Samsung Galaxy Note 3 User Review

 

Conclusion

Samsung Galaxy Gear

I am one of the few people (maybe because I’m a gadget geek) who would likely be an early adopter to all these new wearable tech like Google Glass, smartwatches and all. So, I really wanted to like the Samsung Galaxy Gear smartwatch.

Having said that, I agree with the general sentiment of the public, the Galaxy Gear seems too much like a 1st generation smartwatch. There are minimal apps that appeals to me at the moment. The fact that Gmail notifications wasn’t fully supported (which is now fixed with the new software update) and some of my go-to apps are also not supported… yet… hopefully.

In a sentence – I can’t find a true use-case for this Galaxy Gear smartwatch for the general public. What’s that one compelling reason for people to buy this, really?

I didn’t really use the Pedometer app much on the Galaxy Gear, I’m not a runner, and there’s really not that much function to justify this as a fitness watch. For easy photo taking, picture quality is not that good to justify this purchase. For easy calls without your phone, well, sound quality wasn’t great. So, really – I can’t really pinpoint a good reason for people to WANT to buy this now.

The other pain point is the fact that the smartwatch was a little too big for my wrist. Samsung came out with various “girlie” colours for the Galaxy Gear, but the size of this thing isn’t really dainty or fashionable for the females.

I would be an exception – the early adopter, gadget geek, who would buy toys like this, regardless if they’re really useful or not. 😛

I can’t wait for the new 2nd generation of the Galaxy Gear to be released. With so much review and feedback, I hope Samsung truly listened and make the next one much better. With their big budget Marketing initiatives and feature crazy product engineers, I’m certain that the next iteration of the Samsung Galaxy Gear will come with one (or 100) killer feature to make people want to part with close to RM 1,000 of moolah for a smartwatch.

What do you think?

 

 

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