A year after I came to this country as a 7 year old from the United Kingdom (which was 1977), I was enthralled by a cartoon series called Battle Of The Planets. It was a English adaptation of a groundbreaking Japanese cartoon series called Science Ninja Team Gatchaman which details the story (At least in the English version. The Japanese version has a slightly different plot line) of five highly trained teenagers backed by state of the art technology fighting against a group of aliens bent on invading and taking over the Earth. One of those pieces of technology that the teenagers had were special watches that they each wore which among other things, allowed them to communicate by voice to each other by speaking into the watch. I had to admit that I found that to be very cool and I often imitated that when I pretended to be one of those teenagers.
Fast forward to 2014.
I have in my possession a Samsung Galaxy Gear that Rogers provided me this week. It a member of a growing subset of technology called a smart watch which is a watch that does more than tell the time. It can have apps, check your e-mail and text messages, or in the case of the Galaxy Gear, allow you to have a phone conversation without having to use your phone to do it. The latter allowed me to live out my childhood fantasies in a way.
Now the Galaxy Gear needs a Samsung phone to work with. Thankfully, Rogers also provided me the Galaxy Note 3 which is a phone I’ve previously reviewed. But that was with another carrier. So I figured that it would be interesting to see what difference changing carriers made. I found that there were two differences. One was minor and one was significant. The minor difference was that Rogers had a number of their apps on this phone including Rogers Anyplace TV, City TV Video, and apps that allows you to check your Rogers account as well download ringtones among other things. The significant difference was the speed on LTE. The Galaxy Note 3 served up an average of 29Mbps downstream and 9.5 Mbps upstream on the Rogers LTE network. While the upstream speed was just short of my previous test of this “phablet” on a different carrier, the downstream speed which is what most people care about was significantly faster. Interesting.
So. Before I even get into the setup of the device, how does it look on your wrist? Let’s start with my wrist:
Okay, it’s big but the Galaxy Gear looks decent on my wrist. Now let’s try my wife. I’ll not that she’s 5′ 6″, 125 pounds soaking wet and slim:
It looks overwhelming on her wrist. If you’re interested in the Galaxy Gear, make sure it looks good before you plunk down your cash. In terms of looks, the Galaxy Gear looks classy as it is made of metal. It doesn’t scream “geeky” at all. The AMOLED touchscreen which is covered in Gorilla Glass which is 1.6″ in size is bright. Though as you will note from the pictures above, it does attract light amounts of smudges. Having said that, it was viewable in any lighting condition I subjected it to. The Galaxy Gear felt comfortable on my wrist and I didn’t really notice it was there. Though your mileage may vary. I should also note that the straps come in different colours to fit your fashion needs, but they do not appear to be able to be swapped by end users.
The Galaxy Gear comes with a micro-USB cord and a special charging cradle. Its the only way to charge the Galaxy Gear and I guess that was done to keep the look of the watch upscale by not having a micro-USB port on it. The top cover of the charging cradle is secured by a latch, so just open it up, rest the watch inside and reattach the cover to start charging it up.
Let’s talk about setting up the Galaxy Gear with the Samsung phone of your choice. The list of phones that supports the Galaxy Gear can be found here. It’s important that you check this list before you buy, otherwise you’ll be buying a very expensive brick. The reason being that it only works with those phones from Samsung.
Now, assuming you have a compatible phone, it’s very easy to set up:
- Power up the Galaxy Gear and you’ll be prompted to use NFC.
- Make sure that NFC is activated on the Samsung Phone and tap the back of Galaxy Gear to the back of the phone.
- Once the two devices recognize each other, the phone downloads the Gear Manager software. The it turns on Bluetooth and auto pairs the Galaxy Gear to the phone. Just make sure you follow the prompts.
- Done. Declare victory and have a beer.
Now the whole point of the Gear Manager software is that it acts as interface for your Galaxy Gear and allows you to tweak settings, adjust the order of apps and even download third-party apps that have been specially made for the smaller screen. Speaking of apps, Samsung has a decent roster of apps in a number of categories and the platform is open for third party developers as well. Though the only third party apps that I noted were MyFitnessPal and Runtastic. I used Gear Manager to pick the watch face that I want as well as set the Galaxy Gear to let me know when e-mails and text messages come in. And all of this without having to whip out the Note 3 to check any of this. However, I will note that I cannot respond to e-mail or texts on the Galaxy Gear.
I got used to navigating the Galaxy Gear smart watch quickly. The longer you spend playing with the device the easier it becomes. You can swipe down from the top of the home screen to access the camera, swipe up from the bottom to access the Dialler, and right or left to get to Notifications, S Voice, Voice Memo, Gallery, Media Controller, Pedometer, Settings, Apps, Logs and Contacts. Inside each menu item you can tap on actions to select them, and use the drop-down menu at the top right of certain screens to access further options. Dragging down from the top of the screen returns you to the previous one. Now, all of this is driven from your Samsung smartphone via Bluetooth, so if your phone isn’t within range of the Galaxy Gear, you won’t get any of this info pushed from your phone. Having said that, if you are out of range of your phone, the Galaxy Gear does act as a proper watch as it will display the current time. Some things do stand out:
- S Voice which is Samsung’s answer to Apple’s Siri is built in and it can do such things as search online to find answers to your questions, text or call a friend, and add appointments to your calendar.
- Its Pedometer app works in conjunction with the S Health app on the Samsung smartphone to count your steps and track your health. It’s handy to for the fitness nut.
- It’s handy to dial a number and use the Galaxy Gear to talk to someone. The sound quality is decent, but you will get stares from people as you do this.
The other feature that the Galaxy Gear has going for it is a 1.9 MP camera that does 720P video and a choice of 1392×1392 (1:1) or 1280×960 (4:3) still pics. Now, I will note that it was a bit weird to aim the camera using the touchscreen, and that can make taking pictures interesting at times. More on that in a second. Now to test the still pictures, I set it to 1280×960 and took it along with the Note 3 to the Canadian International Auto Show in Toronto to see how it performed. Here’s a few examples of what I was able to do with the camera. Click the pictures to see them in full resolution:
The camera on this Galaxy Gear was never intended to produce top-quality stills and video, although the quality is acceptable. The only place that this camera really let me down is trying to aim it. It’s the odd placement of the camera on the side of your arm is what makes this feature difficult to use. Holding up your arm to take shots is a practice that’s prone to both camera wobble and attracting all sorts of attention from people around you. I got all sorts of stares from people using smartphone to take pictures who were perplexed as to why I was taking photos using a watch. Having said that, I can see how you can use it to sneak a photo or two in places or situations where you aren’t meant to take photos. Or you can use it to take a quick photo without whipping out a phone.
Now when it comes to video, it will do 720P. Now instead of shooting some video at the car show, I decided to go to my usual location of Pearson Airport in Toronto to film a plane landing. Make sure that you set the video to full screen and 720P:
Like the photos, it is a bit blurry, but it works if you need to take a quick video. And I do mean quick as you are limited to 15 seconds of video. Two things to note with both stills and videos. When you take a picture or a video, it automatically uploads to your smartphone.
Now when it comes to battery life, I got an average of a day and a half of solid use. So I can see that you could get at least a couple of days of usage between charges.
So, what’s my verdict? It’s a solid effort from Samsung, but I believe it needs time to grow and mature. But as it does, I think it will be a solid competitor in the growing ranks of smart watches. It’s big challenge will be to fight off competitors like the Pebble smart watch which has the advantage of being both iOS and Android compatible, and the much rumoured and much hyped iWatch from Apple. The Samsung Galaxy Gear goes for $329 at Rogers. If you have a Samsung phone that works with it, and you’re interested in a smart watch, take a good look at the Galaxy Gear.