Skip to main content

Galaxy Gear: Not the watch we've been waiting for

Samsung has unveiled the Galaxy Gear, its first "smartwatch" product. And based on the info coming out of IFA this week, including our colleague Alex Dobie's hands-on look over at Android Central, I'm still trying to figure out why I would want it.

I'm sure a few of you reading this are going to throw your hands up and say, "Of course you don't get it, Peter, you're an Apple snob."

Look, I fully admit to being an Apple partisan, and I make no apology for it: My entire professional life for the past 27 years has, in some way, been related to using Apple technology. I have a lot invested in making sure Apple succeeds. Plus I just really like their stuff.

But despite that, or perhaps because of it, I've moved beyond the point in my life where I assume that everyone who doesn't use an Apple product is an idiot (unfortunately, idiocy seems to be pretty platform-agnostic). I get why people like Samsung products, and why Android has attracted so many. Samsung builds some nice gear. If I were shopping for an Android phone, I'd definitely be looking at Samsung's products. So this isn't a partisan slam against Samsung or Android.

The Galaxy Gear has a 1.63-inch touchscreen face that uses AMOLED technology with a built-in digitizer. It runs Android, and it can shoot pictures and video and has a built in pedometer, but really, it's designed to be a satellite to a Samsung smartphone sitting in your pocket.

Samsung's co-CEO J.K. Shin called the Galaxy Gear the "perfect companion" to other products like the new Galaxy Note III. And that's the crux of the problem for me. I don't need a "perfect companion" for my smartphone. I want something else entirely.

To that end, it can pull up information from your phone and works in concert with third-party apps you have on your phone. You can make calls on it, Dick Tracy style, thanks to a built in speaker and microphone. Samsung's already lined up an impressive roster of dozens of developers to support the new device. Evernote, Pocket, TripIt and others have signed up.

I understand how reaching for your wrist might save you a few seconds compared to reaching into your pocket for your phone. But looking at the Galaxy Gear, I feel a bit like George Carlin when he did his "Stuff" routine. Here's a reminder, if you've never seen it:

My point is this: the Pebble, the Galaxy Gear, and Qualcomm's forthcoming Toq smartwatch, aren't doing much of anything independently that we're not doing with our phones already. To me, that misses the point of a smartwatch's potential. I don't need a device that just provides a subset of functions that I can use on another device I'm already carrying. I want something that's going to make my life better.

How a smartwatch can make my life quantitatively better is a question I don't have an answer to, and that's why the Galaxy Gear and its ilk leave me a bit cold. As I've said on our iMore Show podcast, the idea of using the smartwatch for biometrics is interesting - as a form of authentication or an additional layer of security. Using a smartwatch as a medical diagnosis tool is another important area - I admit it's a niche, but as someone with chronic health issues, I'd appreciate being able to monitor things like blood pressure, blood glucose and other vitals without having to prick my finger or wear a cuff.

The point is this: I'm still waiting for a company to convince me that a smartwatch is a thing I need, not just another gadget that would be nice to have. To that end, Rene Ritchie and I are banking on Apple to be the first company to do exactly that. Because so far, smartwatches seem like a solution in search of a problem.

More on the Galaxy Gear:

  • Samsung Galaxy Gear shows what Apple won't do with an iWatch
  • Samsung Galaxy Gear coverage at Android Central
  • I have an iPad, and i would love to have a device to quickly read messages, change music, or take pictures with on my wrist. Everything would have to work over wifi or bluetooth!
  • Get an iPod Touch.
  • I actually look at the potential of the Smartwatch differently. I currently use a Pebble, and it's changed the way in which I interact with my phone. It's become my triage device: I spend a lot of times in meetings, and I can discreetly check my text / calls to decide if I need to interrupt my work. It's also great to walk / run / drive with a BT headset, where I can read my messages and respond using Siri, negating the need to pull out my phone.
  • Here's why you need one. Because:
    1. You probably wear a watch already, and
    2. Why not see additional things on your watch that you only have to tilt your wrist up to see versus having to dive into your pocket or somewhere else, unlocking your device, etc. This alone is bringing added functionality to something that is a part of my body everyday as it is.
  • "You probably wear a watch already" Actually I don't, and haven't since I started using laptops and carrying cellphones daily about ten years ago.
  • The gear is hideous looking, but I've been looking at some videos, and the UI and software seems ok, a bit laggy though, I always said I would never buy a smart watch but I think if apple release one it will be hard to resist, but if its a big battery drainer I think I'll wait a couple of generations Sent from the iMore App
  • You sound like me last month Peter. I had zero desire for any "smart" watch. Rene — order this man a Pebble. He'll likely change his mind if you force him to use it. I did :)
  • Order me one while you're at it ;-) Sitting next to Phil and Alex both using a Pebble, and looking at the Gear, I'm more convinced than ever it's the sort of device I could actually use. The biggest problems with the Galaxy Gear are the shoddy battery life and the need for a Galaxy phone. The second of those being the thing that would always stop me buying one.
  • "I'm more convinced than ever it's the sort of device I could actually use." Stockholm Syndrome! (Or maybe Berlin Syndrome!)
  • It's not as dumb as I was thinking it was before I actually saw one in action for myself. I might get bored, but I'm willing to try.
  • 24 hours they advertising is likely ideal, lightly used, estimates. I would expect it to get closer to 8-12 hours under moderate to heavy use. For a watch, thats way to little. I need a watch that will last days, weeks even.. not a few hours in a single day.
  • This is how I feel exactly. These companies are trying to solve a problem I do not have. I have no problem taking my phone out of my pocket every time or picking it up off the table. I am quite satisfied with the experience of carrying around a pocket computer that can make phone calls and surf the internet. I have no interest in connecting it to a watch or really anything else for that matter. I wouldn't even buy an Apple made watch. If I wanted a watch I would buy a watch. Edit - Correction, I do have a watch. My trusty Timex Expedition. I only wear it when my iPhone could be in potential danger such as outdoor activities.
  • "trying to solve a problem I do not have" - Haha, that's the very definition of marketing. I remember being perfectly content in the 80s without cell phones, let alone smart ones. It was a problem 99% of people did not have, but now that we have a solution to that non-problem, our lives start revolving around that.
  • Ok, I understand and respect yours and Rene's feelings towards Apple, but even before Samsung launched its watch I could tell you guys would be underwelmed, whatever that was, no matter how awesome it could be, and when Apple launches its own watch you will be overwhelmed, extrapolating all possible awesome uses and possibilities. Samsung will never quite please you because it is not Apple. But all that is part of being human, I guess.
  • I think you've missed the point - I'm not underwhelmed because it's Samsung, I'm underwhelmed despite it. I quite like Samsung's products - even own a few. But the Galaxy Gear is an accessory that requires a phone or tablet to use. That's not interesting to me at all. I want a smartwatch to solve problems that I didn't think of - things that fundamentally improve my life. The best products Apple's made do exactly that.
  • Replace smart watch with smartphone, smartphone with computer. I don't need a smart handheld device that provide me a subset of functionalities of my computer.
  • To be fair, when smartphones, personal computers (and any other high tech product, really) first hit the market and their options were limited, prices were high and functionality was relatively limited, that reaction is totally correct for most people. Functionality and size aren't really matched by an appropriate price yet. I would never wear a device like the ones on the market now, but in a year or two, that may not be true anymore. I think a lot of people are in the same boat.
  • That's a very good point. I'm not saying I'll never be interested in a smartwatch - just that today's options don't appeal to me.
  • I am not even sure if the Galaxy Gear is really a smart watch. I can't tell if it can run independently without connecting to a Galaxy Note. If I buy a Gear on its own, can I download apps to it? Can I run those apps without connecting itself to a Samsung smart phone or tablet? What can those apps do on their own? A tethered watch is not a smart watch. It is just a dumb touch screen.
  • So if a watch doesn't tether to your phone (which you'll be carrying most likely anyway) you're suggesting something that would have a separate data connection? And a separate data contract to go with it? Is that something you want to pay for? A smartwatch that doesn't tether to something like a smartphone is basically a phone connected to your wrist? One that would probably have even more sucky battery life, be even bigger and more cumbersome.
  • 1) Battery Life: Batteries only need to last one day. Then you charge it on your nightstand. End of story. 2) You'll all be wearing smart watches within five to ten years, and wondering how you got along without one.
  • I have no idea what the appeal of this stuff is. Seriously. None of the ones that have been discussed, Apple or Samsung or otherwise, even remotely appeal to me or seem at all particularly useful. They also don't look nice, they just look kinda bleh, and they're sized for guys in most cases. So they're already cutting out half the market.
  • Authentication, payment by tapping NFC terminal that are now numerous, Siri activation, even actually showing the time;). I am a fan of Apple but give credit where credit is due (Google Maps, MotoX) but the Gear doesnt get the inner geek in me wanting to get one - at all. Like many people I guess I am impatient for Apple to come up with new stuff but this makes you appreciate the elegant and functional Apple solutions. Happy to wait and judge the smart watch idea if and when the iWacth comes out.
  • It's way too expensive (the pricetag indicates megalomania). It's ugly. It needs to be charged every day. Only compatible with other Galaxy gear. A big fail in my eyes. Then again I never use watches.
  • I own a Pebble and I like using it strictly for the simplicity. When in meetings or noisy places, I either can't hear my phone ring or I miss it vibrating. The ability to have my watch vibrate- which I almost never miss happening- is the most useful thing in the world. The number of missed calls and texts have dropped dramatically. I don't need a watch camera or wrist phone or anything as fancy.
  • I absolutely agree. I've had my Pebble for almost 7 months and its simplicity, battery life, and much less expensive features are the key. I do not consider it a "smart" watch in the sense of a "smart" phone. It is a highly convenient second screen that I can glance at discreetly in a meeting or while at a concert without having to pull out my phone. It is not for everyone but for people not sitting at a desk/work station all day it is ideal
  • I am still surprised that imore has not found out about the Kreyos smartwatch. Although I have sent an email to them once or twice to get more information as it would be a good article. This watch is a completed item on the crowd funding site They raised $1.5 mil. Has a speaker and mic for phone calls or for using siri. Compatible with iPhone, android and windows. Does not always need to be by your phone. You can use the fitness features without being near your phone as it has its own built in gyroscope and accelerometer. They are also saying 7 days of battery life. Retail price is going to be $169. I wouldn't tell apple to be scared. I would tell apple to buy this company.
    There page is still live and you can pre order as well.
  • Personally I just think the gear is fugly plus how stupid does that camera look in the wristband?!
  • It's rather expensive, but any excuse to listen to George Carlin talking about Stuff is justified! And more seriously, it would be kind of nice to have my GPS showing me distance to next turn on my wrist instead of having to fumble with my iPhone, when driving in a rental car with lousy Bluetooth interface. But hard to say that would justify replacing my trusty Casio. Also, unless it was waterproof to 25 meters at least, would be a waste of money. I want tough tools, not cute toys!
  • The whole smartwatch idea is interesting but at the very same time it's perplexing. At 2 or $300 a smartwatch is not going to become mainstream. I can buy a 16 or 32GB iPod Touch for that money. The thing about whether you wear a watch or not depends a lot on the market as well. I was recently on vacation in the Azores. While I never wear a watch in Canada in the Azores everyone I saw, young and old, with or without a smartphone had a watch on. I even wore my watch for the three weeks I was there and then realized something else. When I took it off one day I realized how much better I felt with it off. So it's a weird thing because it's not a difficult thing to wear a watch it becomes and after thought when you have it on. However once you take it off you really don't feel like putting it back on. So whatever smartwatch along with have some features that make you want/need it will also have to be stylish/cool enough to also make you want to wear it.