At last week Samsung's "Unpacked Episode II" event in New York City's Times Square, the company announced three new products: The Galaxy Note 3 smartphone; the Galaxy Note 10.1 (2014 Edition) tablet, and the most unique and notable new gadget, the Galaxy Gear smartwatch.
I spent some time with all three gadgets following a quick performance by popular duo Icona Pop (FYI, they don't care, they love it) and a mostly unsuccessful broadcast of Samsung's IFA event in Germany (the press event in New York lost both audio and video just as the Gear was being announced.)
Neither the Note 3 nor Note 10.1 (2014 Edition) wowed me; each device has some cool new features, but I mostly saw more of the same Galaxy gestures that I will never use. The Gear smartwatch grabbed my attention, though. Unfortunately, it was for all the wrong reasons.
Here are seven reasons why you should not buy Samsung's Galaxy Gear smartwatch, along with two reasons to help justify a purchase.
Why You Should Not Buy Samsung's Galaxy Gear Smartwatch
1) Galaxy Gear is a 'Companion Gadget' That Only Works with the Note 3
The most obvious reason to skip the Galaxy Gear smartwatch is that it's a "companion gadget" that's mostly useless without a smartphone to connect to via Bluetooth. The whole point of the Gear is to bring your smartphone's messaging, PIM and other appropriate apps to your wrist so you don't have to fiddle with your device all the time. (The term "companion gadget" reminds me of how BlackBerry, then RIM, first described its PlayBook tablet. We all know how that worked out.)
Not only do you need a smartphone to get the most of Gear, at this point Galaxy Gear only works with Samsung's latest Note smartphone, the Note 3. I asked the Samsung representative at the Unpacked event when additional support for other phones would be added, and though he hinted that such support would eventually become available, he would not specify which additional devices will work with the Gear smartwatch in the future or whether support would be restricted to only Samsung Galaxy devices.
2) The Galaxy Gear and Note 3 Bundle is Expensive
If you want to use the Galaxy Gear as intended, you need to drop around $300 for a new phone; you probably need to sign a new wireless contract to get a subsidized Note 3; and then you need to pay another $300 for the Gear watch itself. That's $600 or more to get your mitts on the Gear and the Note 3 you'll need to use it.
In the United States, AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon have all announced plans to sell the Note 3 and Gear, so it should be widely available. But $600 is a whole lot of scratch to drop on a brand new device that's largely untested by anyone outside of Samsung.
3) Galaxy Gear Specs Aren't Impressive
Samsung's official list of technical specifications for the Galaxy Gear is a small one, consisting mostly of processor, display resolution, internal storage, and size and weight numbers. The specs it did release aren't exactly impressive, especially for the price.
See for yourself:
800 MHz processor
1.63 inch (41.4mm) Super AMOLED (320 x 320) screen
36.8 x 56.6 x 11.1 mm, 73.8g
IP55 dust and water resistance. IP stands for International Protection against ingress of solid foreign objects and harmful ingress of water.
Bluetooth v 4.0 LE (low energy)
4GB user memory and 512 MB RAM
Li-ion 315mAh battery
1.9MP camera with autofocus, no flash
Again, the Gear is supposed to be a companion device, so it doesn't need top-of-the-line hardware in most cases. As of now, the only thing that's actually stored on the device is your image gallery and, presumably, a small amount of application data, so 4GB should be more than enough.
But that 1.9 megapixel camera jumps out as particularly low quality. The battery has a relatively small capacity, so you shouldn't expect much more than a day's battery life on a single charge. Finally, the device is "water resistant" but not "waterproof," which means it's probably OK in the shower but in not in the pool.
For $300, I'd want a little more hardware muscle.
4) The Galaxy Gear is...Ugly
The Galaxy Gear isn't exactly stylish, despite a bold claim from Samsung's JK Shin, president of mobile communications, suggesting Gear will be "a new fashion icon around the world." Yeah. OK.
Of course, you could very well think the Gear is downright chic. Or maybe you simply don't care how it looks. If so, good for you. But if you're considering the Gear as style statement or fashion accessory, you could do much better with your $300.
The Gear's software interface also isn't pretty. Gear runs Android, but it's unlike any version of Android I've ever seen. The UI is very simple; you navigate with up, down or side-to-side gestures and access your collection of apps by tapping on the apps screen. A single, customizable hardware button on the side of the watch lets quickly access specific apps or action, though the actions you can choose are limited.
5) Developer Support for Galaxy Gear Not Guaranteed
Today, the Galaxy Gear smartwatch doesn't do all that much. Dick Tracy watch, it is not. The Gear lets you check notifications; automatically unlock your Note 3 when within a certain range; route phone calls to another Bluetooth device; find a misplaced device, using alarm tones, vibrations or the camera flash light, and keep track of steps taken using a built-in pedometer.
That's pretty much it. The idea is to eventually provide developers with the necessary APIs to build apps that broaden the Gear's functionality and make it more valuable. But Gear's success, or lack thereof, depends largely on the apps these developers build. If developers don't take to Gear the way Samsung wants them to, the device could quickly be retired to the Gadget Graveyard.
Samsung will undoubtedly put lots of time and even more money into courting developers. It's holding its first large-scale developers' conference in San Francisco this fall, and Gear is sure to take center stage. But buying a Gear smartwatch before it gains momentum among developers might not be the smartest move, unless you're buying it strictly for style or you're quick to part with $300 or more. (In that case, you might want to buy two Gear smartwatches - one for each wrist.)
6) Galaxy Gear's Wrist Strap Cannot be Replaced
The Gear smartwatch is all one piece. Unlike your average wristwatch, you cannot replace or swap out Gear's wristband. Samsung Gear is available in a variety of shiny, bright colors, but you're stuck with the one color you initially pick. That's unfortunate for the fashion-conscious buyer - but, again, if you're buying the Gear for style reasons, you may have bigger issues than a non-replaceable smartwatch band.
Galaxy Gear's camera is embedded in its band, and it connects to the device's body directly through the strap. If you're someone who beats on your gadgets or your watches, or you're particularly active, this could be a concern. If your Gear band breaks or is damaged, you're out of luck; you cannot replace it.
7) The Smartwatch Concept Is a Dud, and Gear Doesn't Change That
The Galaxy Gear isn't the first smartwatch by any means. The Pebble immediately comes to mind, and I know plenty of Pebble users love their smartwatches. Despite the hype, I just don't see the point. I admit, there's some value in checking notifications on a watch face so you don't have to constantly reach in your pocket to grab a phone. But that value is limited; you still have to grab the phone if you want to respond to a message. (That, or start speaking to the tiny smartwatch speaker in the smartwatch, like a crazy person.)
Frankly, I don't like talking to my smartphone, using voice commands, and I really don't want to talk to my wrist, either.
I honestly hope some crafty developers build valuable Gear or other smartwatch apps so I suddenly feel the need to buy one. I love gadgets, and I always want the latest and greatest devices. But the truth is, after just 45 minutes with the Galaxy Gear last week, I don't even want one. I saw everything I need to see, for now at least. That says a lot.
I do not believe that a smartwatch will genuinely make my life easier or enhance my use of the technology I already consider essential.
That said, I can think of two reasons to run out and buy a Galaxy Gear smartwatch...
Why You Should Buy Samsung's Galaxy Gear Smartwatch Right Now
1) You Want to be a Galaxy Gear Early Adopter
This one is simple. If you're a diehard Samsung fan, and you pride yourself on being an early adopter, you may want to get a Galaxy Gear smartwatch as soon as possible. Again, I'm not sold on the concept of the smartwatch, but Samsung clearly sees potential in the idea. Apple's rumored to be working on a smartwatch of its own, too.
If you do rush out to buy one, I'm sure the gadget will serve as a great conversation piece. A month or two down the road, when the novelty wears thin and you're trying to find reasons to keep wearing Gear, remember this story.
2) You Plan to Buy the Galaxy Note 3 Anyway
You love your Galaxy Note or Galaxy Note II, and you've been waiting anxiously for the next generation Note. You can't imagine switching to a smaller device or another mobile platform. And you've been planning to renew your wireless contract, or pay the penalties associated with breaking your current contract, in order to get the Note III.
The Galaxy Gear is just a cherry on top for you, then; it makes your Galaxy Note 3 even more functional, you're intrigued by the smartwatch concept, and the $300 price tag seems reasonable to you. If these statements describe you, you may find a friend in the Galaxy Gear.
If you're still up in the air about a Galaxy Gear purchase, consider the fact that it was simple to come up with the previously stated seven reasons not to buy one, after spending just 45 minutes with the gadget. And all seven are reasons are valid. It was much more difficult to come up with the two good reasons to purchase the Galaxy Gear - and honestly, those two aren't great anyway.