At the IFA tradeshow in Berlin, Samsung announced Galaxy Gear: a smartwatch that can’t make calls on its own, but connects wirelessly with the owner’s nearby smartphone. Samsung may have beaten Apple to the punch, but is this watch doomed to be a forgotten accessory, or is it the start of a trend that’s been coming ever since Dick Tracy first flicked his wrist to make a call?
Galaxy Gear Features
1.63 inch AMOLED screen
6 colors: Jet Black, Mocha Gray, Wild Orange, Oatmeal Beige, Rose Gold, and Lime Green
800 MHz processor
1.9 megapixel still and video camera built into the watchband
Battery: Samsung says it will last 25+ hours (real world test: TBD)
Microphone and speaker for voice-activated calling
Notifications from calendar, text messaging, apps, and incoming calls
70 apps preloaded, including: Evernote, Path, RunKeeper, Find my Phone, Weather
Currently works only with Note 3 & Note 10.1, but Samsung promises more compatibility in the coming months
Available: October 2013
Not the First
The Dick Tracy communicator watch is an icon deep in the psyche of all technology fans. It promises communication and information instantly, without even the 3-second delay of pulling a phone out of your pocket. It is the ultimate extension of our smartphone craze. But Samsung’s foray into the smartwatch world isn’t a first, it’s certainly not for the masses, but it may be a case of good timing that leads to the start of truly wearable technology.
Microsoft, LG, and Sony have all debuted communicator-style watches in the past. They garnered headlines, but failed to make inroads on our collective use of technology. The main problem was getting any of the promised features to work sufficiently in the real world: Caller ID was good, but the speakerphone wasn’t loud enough and the microphones not good enough for easy conversation. The cameras were low resolution, and few, if any, apps interfaced with the devices. Then there were the real world problems: battery life was low, the design was clunky, they weren’t waterproof, and prices were too high.
Samsung’s watch doesn’t make too many inroads on those problems.
Design: It looks like an iPod Nano strapped to your wrist. It’s clunky and not very female/fashion friendly (but it does come in pink!)
Audio issues: Early reports indicate the speaker on the phone is too soft to use in all but the quietest situations, and it has no headphone jack.
Battery life: While 25 hours of battery life is great for a phone, recharging your watch every night is a routine many will have to learn.
Waterproof? No mention of the device being waterproof in any of the literature Samsung provided about its specs.
Price: $299 is steep!
But we’ve seen small successes like the Pebble Smartwatch on Kickstarter that sold to backers for $150, and now the HOTwatch ($169) has gesture control, speakerphone, and works with both Android and Apple phones.
It’s fair to surmise that growing interest in Apple’s rumored iWatch, the Google Glass craze, and the rise of these smaller, 3rd-party watches mean wearable technology is getting ready for primetime. For Samsung, it’s their timing, not innovation that may keep this product from the fate of the LG, Microsft, and Sony smartwatches that preceded it.
And while this seems counterintuitive, I think a watch phone could be a way to have less obsessive behavior with our phones. A glance at the watch to read a text or see a notification is less invasive than the black hole of touching and swiping our phone screen. A trusted notification center on the wrist can be scanned, absorbed, and turned away from without a flick of a finger or the temptation to check Facebook and email.
The price. $299 for the watch – in addition to an expensive smartphone – is prohibitive to all but the most die-hard fan-boys. I anticipate a few hundred thousand watches will sell, but unless the price quickly comes down, it will remain in geeky obscurity. That said, if Apple can transform the category with a watch of their own, all bets are off for how high the Dick Tracy watch craze can go.