The Galaxy Gear has a metal face and adjustable buckle set on a flexible rubberised and subtly ridged strap. The rubberised strap certainly feels sturdy. We’d like to see a version with a metal band, which would feel more grown-up.
To charge the Gear there’s a row of copper charging dots on the inside. You have to clip it into an odd-shaped dock. The dock has a standard Micro-USB socket. That means carrying the dock around or risking the battery dying and leaving you with no way to charge the thing.
It comes in six colours: black, gray, orange, lime green, and beige all with a silver face and buckle; and a sixth version with a beige strap and champagne-toned gold metal accoutrements.
White text and simple icons pop from the background color of your choice, each function sitting in its own clear, friendly square that you can swipe between to find the one you want.
You can control the watch by swiping left and right through a selection of screens. You can change the order according to your preferences. By default it goes from the home screen to notifications, then voice memos, then S Voice commands, then your photo gallery, the music player, a pedometer, settings, and an apps shortcut. Scroll to the left and you see your contacts followed by a phone call log.
The home screen can be customised with a variety of watch faces, or to display extra information. It can show your next calendar appointment, or the temperature and a little icon saying whether it’s sunny or cloudy, which you can tap to see a forecast for the next few days. You can choose the home screen display you want either in the settings menu, or in the companion app on your phone.
Notifications show you what new messages and alerts arrives. Tap on them and your phone will show you the message. You can record voice memos up to 5 minutes long, or command the watch by scrolling to the S Voice app. Swipe up from the home screen and you launch the camera. Swipe down from the home screen and you get your dialer keypad, where you can enter a phone number and make a call.
By tapping the photo gallery you get thumbnails of your photos and videos. No more getting your phone out of your pocket to skip a track now, Tap the music player and you get a basic set of controls (play, pause, skipping backward and forward) which control the music playing on your phone.
At any point, swiping in from the top of the screen takes you back a step. And to return to the home screen, there’s a single physical home button on the side of the watch to the top right of the screen.
On the side of the strap there’s a small 1.9-megapixel camera, bulging slightly from the strap. Samsung calls it a memographer, emphasising the capture of moments with low-resolution snaps and bite-size videos. To take a picture, swipe up from the home screen and tap on the screen. The camera options are pretty basic: choose from auto or macro focus, and a couple of different sizes. It can capture photos of 1,392×1,392 or 1,280×960 pixels. Videos last 10 seconds, with sound, and can be 720p, 640×640, 640×480, or 480×480 pixels.
One potential problem with the placement of the camera is that it sits under your wrist when your hands are upright, so could scratch against surfaces.
Talking to your phone
The Galaxy Gear uses low-power Bluetooth to communicate with your smartphone. When you pair the Galaxy Gear smartwatch with the Note 3, the watch talks to the phone to let you control music or view notifications without taking the phone out of your pocket.
And it works the other way, too: the Gear Manager companion app installed on your phone lets you adjust the settings of your watch. Other options include the Find My Device feature which hekps to keep track of your phone, and you can use your watch to signal the errant blower, which will make a racket until you locate it. And vice versa use the companion app on your phone to set the watch ringing so you can locate it.
Samsung says at launch there’ll be around 70 apps optimised for the Gear’s small screen, most of which are basic apps like a calendar. There are some big names though, including Evernote and Pinterest, which can record and share your quick snaps.
Whether buying another gadget is the answer to reducing your dependence on an earlier gadget is a philosophical question for another time, but the Galaxy Gear has the potential to cut down on the amount your mobile shouts for your attention. The product will be released around the world on 25 September at the same time as the new Samsung Galaxy Note 3 but customers in the US and Japan will need to wait until October.