I'd like to thanks TELUS for providing Howardforums.com the review unit of the Samsung Galaxy Gear first and foremost, so thank you TELUS.
When the Samsung Galaxy Gear was announced I had the same reaction as i'm sure many of you did. "What, why, what's the point?" Once those thoughts settled and I had moved past them I started thinking if I had one, how would I use it? Would I take advantage of all its features and would it really impact my daily life enough to warrant its pretty steep entry price?
I asked Howard if he had one that I could review because that's always easier then spending my $ on something I may just not like and low and behold, here we are!
First things first, let's get this out of the way.
Do you wear a watch currently?
Yes? Carry on then.
No? Nothing for you to see here, move along.
Why do I say this so abruptly?
Quite honestly, if you don't wear a watch now and you're interested in a smart watch the Galaxy Gear may not be for you. Firstly, there's the well known "issue" of it working with Samsung only hardware so all you HTC / Nexus / Blackberry / Nokia and all need not apply. Secondly, this isn't a small watch. I have fairly large wrists and I found even for me it was a big large. However, style is personal and some love huge watches. 50mm watch sizing shows there's a market for that. Now don't get me wrong, the Gear is not a 50mm watch, but for me it wore like one. Big, brass, bold and it got attention.
So with all that out of the way let's get this party started.
For this review I had the Gear paired with my Note 3 for those interested.
The fist thing I wanted to know was how long would this thing last me. Would I be charging this thing nightly, or could I get a few days out of it.
The answer is actually two fold:
The watch would barely last me a day if I left the wake up gesture on. The wake up gesture basically wakes the watch when you shake your wrist or move your wrist so the watch is in "time viewing position" Depending on your life of work this may not be an issue, but for me it was. I'm always moving and as a result the watch was always being lit.
Once I turned off the gesture feature I could go a few days easily. 48-72 hours to be precise. The only caveat to this is that You have to press the button every time
you want to see the time on the watch. Even during daylight. I found that over time, this annoyed me and went back to gesture mode and had to charge nightly.
Depending on the day though, I would actually have days where the watch would die on me before my day was through. An example of such a day would look like this:
7am: wake up, pull watch off charger.
work all day, watching going off with movement.
Finish work at 7pm: Make dinner plans.
Go to dinner, eat food, hang out with Friends, have coffee
10:13pm watch dead. No Juice. No Bueno.
That happened to me 3 times.
I have to stress that if you're a desk jockey this won't be an issue for you, but flailing your arms all day will detrimentally impact your Galaxy Gear's battery life and as such you should disable the gesture feature.
The Galaxy Gear comes with a clam style charging shell. Some of the early reviews I had read all discussed how annoying this was to them or how it somehow detracted from the watch experience on some level. I don't agree with those points myself. I actually found that, initially, I liked the charger on the Galaxy Gear until I had actually run out of battery.
What I had realized is that this watch can't be charged using MicroUSB. Sure, a MicroUSB cable plugs into the clam shell so you could technically claim it's charged from MicroUSB but it isn't. Being that I would average 2 days max I would never take this watch away with me on a vacation or camping or anything of that nature. it's Fine to pack a USB charger but to have to remember to pack your clamshell is just silly. How hard would it have been to put a MicroUSB port somewhere on the watch? It's not exactly a small watch.
Another interesting thing I found is that when your watch is in the charger the rotation of the screen will actually flip. Initially I thought this was a cool idea so I could use this as a nightstand clock of some type while it charged but the odd thing is that I was unable to find a setting to leave the screen lit while charging, or a desktop "mode" or anything of that nature. The screen will go black. You can nudge it, or pick it up and drop it and the screen will light up again but this is hardly useful as a nightstand clock if you're having to reach over and smack it to see the time.
The build quality of the hardware itself is very good. The fit and finish is top notch and there are no seams or abrupt lines sticking out on the watch itself that'll jar you in the wrist. The watch clasp does jut out a fair bit though since it's housing the tiny speaker to play notifications and make calls from. I found that a few times I'd catch the clasp when I would reach down to ease my driver seat back or in similar situations like that. I do like the 4 screws that are clearly visible. Feels like an industrial design in that respect and gives it that tough look.
Yes, we all know now that the Galaxy Gear has a camera. Even after using the watch a few weeks I still can't comprehend why it has one. Many have explained the benefits of having a camera on your watch strap to me. Some have said you can use it in a pinch, others have said that it's a great idea and where would be we had they never started putting phones in cameras.
I hear all these points, and I understand them and take them in but I have to disagree. The camera on this thing is reminiscent of my Sony Ericsson W810 which was 2.0mpix and had auto-focus as well. Sure, back then it was good but I don't see how taking a picture of that quality today will come in handy unless you're trying to snap creeper shots. Oh, if you are trying to snap creeper shots the volume of the shutter is on. Always. Just as an FYI
That being said here are a few shots I took with the Galaxy Gear so you can view them and enjoy:
I did find that the Galaxy Gear seemed to take the most random shots on its own. I had a lot of pictures of my sleeve, or the ground, or the roof. You get the idea.
The Galaxy Gear also affords you the ability to initiate and answer phone calls on the watch itself. Using the paired phone to do the dialing / calling obviously. Being that the Galaxy Gear has a speaker in the watch clasp and 2 microphones, 1 on each side of the watch, you can make and receive calls with ease. I made a few calls myself on the watch actually holding the universal hand symbol for "i'm on the phone" up to my ear and talking away. It actually worked pretty well until I realized everyone was staring at me debating if they needed to call someone to pack me up and take me to the rubber room in the crazy ward.
In a more intimate environment (read, not public) I could actually see myself using this feature to yak away to my buddies providing the battery had held out from the day's use and you liked holding your hand up to your head.
I mentioned earlier that the watch feels and wears big on me. This is all personal preference so you may have no issues with this watch. I personally had no issue with it, but did want to mention it just feels big.
Here is the watch on my arm solo, and again i'm not a small guy.
I've also taken a shot of the Galaxy Gear vs my trusty old Tissot PRC200 which is a 42mm watch face for those of you interested.
The Galaxy Gear being a Samsung product has the look and feel of Touchwiz. Love it or hate it, it's there. The software on the watch itself can be updated via the Galaxy Gear manager which resides on your phone. It downloads all the updates and will then push them out via Bluetooth to the watch similar in many respects to how the Pebble works.
the Gear manager is what controls all aspects of your watch from the clock face you run to which notifications from what apps you want to receive. Initially when the Gear launched it would only get notifications from native apps. This was the strangest idea I ever read about. I can't speak for you guys but while I like Samsung hardware I can't stand their apps. I don't want to use S Calendar, I'll use Google calendar. I can't stand the native email client, I'll use Gmail and I absolutely refuse to use ChatOn. However, this was updated a while back so you can actually receive notifications from 3rd party apps such as Facebook, Facebook Messenger, Gmail (vs the stock email app) and so on and so forth.
The only caveat I found to this is that with 3rd party apps you can not use the canned responses. As an example for SMS I use the stock Samsung app. When I would receive sms I could push on the top right and select to use S-Voice to reply, or use a canned response that I could customize as I needed through the Gear Manager.
However, when a Facebook Messenger message came in I could read the message and that was it. If I wanted to reply I'd have to pull out the phone itself making this very counter intuitive to my needs. I'm sure many of you are like me in that sms usage has dropped off a cliff but Facebook messenger / BBM / Whatsapp and other 3rd party messaging clients are getting the lions share of my messaging.
I found myself reaching for my phone more and more and using the watch less and less because I couldn't reply from what watch itself for the apps I used the most. Maybe this will change as the ecosystem matures but until then i'm not satisfied having a watch let me read messages with the ability to reply using S-voice or canned responses via native apps only. If you use the native apps religiously and have no issue with them then all the power to you and you'll thoroughly enjoy this watch.
Another oddity I found using the Gear and Gear manager was Feedly. Do you use Feedly for RSS feeds?
Well, if you do, and you want to make a change to your watch face or a setting on the Galaxy Gear, Gear manager will delete Feedly. Yes, you read that right. It deletes Feedly. I can't figure out why, or for what reason this happens. It happens. I would install feedly, log in and happily read my RSS feeds. I would then go change a setting on the watch or a clock face and poof! Feedly gone. I'd have to to to the Google Play Store and download it, and install it again. This is a common issue as well and if you google it you'll see threads on it.
There is an update for the watch SW as well but I didn't have time to apply this update for 2 reasons.
1: The watch had to go back
2: It requires a Samsung Account which I don't have and refuse to make. (revisit how I won't use ChatOn, S-Calender etc etc etc)
So if you have a Galaxy Gear, a Samsung Account and use Feedly let me know if this still happens after the update please.
The notifications were also separate of the phone. If your phone is on vibrate you'll also have to set the watch to vibrate as well like when you enter a movie. If you set the watch to vibrate / silent don't forget to also change your phone. While I can see how some would like this there should be an way to link these volumes as well so that they control the other device.
The Galaxy Gear has these apps:
Find my Device
Of these I routinely used Contacts, the Dialler, Media Controller and Weather. The rest I had no use for. S Voice seldom worked so I gave up on trying it.
The Media controller was actually very handy and worked well. I could control music playback on my device from across the house, or with my phone hidden away in my pocket. This can come in handy because you never have to physically pull your phone out of your pocket / bag / purse to change tracks if you're using a corded headset. If you're using Bluetooth headphones this point is moot because Bluetooth headphones all have media control anyway allowing you to skip play pause.
What I found neat was that when I was playing music with album art the background of the watch displayed the album art itself. Neat little feature I will admit.
The Phone Dialler was more of a neat party trick that you can show people when they recognize you have a Galaxy Gear. Trust me, it's more people then you think showing just how much marketing clout Samsung has put behind the Note 3 and Galaxy Gear. on the Subway I got asked several times "hey, is that the Samsung watch" which often prompted a brief demonstration of it's features. I say brief because there is no SEEG in the subway so really, I can't show them much.
I often found myself using the contact app vs the phone dialler app since I rarely 10 digit dial calls anymore, I mean who does that these days. The fun and cool factor of using my watch as a phone quickly dies out though. I quickly grew bored of holding my hand up to my head. It actually became tiring.
In essence all of these cool features fade away after the "gee whiz" factor passes by you. the core apps I still used, such as notifications and the time / date / weather but I found that the other apps seldom got used or were even in my rotation. You may be different and use these apps a lot more then I did but ultimately that's for you to figure out.
I walk away from the Galaxy Gear with mixed emotions.
I love the fact that I got to try it out and put it through it's paces and can see how this would be a genuine companion to many people. I really enjoyed it's build quality, and it's notifications initially. I found myself wondering though if it was really worth it's $329 price tag.
In the end I decided that it isn't. For my needs the $329 price tag and ability to only work with Samsung devices did it in for me. If you happened to get it for $50.00 on those promo's Rogers was running then amazing. $50.00 is money well spent in that case.
I feel that $329.99 is just to much to spend on a watch that would (at time or writing this) lock you into Samsung's ecosystem. I don't blame Samsung for wanting to sandbox you in. Look at Apple, they're very successful at translating buyers into repeat buyers and keeping them in the iOS garden.
What the Samsung Galaxy Gear really did for me was open me up to the possibility of smartwatches in general. I am now genuinely interested in the Smart Watch category versus before when I was of the mindset that it was a passing fad.
So, for me I'm going to have to say the Galaxy Gear won't find a place on my wrist.
who knows what will happen when the Galaxy Gear 2 comes. Who knows.