Samsung’s Galaxy Gear is one of the most hotly-anticipated gadgets of the year. Along with the Sony Smartwatch2, it’s leading the charge of a new category of device, known as the smartwatch.
And with Apple, Google, Microsoft, LG and the rest all rumoured to be working on techy timepieces of their own, it looks like the smartwatch’s time has come.
But before we get too excited, let’s remember this is the first of its kind Samsung has ever made, and as such, there are bound to be flaws.
The first generation of any gadget inevitably has teething problems, and Samsung itself has admitted the device is “missing something special”.
It’s a little chunky on the wrist, but that’s understandable, considering there’s an 800MHz chip, 512MB of RAM, and 4GB of storage in there.
The device comes with its own charging cradle – place the watch face inside, and it clasps shut around it. You then plug this into the wall socket.
It’s not ideal, as you have to carry the cradle around with you if you want to juice it up. Which you will, but more on that later.
When it comes to colour options, Samsung has taken the ‘throw them all at a wall and see what sticks’ approach.
The Gear comes in six colours, so you’re sure to find one to match your outfit.
When it launched, the Gear only worked with the Galaxy Note 3 and Galaxy Note 10.1, which was a bit limited.
But Samsung has since made it play nice with the Galaxy S3, S4, and Galaxy Note 2 thanks to the Android 4.3 Jelly Bean update.
It’ll also punt out a separate software update to make it work with the Galaxy S4 Mini, S4 Zoom, S4 Active, and Galaxy Mega 5.8 and 6.3.
Pairing it with a compatible device is a doddle.
Just turn on NFC on your mobile device, and tap it against the Gear’s charging cradle. And hey presto – you’re synced. It’s very user-friendly indeed.
The clasp is a little fiddly, but once it’s on it’s not going anywhere. We’re not huge fans of the rubber strap – for this price, you’d expect something a bit more ‘premium’.
The 1.63-inch Super AMOLED screen is big enough for a device this size, and while its 320x320-pixel resolution isn’t going to set any records, text and icons are clear and bright.
It even handles simple animations like the Samsung start-up logo ably enough. It’s not the prettiest display in the world, but it’s functional, and that’s the main thing.
The menu is simple to use, too. You swipe left or right to scroll through the options, and swipe up from the bottom of the screen to go back.
Swiping up on the main time page brings up a keypad so you can dial a number, or you can scroll through your contacts.
Swiping down takes you back to the main page; swipe down again, and you’ll activate the camera.
It’s only a 1.9-megapixel model, so doesn’t capture your subjects in glorious high resolution. But it’s handy for snapping people unawares as you chat to them.
Overall, the menu is fast, responsive, and simple to use. And that’s no mean feat, making it work on such a small screen.
Calling someone through your watch is simple, too. And those of us who were fans of Dick Tracy and Knight Rider will get an extra special kick out of it.
It feels properly futuristic, and the speaker is quite impressive for such a small device.
You can record voice memos on it as well, just like Alan Partridge with his Dictaphone. “Idea for a program…”
But texting isn’t such a breeze. Because of the small screen, you can only write texts by dictating them, and Samsung’s S Voice software is far from perfect.
We had a few errors in our text, making it a bit frustrating.
Other options include a pedometer, notifications, and a media controller to play tunes on your phone. These all work as you’d expect, and are perfectly serviceable.
All sounds good so far, right? So why are we a little underwhelmed by the Gear? It’s a nice addition to your handset, but it doesn’t really make it any easier to use.
A really useful accessory should free you from reaching for your mobile (especially one as unwieldy as the massive Galaxy Note 3 we tested it with), but the Gear becomes more trouble than it’s worth.
It’s too limited to really be that useful, but too chunky and expensive to recommend as a simple add-on.
It’s a bit like the S Pen on the Galaxy Note 3, in that it’s fun to play with for a while, but you soon find you’d rather do without it.
The battery is dire, too. It needs recharging every night, so if you’re going away somewhere, better remember the charging cradle and cable.
And then there’s the price. £300 is just too expensive.
It’s a shame, because the Galaxy Gear is a promising device that gives a glimpse of what these gadgets will one day be able to do.
For leading the way, and making a user interface that’s simple, fast, and works on a screen this size, Samsung should be applauded.
But that doesn’t justify the £300 price tag.
Samsung has already confirmed a second Galaxy Gear is in the works, which we’re sure will address some of these issues.
And with the likes of the Pebble smart watch raising record-breaking funds, there’s obviously a market for a cool, simple and affordable techy timepiece that compliments your phone.
Roll on version two.