Samsung was not first to the market with a smartwatch, but its Galaxy Gear device is significant for truly ushering in the smartwatch era. Smartwatches have been around for years, and Samsung's take on what a smartwatch can and should do will reverberate for the foreseeable future.
The smartwatch space is hardly crowded, but it is growing quickly. Sony's second-generation smartwatch reaches the market later this month and it follows the Pebble, which launched earlier this year. Qualcomm announced its own wearable, the Toq, this week, and Apple is expected to announce an iWatch device in the months ahead.
There's a lot the Samsung Galaxy Gear can do, and a lot it cannot. Here are its best and worst features.
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-- Camera: A camera on your watch? Sure, why not. The Gear's 1.9-megapixel camera also shoots 720p HD video for up to 10 minutes. It may be clunky to use, but it might serve as an absolute last resort when there's no camera or smartphone nearby.
-- Display: The Gear's screen may measure a scant 1.63 inches, but the 320 x 320-pixel resolution ALOMED display is gorgeous. It is bright, colorful and offers sharp details. It presents menus and onscreen elements vividly and crisply.
-- Speakerphone: Adding a speakerphone to a watch is what we all want, right? That's the Dick Tracy promise, after all, being able to speak to our watches and hold a conversation with some far-off person. Throw in support for Samsung's S Voice command system and you have a watch you can talk to all day long.
-- Find My Phone: Lose your smartphone? If it's within range (about 30 feet), the Gear can be used to set off an alarm to find the misplaced phone. The alarm will sound even if the device is set to silent.
-- Color Selection: Offering the Gear in six different colors may seem trite, but it will make consumers happy. Customization tools have become a key differentiator in a market full of me-too products. Just look at the Motorola Moto X and its custom design options. Though Samsung's choice of green over red or blue may seem questionable to some, at least there are several options from which to pick.
-- Smartphone Dependent: Many of the Gear's best features rely on a having a smartphone nearby. For example, no smartphone equals no rich notifications or missed call alerts. You need to be within 30 feet of your smartphone to get those. Worse, it will only work with the new Galaxy Note 3 smartphone at first. No Note 3, no Gear.
-- No Wi-Fi: The Gear does not have an independent connection to the Internet. Again, it relies on having a smartphone nearby. That means you can't browse the Web or even stream music from/to another source.
-- Cumbersome Charger: The charger for the device snaps on like a protective shell. It protects the Gear while it is charging, but renders much of the device useless because it obstructs the Gear's only button. It's surprising that Samsung made such an obvious mistake in designing the charger. It would be better if the device plugged directly into a microUSB cable.
-- Price Point: The Gear costs $299. That's probably more than the Note 3 will cost with a new contract. It's a hefty price tag for an accessory that works only with a single smartphone. None of the U.S. carriers have announced combo packs of the Gear and Note 3 together, but hopefully they will -- with a slightly reduced price.
The Samsung Galaxy Gear is, for better or worse, going to put the smartwatch category into high gear. It will be interesting to watch (pun intended) the category unfold and see how different hardware makers put their own spin on the smartwatch.