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Galaxy Gear not yet galactic

Reports from international markets where the new - and very interesting to us geeks - Samsung Galaxy Gear smart watch has been available for a while shows return rates of above 30% - according to Best Buy.

This article is not meant to be negative – this is a great gadget with a good touch screen and nice enough interface - but opinions from the first round of the Australian journalist testers are, well, let’s just say it’s not getting rave reviews.

First issue is that it currently only works with a Galaxy Tab 3 – yes that will be fixed when Android 4.3 is rolled out to other compatible Samsung devices e.g. Galaxy S3, S4 and Note 2. Problem is that in Australia telcos, not Samsung need to do this, so it won't be as quick as hoped. Other Samsung ‘non-communications’ devices will have to wait for a separate app update between November and December or later.

So what are the main issues – according to the early reviews?

Hype has overtaken substance – many purchasers bought the Gear based on what they heard it could do – or saw in slick, rehearsed, in-store demonstrations - not the reality when you get it home.

It is no more than a companion device – again that is fine but some felt that it should enhance the Note 3 user experience – not provide a lesser one. It makes no single part of your smartphone use easier.

Its call taking function is poor, or too quiet, especially if there is background noise or difficult to use.

Lack of compatibility with many Android apps - “It's supposed to relay notification information from apps, but it doesn't support the vast majority of apps (see headline picture), including apps made by Google, which are among the most popular on Android” according to Arstechnica.

Kludged together workarounds don’t impress home users. Android’s POP3 email client is used instead of push email apps. Ditto for instant messaging and social networks. It seems Samsung has lots of work to do here.

S-Voice and some functions are extremely slow – the 800MHz processor appears to be overtaxed.

No real support for Gmail, Facebook, Twitter, G+, or Google Hangouts

The 1.9MP camera is very basic and takes poor shots – dynamic range and low light shots are poor.


The overall thrust of reviewer comments is that it is work in progress – “Hey it has a long way to go.”

I applaud Samsung for leading the wearable computing race. The Galaxy Gear is not perfect – but it has potential and needs time to develop. Fortunately, its ‘app-gradeable’ and you can bet Samsung will do whatever it can to keep this product alive.

But - and I say this with some authority having just spent a week with the Sony SmartWatch 2 (that costs under $200) – people need to commit to using companion devices. It is not a watch replacement, it needs to be charged (in Sony's case every four days), it needs to be used, or it will quickly be relegated to the expensive mistake draw.

I used the Sony for a week and loved it – like the Gear it is a companion watch – unlike the Gear works fairly well with any Android 4.x smartphone.

The result - I did not miss its added functionality at the end of the review. Sure it was great to get email, and other notifications, on my wrist, sure it was nice to use with Runtastic walking app, and the flashlight app was great for late night key and lock fumbling. Would I wear it 24x7 – and I do like to wear a watch - probably not.

It begs the question - are people ready to invest a few hundred dollars in a smart watch that has to be recharged daily using a cumbersome charge clip, that only supports certain devices and apps and adds little value to the smart device it pairs with?

My advice – Samsung will not lose share price if you wait a while to look at the Gear – but they will if you don’t buy its excellent Note 3.


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Ray Shaw

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Ray Shaw ray@im.com.au  has a passion for IT ever since building his first computer in 1980. He is a qualified journalist, hosted a consumer IT based radio program on ABC radio for 10 years, has developed world leading software for the events industry and is smart enough to no longer own a retail computer store!