Smartwatches are going to surge, at least for a while. Companies like Samsung, which build them simply because they can, may eventually make some interesting wrist-top devices. But the first-generation Galaxy Gear now hitting the market isn't going to mesmerize anyone with its lousy camera, redundant notifications and unimaginative third-party apps. We're looking at a product seeking a reason to exist, and coming up short.
Too negative? OK, here. Since I've had the opportunity to wear a Galaxy Gear for a few days, I can go over the reasons you should — or should not — buy one yourself.
- It tells time like a boss.
- Comes in seven colors (well, three colors in the U.S. so far), and it's not nearly as hideously large as I'd imagined.
- You can pause your phone's music and videos without going to the trouble of actually touching your phone.
- Easy-ish navigation reminiscent of the adorable square 6th-generation iPod Nano.
- The screen is pretty.
- It's a speakerphone … on your wrist!
- Um …
- The camera takes terrible pictures and is awkward to point.
- The first wave of third-party apps is lame.
- Battery dies after a day, and the special charging dock means you may not be able to charge it quickly when you're in a pinch.
- Yet another roadway distraction.
- Yet another distraction period.
- For the moment, it only pairs with a shiny beast of a phablet, the Galaxy Note 3 — though an attractive, powerful device, it may be dauntingly humongous to those of us not in the NBA.
- S Voice, ugh. Say you're reading a message, and you tap the menu option "S Voice reply." The system doesn't know what message you came from … or that you want to reply to it!
- No heart rate monitor for workouts — though there's an accelerometer to count steps.
- It's $300.
- Want me to go on? OK …
I can't conceive of who would go out and buy a Galaxy Gear at this point (though if you're in the market, they're available at Sprint starting this Friday). I would, however, consider a slender smartwatch that could subtly notify me of key — preferably highly customized — items throughout the day.
But it would have to be about more than getting smartphone notifications.
What Samsung has failed at in this initial launch is explaining why I shouldn't be able to live without a smartwatch. Something I'd find more irresistible would have to include a killer mapping app, for navigation on foot especially, whether in a strange city or the back woods; also, an exercise system that goes beyond just pedometers. In my wilder dreams, I could even hope for a front-facing camera (which would be way more useful than the clumsy band-mounted one on the watch now), and perhaps the ability to descend 100 feet underwater and serve as a diving computer, too.
OK, so I may get carried away thinking of what I might actually want on my wrist. But none of that is here, now, in the Galaxy Gear. While I approach the concept with less bafflement than that head-mounted camera-and-notification system known as Google Glass, I come away from this device equally uncommitted.
Next smartwatch, please.
Also read: Laptop's Mark Spoonauer reviews Galaxy Gear, says "Apple has nothing to fear"