Final Thoughts

It's immediately apparent that there's a bit of panic around what happens as the smartphone/tablet markets mature. The incredible growth the leaders in those industries enjoyed over the past few years is addictive, and no one wants to be late to move onto the next thing. Wearables are an obvious target - the incredible amount of attention paid to Google Glass being proof that there is interest, should someone be able to get the formula right. 

We've seen many attempts at building smarter watches over the years. Adding functionality to something you already wear seems logical, plus there's historical precedent here (calculator watches from the 80s come to mind). As lofty as the upside is, there's an equally depressing downside however. The stylish, most adored watches aren't those that have a ton of extra functionality added onto them. That's not to say that the two goals are orthogonal, just that industrial design matters even more with a wearable than it does with a smartphone.

Samsung did relatively well with the Galaxy Gear in that department. I don't know that it speaks to me like a luxury timepiece, but it's well built and doesn't feel cheap at all. I think a truly successful smartwatch will have to look first and foremost like a great timepiece, and I don't know that any of the initial players (Samsung included) are really there yet. I'll admit I'm puzzled by the decision to go with a plastic charging cradle that closes over the Gear instead of some connector and a USB cable, so maybe that's the first thing that really needs changing.
 
Architecturally, Samsung took a different approach to the Galaxy Gear than we've seen from most of the recent attempts (e.g. Pebble, Toq). Rather than optimizing for always on operation, the Galaxy Gear instead is treated like more of a smartphone - designed to be used in bursts, and relying on idle time to extend battery life.
 
It's sort of insane to think that the Galaxy Gear puts an Exynos 4212 on my wrist. On the flipside, the Galaxy Gear delivers downright smartphone-like battery life at a little more than 5 hours of continuous use and that's without cellular connectivity. The lack of an always on watch face is a bit bothersome since you'd expect something you wear on your wrist to always be able to, you know, tell time. Samsung attempts to mitigate the Gear's lack of an always on mode by using the accelerometer and gyro to detect when you're flipping your wrist to look at your watch face. The unfortunate reality is the gesture doesn't work all of the time, again putting you in a situation where you're wearing something on your wrist that doesn't always behave like a watch at the bare minimum. 
 
It's also sort of crazy to think about Android 4.2, similarly, running on my wrist.
 
Truth be told, I don't know that either of these things are the right solution, at least today. An 800MHz Cortex A9 with some Mali-400 GPU configuration at 32nm and Android 4.2 are both too much for a watch-like device. In many ways Galaxy Gear feels a like tablet from the early 2000s. They used notebook hardware and notebook software, weren't fast enough, didn't last long enough on a single charge, and didn't have a great user experience. In the case of the Galaxy Gear, Samsung at least leveraged its experience in skinning Android to deliver an experience that felt mostly reasonable on a watch face. But the hardware needed to run the whole thing is excessive and as a result gives you very little battery life.
 
There are some nicely executed elements of the Galaxy Gear. The device is well built and doesn't feel heavy (although it is a bit bulky). Integration with the Galaxy Note 3 works well. The camera integrated into the wrist strap takes surprisingly decent photos as well. The calling-from-your-wrist experience isn't great though, and the device itself isn't waterproof (which is far more of an issue for something you wear on your wrist than something that lives in your pocket).
 
Ultimately the Galaxy Gear isn't the perfect solution to wearable computing, but rather a first attempt. It's more a proof of concept that you can own. If we look at Samsung's history in nearly every market we've followed it (SoCs, SSDs, smartphones), the company has a tendency to show up early with the wrong solution, but iterate aggressively to the point where it ends up with a very good solution. 
 
In terms of interim improvement - I'd love to see more/better watch faces, broader compatibility with Samsung phones and a persistent clock. Let's start there and see where it takes us.
Battery Life
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  • name99 - Tuesday, October 01, 2013 - link

    You mean M7 as the low power chip, not A7.

    (And yes, to stop the screaming rom the peanut gallery, the CURRENT M7 is not really a custom Apple SOC, in the same way that the A4 was not really a custom Apple SOC.
    It is, however, a placeholder for Apple's intentions, and I expect over time we will see more and more of the low performance low power always-on stuff move to that chip. The finger print sensor for example, the MEMS sensors --- if it's possible to fab them on the same chip as logic --- and perhaps some sniffers for BT and WiFi which give control to the real WiFi and BT chip when they detect what looks like a signal.)
    Reply
  • tech4tac - Tuesday, October 01, 2013 - link

    No, I do mean the Cortex-A7. It's an ARM design for low power to run as a companion with or without the Cortex-A15. Reply
  • name99 - Tuesday, October 01, 2013 - link

    Ah, OK. Fair enough.
    (It is rather awful the naming conventions in this space, isn't it? Couldn't Apple have called their series of chips the I4, I5, I6, I7?)
    Reply
  • phoenix_rizzen - Wednesday, October 02, 2013 - link

    It's only awful when people try to shorten things and drop off important information.

    Apple A7 vs Cortex-A7 vs A7.

    Just saying "A7" is meaningless, especially when the name of the ARM chip is Cortex-A7 (note the hyphen).
    Reply
  • Kepe - Tuesday, October 01, 2013 - link

    I paused for the first picture of the article for a while and thought just what the hell are those slot screws doing on the front of the thing, pointing in all directions like that. They look absolutely horrible and would be a deal-breaker if I was in the market for one these things. Also, the idea of sticking Android in to a watch is ridiculous, at least with currently available tech. No matter how "smart" a watch is, it's supposed to have good battery life, show the time 24/7 and resist the wear of daily usage including bumping your hand into something, washing your hands or taking a shower. Reply
  • Spaz888 - Wednesday, October 02, 2013 - link

    You carry your smartphone with you and now you want to wear an ugly watch connected wireless as well? Does any one wear watches any more except girls as fashion statements? Besides, with all these EMF radiation is it really a good thing to have all these devices around with you on? And what about charging? Sounds like a lot of hassle. Men will be forced to wear man purses just to carry all these things around. Reply
  • UNHchabo - Wednesday, October 02, 2013 - link

    I wear a watch daily, but I tend to prefer mine to be relatively lightweight and low-profile.

    I like a watch because it means I can tell time quickly; it usually takes less than 2 seconds, and I can do it while sitting down, or while my hands are busy with other things like washing my hands. Meanwhile, I can't imagine most people being able to take their phone out, check the time, and put it away, in less than 10 seconds, especially as smartphones have trended larger and pants have trended slimmer.

    One of my coworkers noted that the divide seems to be about age 25 right now; you hardly see anyone younger than that wearing a watch, whereas many people older than that do.

    If I could add a small monochrome LCD screen to my watch to give me the same information as my phone's lockscreen, that would be perfect -- it could tell me if I had new voicemail, or the phone number of the person calling me, so that I would know whether to bother taking my phone out of my pocket. A vibration motor would also be useful, especially since most women carry their phone in their purse, so in circumstances where you don't want your ringtone on, you can still tell if your phone is going off.
    Reply
  • Gorgenapper - Friday, October 04, 2013 - link

    I can check the time on my Galaxy S4 Active in around 4 - 5 seconds, using casual movements and not being in a hurry. 2 seconds if I try hard. But then I don't wear skinny jeans. Reply
  • gnx - Wednesday, October 02, 2013 - link

    I dream of the day when there will no longer be any fanboy wars. When isheep and androidbots can graze together in the pastures of comments.

    Beyond that, this rather surprisingly positive review got me thinking, I) to the reviewer must have pretty thick wrists to not find the size uncomfortable and ii) he is a real hardware geek who appreciates the engineering of smartphone internals into a watch.
    Reply
  • meacupla - Wednesday, October 02, 2013 - link

    Right...

    but I ditched my wrist watch because my phone kept time better and I don't like wearing bulky wrist watches to start with.

    Why doesn't samsung use their flexible OLED screen in something thinner and more, flexible?
    Reply

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