When describing its own invention, Samsung called its Galaxy Gear smartwatch a “companion,” which is apt because the wristwatch fails to be smart on its own.
Sure, it’ll tell you the time on its 1.63-inch 320×320 resolution touchscreen, and it’ll take pictures from its awkwardly-protruding 1.9-megapixel camera, but most “smartwatch” functions in the Gear require another Samsung device — and only four such devices will support the Gear in the next several months.
The Gear is indeed a companion, at least to would-be Samsung device owners. But will even Samsung owners care?
The Gear, despite being a completely new piece of hardware, offers surprisingly few unique features. The Gear either mirrors or extends features from other Samsung devices — this includes the S Voice personal assistant, notifications for calls texts, emails and alerts, Voice Memo, and even the new Memographer feature from the Galaxy Note 3. Sure, these Samsung features are easier to access from your wristwatch, but in the Gear’s case, Samsung owners might prefer using those native features on their phone or tablet.
The Gear, by most early accounts, totally reeks of a first-generation device. Four screws surround the Gear’s watch face, which is a major eyesore. Despite its 800MHz processor, it’s slow as molasses. The Verge said its software interface suffered from “tangible lag,” regardless if it was launching an app or activating the camera, and switching between apps and menus was not-so-intuitive. Engadget mentioned the inconvenience of its single physical button, located on the right side of the watch face, which is used for one too many essential functions like S Voice and the “safety assistance” feature for emergencies. The Gear was clearly built by engineers, not designers.
There are plenty of gripes with the Galaxy Gear, including its $300 price point, but the biggest killer to me, which also epitomizes the story of Samsung, is the device’s battery.
Samsung sees nothing wrong. The company boasts its Galaxy Gear battery, advertising a full 25 hours of life. Wow! 25 hours! That’s more than a day!
25 hours is more than a day, but the fact is, 25 hours of battery life is great for a smartphone, but not a watch. People don’t want to recharge their watches every day.
Samsung wanted a smart watch, and it got a wearable smartphone.
Samsung is an incredibly large, incredibly influential company. But even with its immense size and scope, Samsung’s name has been sullied since it was accused of stealing technologies from Apple’s iPhone and using a near-identical template to sell its popular line of Galaxy S smartphones. Apple’s opinion even held up in court, and Samsung was forced to fork over $1 billion for “borrowing” the iPhone’s essential patents –everything from icons, layout and interface design to the rubberbanding effect one experiences when scrolling to the top or bottom of a webpage.
Samsung had a chance with the Gear to quiet the critics who said the company had no mind of its own, that it couldn’t innovate anything important. And as it turns out, Samsung cared more about preventing another court battle with Apple than creating a truly great product.
Samsung did beat Apple to the punch in creating the first smart watch, but Samsung once again confuses the issue. It’s not about specs on paper, and it’s not about doing it first — it’s about doing it best.
Apple was certainly watching today’s event, but unless the iWatch doesn’t work with non-iOS devices in the way Gear won’t work with non-Samsung devices, Cupertino need not worry about a bulky watch with visible screws, a slow and opaque interface, and a single day of battery life.