Hands on with Samsung's Galaxy Gear smartwatch

Samsung's Galaxy Gear smartwatch Credit: Image credit: IDG News Service/Martyn Williams

A quick play with Samsung's Galaxy Gear shows a fairly responsive device

Samsung's Galaxy Gear is here, launched on Wednesday at Germany's IFA electronics show.

I got a chance to try it out for 10 minutes. Here are my initial reactions.

The device -- a Samsung representative said they're not calling it a smartwatch, just the Galaxy Gear -- is a little bigger than those calculator watches that were popular in the eighties but its 1.6-inch OLED screen and bright color make it a lot prettier.

There's a fairly rigid plastic strap that clamps around the wrist. The watch with its strap wasn't heavy enough to weigh down my wrist, and didn't feel excessively heavy, but I did know it was there.

With the exception of a single button on the right side of the watch, all interaction is done via the touch screen.

A swipe down the screen launches the camera app. The camera is embedded in the wrist strap on the side that faces away from the body. Snapping a picture is as simple as aiming and tapping the screen, although there was a lag of about half a second between the tap and the picture being taken.

It didn't appear to have a particularly fast shutter and the resolution is fairly low at 1.9 megapixels, so it's probably fine for quick, simple shots but you'll want to rely on your smartphone for anything better.

Pictures taken with the watch can be automatically transferred to a Bluetooth-paired smartphone. A simple image browser on the watch lets you see some of the pictures and those transferred from the phone.

Swiping sideways runs through a series of functions. There's a voice memo recorder, music player, call log, your phone book and also an icon that links to a page of apps.

Included in the Galaxy Gear that I tried out were apps for Evernote, My Fitness Pal, the Path social network, Glympse, the Line messaging service and Run Keeper among others.

The swiping takes a little bit of getting used to, but the watch felt fairly responsive. It wasn't quite as responsive as a modern smartphone, probably because it's running on a much less capable processor, but there was no noticeable lag.

And if you get lost navigating, the button on the side of the watch takes you back to the home screen.

It's worth noting that virtually all of the apps rely on the smartphone connection. The watch itself is pretty useless without a phone present, offering only limited functions like the clock, pedometer and camera.

A Gear manager on the smartphone will also provide an easy interface into many of the settings of the watch, such as the type of clock and clock face, what apps are shown when scrolling and what data is automatically synched or transferred between the two.

You can place or answer calls from the Galaxy Gear. There's an on-screen dialler, a speaker in the clasp of the wrist strap and two microphones with a noise-cancelling feature. I didn't get a chance to try this feature out.

Finally, perhaps one of the most useful apps is a find my phone/watch app. If you mislay either the watch or its paired phone, you can set one to make the other emit a sound. It works within Bluetooth range, so it might be useful for those times the watch falls under the sofa or the phone ends up in the laundry basket.

The phone is running a modified version of the Android operating system, so there will likely be a flood of apps once Samsung opens up the platform to all developers.

All in all, it's not a bad first entry into the new smartwatch market. Should consumers take a shine to wearable devices, I would expect future Galaxy Gear watches to be smaller and faster.

Probably my biggest criticism for the watch is in its lack of interaction with apps such as Gmail, Twitter and Facebook. While it will show details of emails received by the smartphone's Samsung message app, for others it will only provide a notification that a message has been received, forcing the user to pull out their phone for more. That's something that Samsung needs to fix.

The SM-V700 Galaxy Gear will be available in over 140 markets beginning Sept. 25. It will cost around US$299. In the U.S., it will be available in early October through cellular carriers.

Martyn Williams covers mobile telecoms, Silicon Valley and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Follow Martyn on Twitter at @martyn_williams. Martyn's e-mail address is martyn_williams@idg.com

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