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First impressions: Samsung Galaxy Gear and Galaxy Note 3

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September 4, 2013

Gizmag goes hands on with Samsung's Galaxy Gear smartwatch (Photo: Gizmag)

Gizmag goes hands on with Samsung's Galaxy Gear smartwatch (Photo: Gizmag)

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IFA! After a packed-to-the-rafters Samsung Unpacked event, Gizmag wasted no time (or as little time as was reasonable given the free bar) in trying out both Samsung's new Galaxy Gear Smartwatch and the Galaxy Note 3. Read on to find out our first impressions of the new hardware.

Samsung Galaxy Gear

the mic built into the buckle is positively Buck Rogers (Photo: Gizmag)

As you'll no doubt have realized if you've read our coverage of the Galaxy Gear announcement, Samsung's inaugural smartwatch packs a lot of functionality into a device to be worn on the wrist. It's impressive, then, that though the Galaxy Gear is by no means a small watch, it doesn't feel all that chunky wrapped around your wrist.

Opinions in the room varied on the comfort of the strap, some observers we spoke to saying it could have had a little more give, Gizmag found it perfectly comfortable (for the few minutes we got to wear it).

And though Samsung may be among the first of the major players to unveil smartphone-interfacing wrist-wear, the company may just have stolen a march on the competition so far as the UI is concerned. Though I was concerned that the finger-swipes to choose between the watch's various functions looked a little unwieldy when Samsung's Pranav Mistry showed them off on stage, in practice they were just as you'd hope, requiring only minimal flicks to move between apps.

If the watch is in any way beautiful, it's down, in no small part, to the simple white-on-black iconography that indicate each of the watch's functions and the elegant sans serif fonts which tell the time. (It doesn't have to be a black background. It can also be set to match the colour of the strap.) Somehow inserting a camera lens into the strap lends a techy feel without looking too ostentatious, while the mic built into the buckle is positively Buck Rogers (and I mean that in a good way.)

I want one, and yet I don't want one. From first impressions there's little to fault, though time will tell if day to day use alongside a Samsung smartphone exposes any niggles in the usability, or how severe they turn out to be. But my niggling doubts are more to do with the idea of a smartwatch itself, a device on your wrist that makes your phone even harder to ignore. And, even accepting the 25-hour battery life, this is yet another gadget that tech companies are expecting us to remember to charge. (Convenient charging technology really needs to catch up.) For many, though, the hassle of one extra device will doubtless be compensated by a reduced need to fish in your pocket for your smartphone.

Samsung Galaxy Note 3

The Samsung Galaxy Note 3 (Photo: Gizmag)

During the unveil presentation, much was made of the holy trinity behind the new UI: the dot, circle, box gestures that form the foundation of how users execute commands, cut content to be stored in a scrapbook, and launch simple apps which can be laid over other apps without having to navigate away from the screen.

Naturally, then, this was the first thing Gizmag tried when we got our hands on the Galaxy Note 3. The dot, effectively a single click of the S Pen's button to bring up a pop-up radial menu is simple enough, though the commands contained therein may take some learning, particularly to those new to Samsung phones.

From there you can select the command to draw a circle around any content you wish to store in the phone's scrapbook (which handily preserves a hyperlink back to the source). This works excellently, except there's the nagging question of why you have to execute a command before you can do it. If you could draw a circle around content to copy at any time, that would really be something.

Likewise the box gesture, which can be used to launch simple handy apps without having to navigate out of the main app you're in, requires that intermediate dot command to activate. As a long-time Apple user, there's just the nagging feeling that the powers that be at Cupertino wouldn't entertain such fiddliness. And though it's a very useful feature, the suggestion that the launched app compresses to fit the box you've drawn is only really true if you happen to draw an app-sized box.

Probably the other most notable feature is the leather-like backing material. This is a bold move from Samsung, and sets the device apart from the competition. It certainly gives the device an air of the besuited professional person, but it does look a little odd where it bends and even creases out of shape around the headphone jack.

That'll do for now. We'll have more from Samsung at IFA throughout the rest of the week.

About the Author
James Holloway James lives in East London where he punctuates endless tea drinking with freelance writing and meteorological angst. Unlocking Every Extend Extra Extreme’s “Master of Extreme” achievement was the fourth proudest moment of his life.   All articles by James Holloway
15 Comments

And what is it like in direct sunlight? As poor as many of the smartphones that have screens ideal for use under the bed covers?

NickHeidl
4th September, 2013 @ 07:54 pm PDT

Galaxy Gear looks pretty neat and chic! It looks close to a regular watch. It's not like "Hey y'all, look how I'm carrying all the latest technology on my wrist!"

As to Note 3 on the other hand, I'm not so sure about the leather backing. I wish it was offered as optional. Such leathers tend to look worn or dirty after use for a while. I don't know why Samsung is so much criticized for plastic. I never thought it looked cheap. Also, you can just use a case if you don't like that glossy look.

LilQTBrain
5th September, 2013 @ 12:37 am PDT

Seriously why would anyone like a Smart watch? Is this to replace the phones? I doubt this will take off - glad Apple has not come out with something so silly yet. :-).

Jens Kristianson
5th September, 2013 @ 02:24 am PDT

The smart watches which I have seen so far from Samsung and Sony looks like mini-phones on a strap. They are definitely not going to make a positive fashion statement. Let's see if Apple can bring a cool instead of geeky look to the market, otherwise it is going to go the way of the calculator watches.....

Riaanh
5th September, 2013 @ 04:41 am PDT

@Jens Kristianson iWatch is just around the corner. :)

http://www.gizmag.com/apple-iwatch-2013-release/26501/

LilQTBrain
5th September, 2013 @ 05:08 am PDT

@LilQTBrain - I agree that the Gear doesn't look TOO geeky, but I tend to agree more with Riaanh regarding possible Apple style. There was speculation earlier in the year that Apple hired a top designer from Yves Saint Laurent to consult on the design of the iWatch.

http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2421349,00.asp

If true, an enormously savvy move. Style will probably always trump functionality when it comes to wearable electronics. Apple has always shown great style consciousness. Whoever looks the most chic and stylish (least geeky) with at least basic functionality will win the crown. Looking at the Gear and without seeing the iWatch, my bet is that the iWatch is going to blow the Gear out of the water merely on style. If Apple makes it compatible with Android, say, "Goodbye, Gear!... we hardly knew ya."

kalqlate
5th September, 2013 @ 08:09 am PDT

What a clunker, way tooover sized. And should have been at the size it is made turned to landscape position on the wrist. What with the black and white digital clock is that it!!!

I think I would put a wrist strap on a IPOD NANO before buying one of these.

I hope Apple comes out with more a reasonable size and and something other then a black and white clock.

Ron Spicer
5th September, 2013 @ 09:35 am PDT

A Really Nice Article . It Would be more good If software and application were also mentioned

Hamza Ismail
5th September, 2013 @ 11:25 am PDT

I was looking for a full-size phone that wrapped around my wrist and returned to full form when removed from my wrist. This gear contraption is laughable. It will be blown away and forgotten when apple releases. (not that I like apple, I have a galaxy, but that's what will happen.)

Charles Zeller
5th September, 2013 @ 11:58 am PDT

I smell apple fanboys amongst us humans......

Cant wait to test run the galaxy watch. Looking forward to using the camera and glancing at my watch to get a summary of email activities, weather reports, facebook updates etc

But....

Do I invest $299 dollars for a test run?

Zain Hoosen
5th September, 2013 @ 11:14 pm PDT

I had one of these in the late 90's. It had stocks and movie times and other info sent to it. It was a novelty for a few months but I never felt the need to replace it when I lost it. I have a feeling this technology will suffer the same fate.

Kurtiscool
5th September, 2013 @ 11:18 pm PDT

There are many reasons for wrist technology. Looking at a screen display is not high on the list.

Smart wristbands (e.g. Kapture, yesterday) could be extended to many different uses, including acting as security tokens, NFC mechanisms, wireless flash drives, etc.

One that I personally like is using chips attached to each fingernail (like acrylic fashion nails now) via wrist-based sensors to track the relative position of each finger, allowing complex 10-finger virtual multi-touch capabilities without needing a touchscreen.

Another is exactly the opposite approach to current smartwatches. Leave the "smart" on the pocket device, bring the "phone" to your wrist. These days basic telephony can be built into a very small package.

Apple, Sony, Samsung are supposed to be among the best design companies in the world, but they're forgetting the basics. The best design is the best solution. So what was the problem?

For me, its the basic check every morning before leaving the house.

"Phone, wallet, keys"

I want a device that can do those three things.

Everything else is just a tablet ... different screen sizes, but still a tablet

Nickov8
5th September, 2013 @ 11:35 pm PDT

With respect Nickov8 Apple hasn't forgotten anything, the phrase 'the best solution is the best design' encapsulates their entire design ethos.

Any 'iWatch' info you may hear is pure speculation. There is little evidence Apple will come out with a watch at any point on the near future.

Neil
7th September, 2013 @ 06:21 pm PDT

It's not a smartwatch. It's a "dumb terminal" watch.

Don108
8th September, 2013 @ 08:22 pm PDT

I am amazed that such a powerful, wealthy and usually innovative company cannot do better than this. They really need to partner with a jewellery designer to produce something beautiful.

Completely agree with Ron Spicer that this is a clunker.

Also agree with kalqlate that in this marketplace, style definitely trumps functionality. In a nutshell, if they want anybody to adorn any part of their body with the product, then it absolutely has to be an adornment, not a piece of tat.

For two beautiful examples of what this should have been, take a look at:

(a) Federico Ciccarese's design for the iPhone 5, which sees clearly that it is the large unbendy back of our hand where we want our touchscreen, not our little bendy wrist joint:

http://www.ciccaresedesign.com/2012/07/06/iphone-5-new/

and

(b) the EmoPulse Smile which is an appropriately beautiful piece of jewellery in its own right:

http://emopulse.com/

In my book there is nothing to touch those two right now.

dalroth5
13th September, 2013 @ 02:36 am PDT
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