Samsung’s Galaxy Gear Is a Very Samsung Smartwatch

In which Samsung's "spare nothing" approach becomes a burden.

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It’s big. It’s gaudy. It’s packed with fancy hardware and comes loaded with software features–some of which you’d probably never use.

No, I’m not talking about Samsung’s Galaxy Note 3. The device I refer to is the Samsung Galaxy Gear, the company’s first attempt at a modern smartwatch. In typical Samsung fashion, it’s a smartwatch, with everything on it.

For specs, the Galaxy Gear has a 1.63-inch AMOLED display (320-by-320) resolution, an 800 MHz processor, 512 MB of RAM and 4 GB of internal storage. It has a 1.9-megapixel camera and speaker built into the wrist strap, and there’s a microphone on board for making calls over a Bluetooth smartphone connection.

As with earlier smartwatches like Pebble, the Galaxy Gear aims to be a glanceable notification machine, informing you of incoming calls, texts, messages and alerts. But the Gear also has some clever integration with Samsung’s smartphones, so when you take the phone out of your pocket, those messages instantly appear on the big screen.

Samsung is cramming more than just notifications into the Galaxy Gear. With the built-in microphone and Samsung’s S Voice virtual assistant, users can dictate text messages, set alarms and create calendar entries. The watch can also serve as a hands-free speakerphone, relying on the user’s smartphone for the voice connection. A “safety assistance” feature sends the user’s location to a trusted contact, and when the watch is within 1.5 meters of a paired smartphone, it allows the user to bypass the phone’s lock screen.

Additional apps and watch faces round out the feature list. There’s a remote music playback app, a stopwatch, a bundled pedometer and support for RunKeeper and MyFitnessPal. Other third-party app partners include Path, Pocket, Vivino Wine Scanner and TripIt. It’s safe to assume Samsung will see more app support during its developer conference next month.

Now for the bad news, of which there is lots:

At launch, the Galaxy Gear will only work with Samsung’s Galaxy Note 3 and upcoming Galaxy Note 10.1 2014 Edition. Future software updates will allow the Gear to pair with the Galaxy S4, Galaxy S III and Galaxy Note II, but it doesn’t look like Samsung’s going to support other phones, even those that run Android.

The price is a doozy as well. At $300 (according to Bloomberg and The Verge), it costs twice as much as a Pebble, and in the United States it’ll be more expensive than most on-contract phones.

Then, there’s the battery life. Samsung says the Galaxy Gear will last for about a day’s worth of use. Again, compare that to the Pebble or Sony’s upcoming SmartWatch 2, both of which get at least a few days on a charge, and the Gear’s AMOLED display seems like a major liability. To make things worse, you don’t just plug the watch directly into a charger. CNET¬†reports that you must clip the Gear into a dock, which then charges the watch via Micro-USB. If you don’t take the dock with you, you won’t be charging your smartwatch.

Finally, according to Engadget, the Galaxy Gear “feels awfully sluggish, whether you’re launching an app such as Evernote or Path, or swiping down from the home screen to activate the camera.”

I usually avoid condemning products before spending time with them, but this looks like a case where Samsung’s condiment-laden approach to mobile computing has become a burden. The technology doesn’t yet seem powerful enough, miniature enough or inexpensive enough for everything Samsung wants to accomplish. Advancements in watch tech are on the horizon, but until we get there, you might be better off with a smartwatch that shows some self-restraint.