Samsung’s Galaxy Gear Smartwatch Shows How It Shouldn’t Be Done

Reviewers aren't loving Samsung's Next Big Thing.

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Reviews of Samsung‘s Galaxy Gear smartwatch are hitting the web today, and almost all of them are negative.

This isn’t a surprise. As soon as Samsung announced its first modern smartwatch last month, the flaws in the product were clear: Battery life is weak, the charging process is inconvenient, the watch only works in tandem with a handful of Samsung devices and the $300 price tag is rather steep.

Today’s reviews pile on even more criticism, calling out the Gear’s sluggish interface, unreliable touch gestures and limitations in its small-screen apps. More importantly, it’s hard to find anyone who thinks the Galaxy Gear represents the future of smartwatches.

Gizmodo’s Brent Rose says the Galaxy Gear falls far short of smartwatches’ potential:

Ultimately, though, this feels like a beta product. Apps feel unfinished, gestures are finicky, and very little about the whole experience is fluid or easy. It often takes a lot of scrolling around to finally find the app you want, and even then it’s easy to accidentally back out of it because it mistook your tap for a swipe. It seems like Samsung just wanted to put some feelers out there and try to get some feedback from consumers, while charging them $300 for the honor.

Vlad Savov at The Verge argues that it never should have been born:

The Gear’s camera and phone calls are both surprising and delightful, but they’re unfortunately isolated highlights. When all is said and done, I expect the Galaxy Gear will be looked back upon as a rough first draft that helped the Korean chaebol steer a better course en route to the goal of producing a real smartwatch. As it stands today, though — unintuitive, oversized, overpriced, and in constant need of a Galaxy guardian — the Galaxy Gear might have been better off staying on the drawing board.

A common thread is that the Galaxy Gear feels rushed, or incomplete, but that seems too kind. With the Galaxy Gear, Samsung has merely grafted smartphone features onto a smaller screen with a wrist strap. The fact that these features don’t work well is beside the point: It’s the wrong approach to begin with. You can’t really call it a rough draft if the whole thing needs to be tossed out.

On that note, Zach Epstein of Boy Genius Report has the most damning criticism:

Samsung’s first shot at the smartwatch category everyone is calling the future is hopelessly stuck in the past. It’s a tiny 1.63-inch window into a handful of basic smartphone functions. It brings nothing new to the table. It does not innovate or even try to. The Galaxy Gear is a “we were here first” device that feels like a half-baked response to an Apple product that doesn’t even exist.

If smartwatches are the future they will be nothing like Samsung’s Galaxy Gear.

While we can only guess what the future of smartwatches will be, I like the idea of them acting as intelligent assistants, capable of deciding which information is important enough to display on the wrist–something akin to Google Now or Apple‘s Passbook, but with more awareness of where you are and what you’re doing, and better ways to prioritize incoming notifications. (I’ve written about this idea elsewhere, through I’m not the first one.)

Separately, smartwatches have health and fitness potential if they use low-power processors to monitor movement and heart rates. Apple’s M7 co-processor and Motorola’s X8 computing system are on the right track. Samsung, having shoehorned smartphone guts into a wristwatch, is not.

I suppose it’s no harm, no foul to consumers if Samsung wants to keep futzing around with ill-conceived smartwatches, but hopefully other companies are watching and learning from these missteps, figuring out how to make devices that people will want to wear, And when they do, any company that’s still trying to turn a watch into a smartphone will be caught flat-footed.