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Review: Gear watch has potential, but falls short

Published on NewsOK Modified: October 1, 2013 at 4:38 pm •  Published: October 1, 2013
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NEW YORK (AP) — It didn't take long to see how a computerized wristwatch might help manage my digital life — or to see how Samsung's new Galaxy Gear smartwatch falls short.

First, the potential: Smartwatches are supposed to offer quick access to many of the things you normally do on your phone, such as checking messages, taking photos, checking the weather and answering calls. You can install apps for additional functionality that lets you track fitness activities and play games. It's like having the power of your smartphone on your wrist.

That sounds great in principle. These gadgets aren't meant to replace phones; they're supposed to work with phones to display the information you need most. While I'm wearing the Galaxy Gear, I can glance at my wrist for messages during dinner or at a movie, as if I'm checking the time. It's not so obvious that I'm being rude, the way pulling out a phone would be.

Samsung's Gear is stylish. Its 1.6-inch screen, measured diagonally, keeps the watch small enough — at least for men — to work as a fashion accessory. Straps come in six colors. For now, the Gear works only with the new 5.7-inch Galaxy Note 3 phone. Both started shipping in the U.S. on Tuesday.

The Gear costs about $300 and the Note 3 another $300, with a two-year service agreement. Although the Gear works with a cellular version of a new Galaxy Note tablet, Samsung is selling only a Wi-Fi version in the U.S. for now, starting Oct. 10 for $550. So until Samsung updates the software on its older phones, you need to buy both the Gear and the Note 3. For $600, this better do a lot to manage my digital life.

I took the Gear to a street fair in Brooklyn and tried to use it to meet up with my brother and two groups of friends. I was able to read text messages and reply to a few using voice dictation. But the voice-command service is slow and makes many transcription errors. It also doesn't give me enough time to read and confirm what I'm about to send, forcing me to start over. After a few attempts, I took out the phone and started replying the normal way.

The Gear also lets you make and take phone calls right from the wrist, Dick Tracy-style, using a built-in speaker and microphone. But it was useless in a noisy environment like a street fair. Out came the phone. Even in quieter environments, there's a noticeable lag using the speakerphone, making conversations tense as we start talking over each other.

As I pushed my way through the crowds, the watch constantly alerted me to new Gmail messages and Facebook updates. But I had to go to the phone to read them. I'm not expecting lengthy email messages on the watch, but I could have at least used the sender's name and the first line or two to gauge a message's importance. The Gear tries to speed things along by opening the relevant app on the phone automatically with a few taps of the watch, but I could have easily opened that app with a few taps on the phone.

A day earlier, the camera on the watch's wristband captured my cousin's 1-year-old daughter trying to balance herself. I would have lost that moment had I waited to pull out the phone. But the share button on the watch was disabled, as apps to send them by email, text or Facebook have yet to be written. Instead, I had to transfer the photo to the phone first. Image quality also was poor, with the camera at less than 2 megapixels.

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