When it comes to personal tech, there are tools and there are toys. The Samsung Galaxy Gear smart watch is a toy, and not a very fun one at that.
I spent a long weekend with the Gear, paired to a Samsung Galaxy Note 3. At first, I was enticed by the watch's slick look and the James Bond-esque feeling I had when wearing it.
But then I began using it.
The watch isn't all that comfortable. It's not particularly heavy, but it's kind of thick, so it kept getting in the way when I was doing normal, everyday tasks like typing on a computer. It also feels flimsier than I believe it should. If I'm dropping $300 on a piece of gear, I want it to feel like a $300 piece of gear. My wife's Fitbit feels sturdier than the Gear.
Getting the device to pair with the Note 3 took longer than I expected it to. One, it's an overly complicated process involving precise steps that require the watch to be placed in its docking cradle, connected to its charger, downloading the Gear Manager app to the phone, turning on the NFC radio on the phone, then enabling Bluetooth on both devices so they can find one another and pair up.
Yuck, right? Imagine if you had to go through all of that to get your television and its remote to work with one another.
Also, maybe the unit I had was a bit wonky, but I became impatient attempting to pair the devices to the point where I almost gave up. And I'm a technically savvy guy, so you can imagine my frustration when I couldn't get it to work by the fourth try.
Although the watch operated as it should, I was really hoping I could use the device with my personal phone, which is a Samsung Galaxy S4. Unfortunately I couldn't since the Note 3 is currently the only phone supporting the Gear due to the watch's support being limited to Android 4.3.
The Gear has super minimal app support, and all of its apps have to be managed using the Note 3. This turned into a chore the more time I spent with it.
The battery life is way too short. I got about eight hours out of a full charge, and that just won't cut it, considering most people who would be using the Gear likely have work days longer than eight hours.
Using the device once it's up and running is relatively painless. Swipe gestures get users through the menu of options, and taps select desired functions and apps. The watch also responded well to voice commands when I prompted it to do things like give me weather information, but sometimes there would be a delay for seemingly unknown reasons.
The voice command, however, is something you'll have to depend on if you use the Gear, since it's the only way to respond to text messages since the watch lacks a typing function.
The Gear's 320x320-pixel screen is clear and nice, and even its 1.9-megapixel camera surprised me with its functionality and speedy picture taking. It houses an 800 MHz processor and 512MB of RAM, which is ho-hum compared to the other smart watches out there.
Taking and making phone calls with the Gear is ... something else. Since the watch's speaker is thin on sound and volume, I found myself speaking louder than normal when I used it to make phone calls. So, I felt like I was shouting at whomever I was speaking to on the other end, in order to make up for the Gear's inadequate sound.
If the price tag were $30, I'd tell you the Gear is worth checking out if you're a gadget fan. But it's not: You have to fork over about $300 to have the pleasure of dealing with its complicated setup on its limited range of supported devices, its so-so functionality and unconvincing construction.
And then you'd be out $300, asking yourself, “Why? Why? Why?!”