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Galaxy Gear Smartwatch at IFA: Is the Wrist Relevant Again?

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Tech Biz

Galaxy Gear Smartwatch at IFA: Is the Wrist Relevant Again?

Samsung throws down the gauntlet for an upcoming smartwatch showdown.

The IFA consumer electronics show, now in its 50th year, is currently underway in Berlin. It has already lived up to its billing of being ground zero for a flurry of major tech announcements. Earlier today, Samsung took the stage to reveal several new gadgets, including the highly anticipated Galaxy Gear smartwatch.

High-tech watches already exist—the Kickstarter-funded Pebble and Sony’s SmartWatch are two examples—but  none have been able to match the buzz surrounding Samsung and Apple’s expected releases. As the global smartphone market leaders, Samsung and Apple have generated a steady stream of rumors and speculation about upcoming wearable tech – referred to, for quite some time, as the Galaxy Gear and iWatch.

Now that the Galaxy Gear is official, it may very well become the standard by which other upcoming smartwatches are judged ahead of the holiday shopping season. Is it a gimmick or a winner?

Appearances only

The official Galaxy Gear is much smaller than prior rumors had suggested. The case is 1.45 inches tall and 2.23 inches wide, with a thickness of 0.44 inches. The Super AMOLED screen measures 1.63 inches diagonally and has a resolution of 320 x 320 pixels.

Disappointingly, Samsung decided not to integrate flexible display technology into the Galaxy Gear. Perhaps it will be ready in time for a Galaxy Gear 2.

The Galaxy Gear will be available in six colors at launch. “Jet Black” is the apparent standard, alongside the oddly named “Mocha Gray” and “Oatmeal Beige.” Brighter options, “Wild Orange” and “Lime Green” are also available. While the preceding colors correspond to the band (matched to a silver case), the sixth option, “Rose Gold,” has a metallic pink case and a white strap.

“The Gear is hardly the sleekest thing you’ll see on store shelves – its aesthetics have more in common with those bulky sports watches than something you’d wear to a nice dinner,” said Tech Crunch.

It’s what’s inside that counts

Galaxy Gear is powered by an 800MHz CPU, a far cry from the anticipated 1.5GHz Exynos 4212. The weaker processor was probably chosen to preserve Gear’s 315 mAh battery, which Samsung claims is good for “more than a day” of normal usage on a single charge. But is that enough for a watch?

“A good wristwatch lasts for several days to several years between charges, windings, or battery replacements,” said The Verge. “The Galaxy Gear promises something in the vicinity of 25 hours. When you take typical manufacturer optimism into account and a battery technology that naturally deteriorates over its lifespan, users could struggle to get from morning to night. That's just not acceptable for a watch.”

The Galaxy Gear comes with 512MB of RAM and 4GB of storage. It also integrates a 1.9MP camera into the strap and a microphone in the buckle. There is also a gyroscope and accelerometer that can be used with fitness tracking apps.

What does it do?

Assuming that many Galaxy-branded smartphone users keep their devices in a bag or purse, the Galaxy Gear makes a lot of sense. Aside from displaying the current time and weather, notifications and updates will appear on the screen—eliminating the need to dig in your pockets or unzip your backpack.

You can make and receive calls, use S Voice to dictate a text message, and capture photo and video with the spy-like strap camera.

Samsung also says that about 70 Gear-specific apps will be available at launch time, but there’s a catch: only 10 apps can be loaded onto the Gear at a time. Some apps that Samsung showed off at IFA were Evernote, RunKeeper, and Path.

Speaking of catches, the Galaxy Gear watch will only be compatible with Samsung’s Galaxy-branded smartphones and tablets (via Bluetooth 4.0).

“Consumers might be a bit disappointed to find that the smartwatch is a partner device reliant on being paired with a Samsung Android smartphone or tablet, rather than being the completely autonomous device media and communications device many consumers were expecting and hoping for,” one tech analyst told BBC.

When can I buy it and how much will it cost?

The Galaxy Gear will launch in more than 140 countries on September 25, expanding worldwide in October. It will retail for $300.