REVIEWED: Samsung Galaxy Gear smart watch

Call answering, a secret camera and a frustrating user interface on the first smart watch from a major brand

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It used to be a euphemism for hard drinking, but the ‘raising of the wrist’ is about to take on a whole new meaning as the first smart watch from a major global brand is unleashed in Berlin. The first watch that lets the wearer receive and make calls without taking a phone out of a pocket, Samsung’s Galaxy Gear answers phone calls as it’s raised to your ear, but elsewhere it’s a slow and sometimes frustrating product to use.

Disruptive photography

A possibly disruptive feature of Gear is a 1.9-megapixel outward-facing camera embedded on the strap itself. Activated by swiping a finger slowly down the 320×320-pixel, 1.6-inch screen, followed by a tap, the camera can shoot in square or 4:3 shapes, and film video in square (640×640), VGA quality (640×480) or widescreen HD (1280×720). There’s also a ‘memography’ mode to store ‘visual notes’, which we can see being used by creatives, law enforcers and black-mailers.

Slave device

A slave device only to recent Samsung smartphone and tablet products such as the S3, S4 and Note, Galaxy Gear won’t work with an iPhone or any other Android brand.
Elsewhere the features are as you might expect; Find My Phone, a pedometer sensor, events reminders, new email alerts and a selection of apps. When you receive en email alert on Galaxy Gear and start to read it, you can then pick up your Galaxy Note or S3/S4 smartphone, the Smart Relay feature makes sure the master device is already displaying that email. Gear also includes Siri-style S-Voice for sending texts, setting alarms … or asking about the weather.

25 hour battery

However, perhaps the biggest claims is its impressive 25 hours battery life. We soon found out why; if you leave the touchscreen for more than a few seconds, the screen dims and quickly switches itself off. Hardly the most sensitive touchscreen we’ve used, the menu system is simple, though with few swipe gestures recognised and only one hard-button control available – which merely initiates the home page – we found it a tad frustrating to use.

Fashion icon?

And the strap … we got in a right tangle getting the 74g Galaxy Gear both on and off our wrist, with the bulky clamp turning out to be home to the microphone.
Galaxy Gear may be the first smart watch from a global brand, but it’s not much of a step on from the likes of I’m Watch, Pebble and Cookoo. Samsung described it as a future fashion icon; for now, that’s all it can be.