Samsung unveiled its first smartwatch at IFA in Berlin this week. Although the Galaxy Gear reportedly runs a customized Android OS, the device serves as a remote Bluetooth accessory to a paired Samsung smartphone or tablet, and cannot independently access Internet content or services.
The Galaxy Gear runs a customized Android 4.3 OS on an 800MHz ARM-based system-on-chip, backed by 512MB of RAM and 4GB of storage. Other hardware features include a 320 x 320 Super AMOLED display, a 1.9 megapixel autofocus camera, dual mics with noise-cancellation, a speaker, and Bluetooth 4.0 connectivity.
Galaxy Gear clock face, camera, mic, and side views
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Basically, the Galaxy Gear uses Bluetooth to communicate with companion software running on a Samsung smartphone or tablet. Once the devices are paired, the wrist-worn Gear can notify its user of incoming calls, texts, emails, and other alerts by displaying a message preview on its 320 x 320 screen.
Answering a call with the Galaxy Gear
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When call or message notifications appear, the user accepts or ignores the incoming event by tapping on the Gear’s display. Another option is to simply pick up the paired smartphone or tablet, which causes the full message or alert content to immediately show up on the paired smart device’s screen. Commands spoken into the Gear’s microphone are processed with the aid of Samsung’s S Voice speech recognition technology.
Some Galaxy Gear app screenshots
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Obviously the Galaxy Gear can display time, date, and calendar info, and can function as a Bluetooth speakerphone for hands-free calls. But what else can it do?
Samsung apps pre-installed on the Galaxy Gear smartwatch include ChatON, Smart Relay, S Voice, Memographer, Voice Memo, Auto Lock, Find My Device, Media Controller, Pedometer, Stopwatch, Timer. According to Samsung, these apps offer the ability to perform tasks such as…
- Drafting messages, creating calendar entries, setting alarms, checking the weather.
- Browsing and playing music on the companion smartphone or tablet.
- Memographer creates instant visual records by taking pictures and videos using the Gear’s built-in 1.9 megapixel camera, and transfers them to the paired smartphone or tablet.
- Voice Memo captures verbal notes or conversations, which are converted to text and stored on the companion smart device.
- Find My Device helps find a misplaced smartphone or tablet by making the missing device beep, illuminate, and vibrate to reveal itself.
- Pedometer uses the Gear’s built-in sensors to monitor steps taken and compute distance traversed and personalized calories burned.
- Auto Lock locks the companion smart device’s screen when the Galaxy Gear is located more than 1.5 meters away from it, and then unlocks it when the two devices are within that range.
- Safety Assistance summons help in an emergency; when the power button os pressed three times in a row, location information is automatically sent to a preconfigured list of contacts along with a message.
Third-party apps included on the Galaxy Gear are said to include the following:
- Atooma — “contextually aware horizontal intelligence platform that makes the Galaxy Gear smarter”
- Banjo — “see what’s happening now, anywhere in the world”
- Evernote — “capture images and memories and bring important reminders to Galaxy Gear”
- Glympse — shares Gear’s location in real-time; recipients view movements on a dynamic map
- eBay mobile app
- Line — a global messaging service available in 230 countries
- MyFitnessPal — tracks nutrition and exercise
- Path — a “personal network designed to bring you closer to friends and family”
- Pocket — enables saving web content to view later on any device; enables text-to-speech playback on Galaxy Gear
- RunKeeper — personal trainer app; tracks runs and goals
- TripIt from Concur — organizes travel plans
- Vivino Wine Scanner — “take a photo of any wine and get to know all about it instantly”
Samsung’s Galaxy Gear product announcement lists these key hardware features:
- Processor — 800MHz processor
- Memory — 512MB RAM; 4GB flash
- Display — 1.63 inch (41.4mm); 320 x 320 resolution; Super AMOLED
- Video — H.264 codec; MP4 format; 720p HD playback and recording
- Camera — 1.9 megapixel; autofocus; BSI sensor
- Audio — AAC CODEC; M4A format
- 2x microphones with noise cancellation
- 1x speaker
- Connectivity — Bluetooth 4.0 (with BLE)
- Sensors — accelerometer; gyroscope
- Dimensions — 36.8 x 56.6 x 11.1 mm (1.45 x 2.22 x 0.43 inch)
- Weight — 73.8 gm (2.6 oz)
- Battery — Li-ion 315mAh (standard)
Although Samsung does not specify the Galaxy Gear’s embedded operating system, several sources, including Trusted Reviews, report that the device runs a customized version of Android 4.3.
A video showing a Samsung spokesperson demonstrating the use of a Galaxy Gear smartwatch in conjunction with a Galaxy Note 3 smartphone can be viewed on YouTube, here.
Smartwatch time has come?
Prior to Samsung’s Galaxy Gear launch, the most prominent smartwatch release of the year was Sony’s SmartWatch 2. This second-generation Sony smartwatch features a larger, higher-resolution 1.6-inch 220 x 176 screen, NFC sync, and a longer-lasting battery relative to the original Sony SmartWatch.
Sony SmartWatch 2
Will 2014 be the year of the smartwatch?
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Several Android-based wristwatch computers like the Motorola MotoACTV or the new Geak Watch are full-fledged Android smartphones with independent, WiFi-based access to Internet-based content and services, and the I’m Watch goes even further, adding standalone cellular telephony. On the opposite end of the spectrum are simpler, mostly non-Android devices like the MetaWatch and new Pebble watch, which are essentially remote Bluetooth accessories for a smartphone or tablet.
One of the latest smartwatch projects to follow in Pebble’s Bluetooth-accessory footsteps is the Kreyos. After exceeding its $100,000 Indiegogo goal by a factor of 15 on Aug. 12, the 1.26-inch, 168 x 144 smartwatch is now available for general pre-sale for $149, with deliveries due in January.
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And now that Samsung has revealed its long-rumored smartphone and the world eagerly awaits Apple’s iWatch launch, we recently learned that the cause of Silicon Valley startup WIMM Labs taking its WIMM smartwatch platform (pictured at right) out of circulation last Summer was that the company was acquired by Google.
So it’s certainly beginning to look like smartwatches may become the next… er… big thing.
Speaking of which, Juniper Research last month released a smartwatch market study forecasting the app-enabled smartwatch market to reach 36 million units per year by 2018, compared to just over 1 million this year. Leading the way will be “multi-function” watches capable of features such as tracking fitness and sports performance, as well as enabling payments or ticketing. This segment, which will overshadow “the more limited Dashboard/Console segment,” will be led by Apple and Samsung, says the report. This is said to be due in part to the companies’ trademarks and patents, as well as their mobile device clout.
Juniper makes clear that while $36 million is a huge jump from $1 million, it still represents a niche market compared to smartphones and tablets. The research firm also projects that app-enabled mobile wireless accessory shipments will approach 170 million by 2018.
The “Galaxy Gear frees users from the need to constantly check their smart devices while maintaining connections. It provides what we call ‘smart freedom,’ by allowing users to choose how, why, when, and where they are connected,” stated JK Shin, CEO and President of Samsung’s Electronics IT & Mobile Division.
Samsung’s Galaxy Gear smartwatch and Galaxy Note 3 smartphone will become available worldwide on Sept. 25, says the company. The Galaxy Gear will come in six colors: Jet Black, Mocha Gray, Wild Orange, Oatmeal Beige, Rose Gold, and Lime Green. For more information on both the devices, visit Samsung’s Galaxy Gear product page.