The Galaxy Gear was the first shot in what promises to be an interesting season of smartwatch reveals and you can bet Apple (AAPL), Google (GOOG) and Microsoft (MSFT) are closely watching the reaction to Samsung’s entry.
Samsung’s “Unpack” event also featured the new Galaxy Note 3 — the latest in its line of best-selling phablets — and a refreshed Galaxy Note 10.1 tablet. The Galaxy Notes sported the usual upgrades (faster processor, more RAM, better camera, more pixel-dense display and thinner body) along with a faux leather back, but the tablet and phablet were just a sideshow compared to the Galaxy Gear.
The Galaxy Gear is not exactly the smartwatch pictured in recent Samsung patent filings. The Galaxy Gear pictured in those documents appears to have a curved display that immediately suggests flexible or curved glass such as Corning’s (GLW) Willow Glass. Instead, the smartwatch Samsung unveiled has a rather chunky and flat display mounted in a stainless steel and plastic frame. Here are the key specs of the device:
- 1.63-inch Super AMOLED display at a resolution of 320 x 320 pixels
- Runs Android
- 4GB built-in storage
- 800 MHz processor
- Accelerometer and Gyroscope
- Bluetooth 4.0
- Dual microphones with noise cancellation
- Built-in speaker
- Rechargeable Li-ion battery rated for one day of “regular” use
- Selection of colored bands with built-in 1.9 MP camera
- $299 with October availability
As expected, the Galaxy Gear is designed to be an accessory for your smartphone. It runs some apps of its own (fitness apps like RunKeeper have signed on to be one of 70 available at launch) and incorporates sensors that make it an ideal fitness tracker, but it primarily acts to complement the mobile device you’re already carrying. When connected to a smartphone, the Galaxy Gear receives notifications, lets you check e-mail, make or take voice calls and play music on the device.
But one aspect of that integration might have revealed the smartwatch’s Achilles Heel. Samsung says the Galaxy Gear currently works only with the new Galaxy Note 3 and Galaxy Note 10.1 (2014 Edition), which were also unveiled yesterday. Support for the Galaxy S4 and Galaxy Note 2 is expected to come later this year, but users will have to be upgraded to Android 4.3 — which adds support for Bluetooth LE (the low energy version of the wireless protocol).
Other devices like the Galaxy S III seem to be candidates for an eventual Android 4.3 update as well, but the Galaxy Gear is clearly facing a problem and it’s not just the price tag.