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Samsung's Galaxy Gear isn't really a smartwatch

Samsung's Galaxy Gear isn't really a smartwatch

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Galaxy Gear
Galaxy Gear

Prior to the reveal of the Galaxy Gear today, we'd reported that it wouldn't be a standalone phone. After today's announcement, I can conclusively say it's not a smartwatch, either.

A smartwatch is, quite literally, a smart wristwatch. It's a timepiece with a brain, capable of processing and displaying information above and beyond what you'd expect of an ordinary clock. But there are fundamental tenets of the term "wristwatch" that the Galaxy Gear violates.

A good wristwatch:

  • Last for several days to several years between charges, windings, or battery replacements. And automatic movements — in which the user's natural wrist motions keep the watch functional — have existed both in mechanical and electrical forms for many years. The Galaxy Gear promises "more than a day" on a charge, 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.
  • Always displays its information, legibly and without drama. This is why devices like Pebble and MetaWatch continue to use monochrome displays: full color takes lots of power, and you lose maximum daylight viewability in the process with a technology like Gear's AMOLED.
  • Has a replaceable band. A wristwatch is the most expressive and individualized piece of technology most of us will ever wear, and as such, it needs an unusually flexible level of customizability. If I want a rubber or leather band, it should be no more difficult than removing a couple screws or a spring-loaded pin. The Gear, meanwhile, is locked into its band by virtue of the bizarre low-megapixel camera integrated into it.
  • And perhaps most importantly, a good wristwatch looks and feels like a wristwatch. It's a part of you. It matches your style. It doesn't stand out (unless you want it to). It evokes emotion.

    I can't say that the Galaxy Gear does any of those things. In fact, I'm not entirely convinced the first smartwatch has even been made yet. I'll keep using the term — as will everyone — for lack of a better one, but I believe true smartwatches will grow out of a resurgent watch industry in cooperation with technology companies, not out of the tech sector alone. Put simply, they'll look like watches; they'll just do more than they used to.

    I'm not convinced the first smartwatch has even been made yet

    I'm not necessarily saying the Galaxy Gear is a bad product; I haven't used it, much less tried to live with it for days or weeks on end. But what this does mean is that the Galaxy Gear is a wearable computer, not a smartwatch. Like other portable computers, the Galaxy Gear is a high-power machine that attempts to clone the functionality of larger devices. It's infinitely extensible and exhaustively feature-packed at the expense of battery and, I believe, livability.

    Fortunately, Samsung's press release for the Gear sticks to the much safer, more generic "wearable device" moniker, only briefly mentioning that it also functions as a "standalone watch." That's a start. "Wearable device" is a term I'm comfortable with for this product.

    But ultimately, it still means that I'm left wondering what Samsung could do if it didn't feel compelled to put a camera in the strap and an 800MHz processor under the hood.