Samsung Galaxy Gear review

I've been wanting a smartwatch of my own ever since the Samsung Galaxy Gear first came out some time last year. But as always they were simply too expensive for my budget. I don't really have RM1,000 lying around to throw away at a new fancy smartwatch. First generation gadgets are always expensive be it the Galaxy Gear, LG G Watch, Motorola Moto 360 or even the humble Pebble.

However these gadget's price do come down after a while, as in a year later. That's how I finally come to afford the first gen Samsung Galaxy Gear. I got it for just RM250 from a colleague of mine who bought it for a market price of around RM700+. Although I know it will only sync to a few select Samsung smartphones (and I have none), I don't care because I'd wear any smartwatch even if it only tells the time and nothing else. Why Samsung make the Gear only works with a select few of their own smartphone let alone other handphone made is beyond me. They could have owned the smartwatch market had the Gear sync and connect with other Android or even iPhone phones but no, one had to buy a lousy Galaxy Note 3 to be able to fully utilize it. Now that Android Wear which actually syncs to all Android phones is entering the scene, consumers will think twice before getting any Samsung smartwatches in the future.

Now a little bit about the Gear. It comes with half a dozen watchface to choose from. I liked the standard wathcface that came with it the most cause it looks just like in the ad. You know the one showing a guy's hand holding a Note 3. The screen only turns on when you tilt or rotate the watch towards your face so that it doesn't drain the battery too quickly. There's only one dedicated button on the right side to activate the screen and swipe through the apps and settings.

The camera takes some decent pictures, comparable to those cheap entry level smartphones. You can also record video but only 5 seconds long. You probably won't use it as your primary camera but it's perfect as a discreet spy camera (if you know what I mean). Screen navigation is via swipe and touch. You swipe left and right to select the settings and apps. Swipe down to cancel or go back to the previous screen.

The Galaxy Gear requires at least a Samsung Galaxy Note 3 to setup for the first time or after you reset the watch. It comes with some kind of casing which acts as a charger and also a NFC device. You touch the casing to the Note 3 and it will recognise and sync the Gear. What happens if you don't have a Note 3 to sync? Then you Galaxy Gear will be one expensive digital watch on your arm.

Actually you can install the Gear Manager on many standard Android smartphone after a few tweaks. Just Google around for how to sync any Android phone to Galaxy Gear and you'll get a few guides. I managed to successfully sync my Gear to my Moto G after installing a few APKs although some of the features from the smartwatch doesn't work like the weather, music player, messages, call log and S Voice. I also can't transfer pictures from the Gear to my phone or desktop via Bluetooth or direct cable connection which is a real bummer because it essentially makes the camera pretty useless.

What does work with this adhoc connection are the notifications and phone dialer. You get most if not all the notifications from your smartphone on the Gear plus you can make and receive calls directly from the phone which is pretty cool (if not downright nerdy). Imagine talking to your watch in public. I only did it once.

The Galaxy Gear uses a customised Android 2.0 something as it's operating system. You can always root the Gear to use a custom ROM which unlocks may more features of the smartwatch but like most Android devices, unlocking and rooting is not easy. If you're not careful there's a good chance you might brick the Gear or even your smartphone. While the Android version of the Gear doesn't offer much, there's a much improved upgrade to the smartwatch after you update to the latest Tizen version from Samsung. Updating to Tizen requires you to download the KIES software, connect your watch to a PC and the reconnect the Gear to a Note 3 after reset.

Updating to Tizen gives your Gear a few improvements and features like better battery life and wider Bluetooth connection. You get a lot more apps for Tizen in the Gear App Store, like 3 times more than the previous Android version. You get more watchface to download and choose from and you also get a few extra standard apps like Exercise and Sleep. However even after upgrading to Tizen, you will still need a Note 3 to synchronise the Gear to weather updates, notifications and use many of the features on the smartwatch. But the best thing about Tizen is that it turns your Gear into an MTP device which enables direct cable connection to your PC. Now you can transfer music and other files from your PC to your Gear and finally transfer photos and videos from the smartwatch to your PC so the camera is not entirely useless. After Tizen you can use the media player on your Gear to play music directly from it and not just control music playback on your Note 3 like in the previous Android version.

Battery life, the Gear lasts about a day with heavy use and constant Bluetooth connection to your phone. A day and half after upgrading to Tizen. If you turn off Bluetooth and just use the Gear as a regular digital watch, it'll last about 3 days. Fortunately charging the Gear is pretty quick, you get from low battery to 100% in less than 2 hours.

In a nutshell while the Galaxy Gear is not beautiful like the Moto 360 or offers better specification like the Gear 2 I would still recommend it to you if the price is right. You can get one of these from websites like ipmart or Lazada for around 500 ringgit. Much less if you don't mind second hand Gear from Personally for an entry level smartwatch, I'd take the Gear anytime rather than say the 500 ringgit Pebble. The design is prettier and at least the screen is full color unlike the Pebble.

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