As we all waited with baited breath for the Apple iWatch, the Galaxy Gear, the US$299 Samsung smartwatch, was already out on sale. Jumping the gun on Apple for these guys is old news. It promises much: connects to your smartphone via Bluetooth, takes pictures, records video, sends and receives text messages, makes phone calls and plays and records music.  I’m giving away my age, I guess, if I say this sounds like Get Smart on crack. On your wrist, however, it’s another story. Samsung may have beaten its rival Apple to the punch in releasing their smartwatch early, but the device just isn’t quite there yet.

The Galaxy Gear Smartwatch

Problem is… it’s not ready for Prime Time.  Yes, Samsung may have beaten Apple to the punch, but the punch has no punch. Know what I mean? It’s a cool-looking watch: metal edges, rectangular glass display and not too light. The menu is easy to navigate. The only visible button, on the top right of the device, wakes up the display, showing the time, date, temperature and weather. Easy to customize, the button can do other stuff like activating S-Voice, Samsung’s Siri-like voice-activated personal assistant. Swipe right or left to scroll through different pages for access to various apps and features. Then simply tap the display once you’ve scrolled to that app. Swipe also for the clock and the 1.9-megapixel camera. Another swipe gives time and weather and a dialpad for calls.  A lot to remember? Yes, but ultimately, after learning your habits, theoretically at least, it becomes intuitive.

SmartwatchAll well and good. But there’s a catch. The watch only works with the Galaxy Note 3, the new phablet. This new gear will be released over the next few weeks and months and cost US$300 to US$350, with a two-year contract, according to CNET reports. Other Samsung Galaxy devices will also be forthcoming, but none of them will work with anything but Samsung devices.

Galaxy Gear is also markedly slow. I’m a spoiled brat for fast smartphones and tablets, but everything on this watch – scrolling through the menu items, taking pictures and using S-Voice – is s-l-o-w. Atypically, when I wore the watch and kept a phone in my pocket simultaneously, when I got a text message the phone would buzz in my pocket but it would take more than another minute to get a notification on the watch. Also, although you get texts, there are no picture messages. Weird to take pictures with Galaxy Gear, but then transfer them to your phone before you can send them.

After receiving text messages, you may respond by either calling or using S-Voice. Calling’s easy enough, but dictating messages proved time consuming.  ‘Correct’ English must be used, or it won’t! No slang allowed, baby! The watch is a phone, thanks to the speaker/microphone on the wristband. Still, it’s connected to your smartphone via Bluetooth, so your smartphone is actually the device using the network. You can choose to have the volume low, talking into it Dick Tracy-style, or raise the volume and use it as a speaker phone. I guess that’s good for drivers! But for much cheaper a Bluetooth hands-free system is way superior. Call quality is mediocre. A rather muffled sense of call and response. For $300 I expect more!

Great for joggers, gym rats, and walkers, its music sounds first-rate. Don’t forget the crime wave, however. Maybe it’s just my city-boy paranoia but you’re packing approximately US$650 of electronics on your wrist and in your pocket if you walk the streets packing both a phone and a smartwatch. Word is that smartwatches will soon be as ubiquitous as smartphones are today. To me, it’s difficult to justify investing $300 on a first-generation smartwatch that works just okay. Wait for the Apple model… or just wait!

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