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Samsung Galaxy Gear review

Are you too busy to pull your increasingly enormous phone out of your pocket every time you get a call or text? Then you're the person Samsung had in mind when it designed the Galaxy Gear, a smart watch that acts as a second screen for its gigantic Galaxy Note 3, connecting via Bluetooth.

The Galaxy Gear is available now in the UK direct from Samsung for £299 on its own, or for £868 with the Note 3, a saving of £50. You should be able to find similar deals on the high street, such as the Gear for £249 when you buy the Note 3 on a contract from Phones4U.

Editor's note: This review is an abridged version of Andy Hoyle's full review, published here on CNET.com.

Should I buy the Samsung Galaxy Gear?

First off, the Gear only works with the Note 3 at the moment, with updates coming by the end of the year that will enable it to buddy up with the Galaxy S4, S3 and Note 2. It's unlikely ever to work with phones from different manufacturers or other operating systems. So don't buy it unless and until you're sure it will work with your phone.

Gear and Note 3
Gear and Note 3

The Gear only works with the gigantic, expensive Galaxy Note 3 right now.

Even if you already have a Note 3, we can't recommend buying the Gear to go with it. It's just not ready. The biggest problem is that you can't see email or social network notifications on it, and app support in general is very limited. Much of its functionality depends on voice control, which is a frustrating, unreliable experience. And taking a call is deeply silly, with you alternately yelling at your wrist and then listening to it.

If you have a Note 3 and a couple of hundred extra quid burning a hole in your pocket, you'll love it. It's a really cool-looking gadget -- you can change the clock face and read texts -- and your friends probably won't have one. But everyone else should give it a miss.

Design and display

Our Gear came in a silver-coloured brushed metal with a black rubber strap, but it's available in a range of colours. It's sturdy and feels really well made, but be careful with it -- it's not waterproof.

There's only one button, which fires up the display, or voice control with a double click. Everything else is controlled by the 1.6-inch touchscreen. Its 320x320-pixel resolution is really sharp -- 283 pixels per inch isn't much worse than the iPhone's retina display.

Gear button
Gear button

There's only one button, to turn the display on or off, and activating S Voice.

There are no ports to ruin the sleek lines either. The Gear charges by clicking it into a clunky plastic cradle, which has a micro-USB charger and the NFC chip that wirelessly connects with your Note. You'll probably have to carry this cradle with you because the Gear's battery isn't stellar -- you should get at least a day out of it, but it might die before you get home if you're constantly checking it.

Using the Gear

Unlike a phone with a huge screen, the Gear only shows one thing at a time. From the clock face, swiping down opens the camera, which is built fairly unobtrusively into the strap. Swiping up opens the dialler. Swiping left and right goes through a carousel of functions, such as the media controller, S Voice (the Gear's voice control), the notifications menu and so on.

This is a problem -- despite the Gear's 800MHz processor making everything pleasingly nippy, there are too many screens to swipe through, especially if you want a non-core app. It's often quicker to take your phone out and change or look at something on that, which completely undermines the point of the watch.

Gear cradle
Gear cradle

To recharge you have to clip it into this ugly cradle.

S Voice isn't perfect either. To place a call, for example, you can double-tap the side button to turn on S Voice and say, "Call Luke". It'll either call that person, or if there's more than one Luke it'll give you a list to choose from. But it doesn't always understand (it had real trouble with "Nate", for example), with about one in five calls going to the wrong person. That's not terrible, but nor is it reliable.

Now imagine dictating texts -- there's no room on the screen for a keyboard, you see. Unless you're sending a two-word reply, it's much less hassle to get your phone out, even though it is the size of a side plate.

Gear call
Gear call

Making a call means using the hit-and-miss S Voice.

Apps

The best reason for optimism for the Gear and its successors is its app store. There's already about 70 apps for the Gear, from companies such as Evernote, eBay and Pinterest. Missing are messaging apps such as WhatsApp, Viber, Skype and Google Hangouts. There's no email client either. And Facebook and Twitter are conspicuous by their absence too.

When these appear, they'll increase the Gear's usefulness enormously, but there's no telling when they will arrive, or how good they'll be. And we can only review what's in front of us.

Gear camera
Gear camera

The camera is built into the wrist strap.

One app you might get some use out of is the media controller, but it too is horribly limited. You can only control the volume, play or pause, and skip tracks on the music playing from your phone. You can't change album or artist, or shuffle.

Camera

The 1.9-megapixel camera on the strap is surprisingly good and starts shooting in under 2 seconds -- much quicker than pulling your phone out of your pocket. As it's not obviously a camera, it always makes a shutter noise, which you can't turn off.

Galaxy Gear test shot 1
Galaxy Gear test shot 1

It's really not bad for such a tiny camera (click to see larger image).

Unfortunately, the only thing you can do with the images is send them to your phone -- there's no way of sharing them directly from the Gear. So why not just get your phone out anyway?

Conclusion

A Samsung exec recently admitted the Gear was "lacking something special". This might be straight out of the Gerald Ratner school of marketing, but it's not far wrong. While the Gear's design is really classy, its features are sadly lacking.

It's not that it's missing something special, so much as several really basic features -- email, Facebook, Twitter, music navigation. If Samsung can quickly add those to the app store, reduce the price and make it compatible with its most popular phones -- the S3 and S4 -- then it'll be getting somewhere. For now, it's not something we can recommend you buy.


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