Samsung’s Galaxy Gear is a slick device that works well, but the problem is it doesn’t do anything useful.

Galaxy Gear first 1024x824 An expensive fashion accessory: Galaxy Gear review

The rumor mill has been rumbling for quite some time that Apple was in the process of making a smartwatch. Patents were filed, components were being sourced, surely something was on the way.

Fast forward to today and there’s no iWatch. It’s still a work in progress that has neither been confirmed nor denied by Apple.

Apple’s lack of movement on the iWatch has meant Samsung has has gotten out of the gates first with its first smartwatch, the Galaxy Gear.

At its core, the Galaxy Gear is an accessory. An add-on. Without being paired to a Samsung smartphone — and at this time the only two devices its compatible with are the Galaxy Note 3 and Note 10.1 2014 edition (more compatibility may be coming) — the Galaxy Gear isn’t an extraordinarily useful device. Without the pairing, it’s a fancy watch with a camera.

But even while paired with a Galaxy smartphone, there isn’t an extraordinary feature that defines the usefulness of the device. Even with pairing, it’s a fancy watch with a camera that promises to save you a few seconds of pulling your Galaxy Note from your pocket.

The best way to describe the smartwatch is an extension of the Galaxy Note’s screen, with the ability to perform rudimentary functions such as using the phone, schedule, and receiving alerts. But is an on-your-wrist extension of the Galaxy Note worth $299?

The best thing the Galaxy Gear might have going for it is its looks. It’s a stylish and sleek device rivaling many designer watches that probably cost twice as much. At 73.8 grams and 11.1mm thick It’s also not a very heavy and bulky device, so it’s not a burden to wear during the day. Within these 73.8 grams and 11.1mm  it packs a 1.63-inch, 320 x 320 pixel Super AMOLED display, a 315 rmAh battery and an 800MHz processor that powers a slimmed down version of Android.

As the Galaxy Gear is a fashion accessory, Samsung is staying away from a “one color to rule them all” mentality, and is launching the device with a variety of different colors to suit everyone’s taste. The review unit sent to the VR-Zone office came with a stylish black wrist band, but Samsung says it will be available in a variety of different colors such as grey, wild orange, rose gold, lime green and oatmeal beige. The device only has one button, which adds to its minimalistic and fashion conscious design.

But this leads to the Galaxy Gear’s great problem: it’s all looks and not functionality. In fact, the Gear’s challenge with functionality begins after you power it on. Synchronizing it with the Galaxy smartphone can only be done with NFC, not Bluetooth, which involves a near-ballet of rubbing the two together in the hopes that the two devices will detect each other and the syncing progress can begin.

Once synced up the Gear can tell time, take photos, be used for phone calls, controlling music, and is a second screen for alerts and scheduling.

Now this leads to the device’s fatal flaw: while it can be used for receiving alerts, you can’t actually read the said email, chat app or social media alert it’s referring to (SMS messages can be read however). So essentially, it’s simply acting as an invitation to pull out your Galaxy Note to check the alert’s contents.

When the device was launched, Samsung hyped the ability to control your Galaxy Note via S-Voice. Functions like calling, or sending an email, could be addressed to the smartwatch instead of the Note. But in practice S-Voice doesn’t work as advertised — you need to speak to it in a very direct voice and sometimes background noise will prevent it from picking up your commands. Taking the Gear to a coffee shop in Taipei and trying to operate it via S-Voice in English amongst the quiet murmur of Mandarin got some awkward stares that gave off the “why is that waiguoren speaking at his watch?” vibe. Same goes for trying to make handsfree calls with the Gear, without heavy background noise it works well enough but the activity itself looks obnoxious and awkward. Pulling out one’s Note would be much more practical.

Controlling the device with your finger via the operating system’s user interface is easy enough. The screen is responsive to swipes, and there’s no noticeable delay in opening apps. Despite the small screen, text is easily readable. For the hard of seeing, the text size can be adjusted.  The Gear can also be used as a media remote control for the Note, a feature that works well.

Protruding from one of the Gear’s wrist bands is its camera. At 1.9 megapixels, it’s nothing special. A simple swipe down from the watch’s main interface triggers the camera, which admits an audible snap noise then it’s used to take a picture in order to deter pervs. But considering that pulling out one’s smartphone doesn’t take that much longer, one has to question as to whether this is something that presents a competitive advantage whatsoever.

20131009 164658 1024x1024 An expensive fashion accessory: Galaxy Gear review

In many ways the Gear’s camera represents the value proposition of the device as a whole. What’s the point? It’s certainly a stylish time piece, but one would be hard pressed to find $299 worth of functionality in the device. Since the modern smartphone was introduced, it has amalgamated many devices for some: music player, phone, entry-level camera as well as video camera, watch, alarmclock, and personal digital assistant. So why the push in the opposite direction?

Personally, I hope that smartwatches do not become a trend. The idea that Apple is creating an iWatch, which apparently spawned the hurried creation of the Galaxy Gear, reeks of a company desperately trying to conjure up something new to sell in an era when everyone already has an iPhone and doesn’t want a new computer.

As a stand alone watch, the Gear is a fashionable and sleek device. But the idea that it will augment or enhance someone’s smartphone experience is laughable at best. Give this device a pass.

fail An expensive fashion accessory: Galaxy Gear review

Pros

  • Stylish.

Cons

  • Extremely limited functionality presents no plausible reason to buy the device.