“All this has happened before, and all of it will happen again.”

Wearables are a hot buzzword right now, and that’s putting it lightly. As the smartphone and tablet markets mature, device manufacturers are looking toward other markets to continue growth and drive shoppers towards their offerings. I’ve been coming to terms slowly with the realization that smartphones are now a mainstream thing, and we’re getting increasingly close to the flat part of an S curve, at least in the short term, and the re-emergence of wearables like the Galaxy Gear and other smartwatches just underscores it.

The reality of course is that there’s a cycle here, and even one as nascent (or maybe not so) as the mobile space has a certain cadence. Anand wrote about Samsung’s S9110 watch phone, which came before the Galaxy Gear in 2009 but looks a whole lot like it. Before that was the Samsung SPH-WP10 watch phone, which included basic call capabilities. It’s interesting how for some the smartwatch space seems new when really it isn’t, but that’s really a tangential subject.

Right now we’re looking at Galaxy Gear, Samsung’s Android-based smart watch and companion device to the Galaxy Note 3. I’ve been wearing Galaxy Gear for the past few days trying my best to get a feel for how it fits in among the other smartwatch entries. I’ve been wearing a Pebble pretty much nonstop since getting mine just after they started shipping, so it’s my primary comparison point for the Gear, although I enjoyed wearing many other analog and digital watches before jumping on the smartwatch bandwagon.

First off the Galaxy Gear feels surprisingly well constructed. I’m actually a lot more impressed with build quality of the Gear than I thought I would be. The Galaxy Gear doesn’t have the same kind of heft that I’m used to with other high end timepieces, which is probably a good thing.

Gear feels comfortable on the wrist without any sharp edges or points, which is great since the band that comes on it isn’t removable. The band is a thick plastic material that out of the box doesn’t have a lot of flex, but will probably loosen up after some time. Samsung goes the right way and ships its band with a clasp rather than a buckle, which is what I vastly prefer if I’m spending good money on a watch. At the bottom of the clasp is a big metal chunk which houses the speakerphone – there’s two notches cut into this just like the battery grille on Samsung’s smartphones for audio to escape out of. The size of this part of the clasp is my only major complaint about the Gear since it’s right where you’re going to make contact with a table when resting your hands on a surface or writing on a keyboard.

The band isn’t removable partly because there’s a camera module about half way up one side of it. This houses the 2 MP camera with autofocus which we’ll talk about more later.

The main watch module has a 1.63 inch Super AMOLED display with 320x320 resolution, there’s glass on top which seems to be scratch resistant, and capacitive multitouch enabled.


Galaxy Gear employs one of the previous generation AMOLED subpixel patterns, but it isn't noticeable

My biggest complaint with the Gear from an industrial design point of view are the screws which seem to adhere the watch face to the body and band. What’s weird is that in the Gear press shots, all the screws are rotated to be horizontal, yet on the actual shipping Gear itself the screws are pointing every which way. By some bizzare twist I actually received two Gears, one in brown, one in orange, and both have these screws not aligned and just pointing whatever haphazard orientation they were torqued to. It’s not exactly the kind of attention to detail I would normally expect for a timepiece, and on the Gear it’s the kind of thing that triggers my OCD every single time I glance at my wrist. It's unfortunate because otherwise the use of metal on the face of the Gear is well excuted, as are the joints where the band meets the watch face.

The body of the watch has two microphones for noise suppression (one on each side of the main watch body), the speakerphone on the bottom, a power button on the right, and of course Bluetooth 4.0 connectivity. There’s also an accelerometer and gyro inside in the form of an Invensense MPU6500. Powering the Galaxy Gear is an Exynos 4212 dual core SoC with one of the cores disabled in software and set to only run at a maximum of 800 MHz. There’s also 512 MB of RAM and 4 GB of internal storage, and a 315 mAh (1.2 Whr) battery inside.

Whereas Pebble and Qualcomm Toq are powered by a relatively simple Cortex M3-based SoC and running a lightweight realtime OS, Samsung has gone with Android 4.2.2 for the Gear with a fully fledged SoC. It’s a big deviation from the trend, and reminds me of the Motorola Motoactiv which also ran Android on the same SoC (OMAP3) used to power the previous generation of smartphones.

Along with the watch is its charging and pairing cradle, which fits around Gear and interfaces pogo pins with the gold pads on the back of Gear. These turn out to really just be USB, which is required to charge Gear, the pairing cradle has microUSB on the back. In spite of this solution that avoids putting microUSB on the watch directly, the Gear is actually not waterproof. 

Pairing the Gear with a phone goes like this – you tap the back of the pairing cradle to the Note 3, which then starts pairing of Gear to the phone. It’s sort of a weird out of band pairing process, and I guess the Gear has to stay with its corresponding dock.

At launch the Gear only works with the Note 3, although Samsung is working on making Galaxy Gear compatible with other Samsung devices, though they’ll require an OTA update.

Features & Functionality
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  • et20 - Tuesday, October 01, 2013 - link

    Don't worry.
    I'm sure they'll figure it out in mere minutes after Apple introduces their iWatch.
    Reply
  • colonelclaw - Tuesday, October 01, 2013 - link

    Indeed. The design of this watch screams 'pre-Apple'. It also screams 'We got to the market 1st!', even though it looks, frankly, ridiculous.
    In my opinion, something as visible as a watch (this goes for all watches) needs to be an object of beauty, something that when you see on someone else's wrist, you want to get one yourself. Nothing would persuade me to wear this huge plastic lump.
    Reply
  • prophet001 - Tuesday, October 01, 2013 - link

    I hate it when they give out free Kool-Aid. The swarming is always imminent. Reply
  • bji - Tuesday, October 01, 2013 - link

    Those posts were interesting and insightful. Yours ... not so much. Reply
  • Fergy - Wednesday, October 02, 2013 - link

    In what way were they interesting and insightful? The Samsung bashing? The Apple worshiping? Or the opinion that the watch isn't for him so nobody should like it? Reply
  • DaHarder - Wednesday, October 02, 2013 - link

    Exactly... and those of us who truly love tech can easily see Samsung's effort here as solid and far ahead of the wearable technology game, whereas most other major brands are just sitting by waiting to leach off of the foundation Samsung is laying. Reply
  • steven75 - Wednesday, October 02, 2013 - link

    Far ahead? Please. The *watch* display is mostly off. It's a watch that fails to do what every watch since the beginning of time (see what I did there?) has been able to do. Tell time easily!

    The "waiting to leach off the foundation Samesung is laying" is also comedy gold.
    Reply
  • whyso - Tuesday, October 01, 2013 - link

    Its so Apple can't sue them over something retarded. Reply
  • RadarTheKat - Thursday, October 03, 2013 - link

    I see a lot of comments on these articles that show a lack of comprehension regarding patent law and how it applies. I thought I'd provide a bit of insight here for those who might not be conversant in the topic.

    Apple's assertion in its lawsuits is that Samsung has copied elements of the iPhone and iPad for which Apple holds several patents. These particular patents are known as design patents. It seems a lot of folks don't take these patents seriously and go as far as to suggest that they should not exist. There is a good reason why they do exist, but to explain this we have to begin with a bit of a side trip and requires that we speak about trademark law. Bear with me on this and hopefully I'll be able to clarify the purpose of design patents and provide some insights into the Apple versus Samsung trial.

    Most people are familiar with the idea of a trademark. By way of example, Kellogg, the cereal maker, has a trademark on Tony the Tiger and fought a battle with Exxon over Kellogs' claim that the use of an unnamed tiger in Exxon's advertising violates Kellogg's trademark for Tony the Tiger. Why? For 30 years, Exxon used its tiger character exclusively to promote its gasoline blend, but then, in the 1990's began using it to sell food. Kellogg said consumers are confused by the similarity between the cartoon tigers and may conclude that Kellogg is somehow behind soda, coffee and other items for sale at Exxon's TigerMart stores. The case went back and forth for several years, with Exxon initially winning the case, but ultimately losing on appeal. This case would not seem extraordinary to most people as most folks understand the concept of protecting a unique trademark like Kellogg's Tony the Tiger character.

    Now let's look at another case, one that comes closer to the Apple vs Samsung case, but still an application of trademark law. This case is Ferrari vs Robert's Replicas. Back in the 1980's Robert's Replica's was in the business of manufacturing fiberglass kits that replicated the exterior features of Ferrari's Daytona Spyder and Testarossa automobiles. Roberts' copies were called the Miami Spyder and the Miami Coupe, respectively. Ferrari brought suit against Roberts in March 1988 alleging trademark infringement.

    Here's what this case was about: After Ferrari vehicles have been on the market for a number of years, the design of those vehicles acquires what's called "secondary meaning", a concept at the heart of trademark law. Secondary meaning refers to an association of a design, like the design of a Ferrari vehicle, with quality and craftsmanship or other positive attributes one might associate with the Ferrari brand. After a design has acquired secondary meaning, trademark law can be applied to protect the company from those who would copy its designs and use them to promote their own products. Robert's copying of Ferrari's iconic designs could confuse the public and dilute the strength of Ferrari's brand. Just the presence of large numbers of replicas would dilute Ferrari's image of exclusivity, causing financial harm to Ferrari. Trademark law, under the concept of secondary meaning, protected Ferrari. The courts ruled in favor of Ferrari in this case and enjoined Roberts from producing the Miami Spyder and the Miami Coupe.

    But how does this relate to design patent law?

    The problem with using trademark law to protect a company's designs (under trademark law a product design or package design is referred to as "trade dress") is that a product has to be on the market for a long time before its design acquires secondary meaning (i.e. before the design becomes iconic and is seen by consumers as representative of the company behind the product). When competitors come in immediately after a new product design is introduced and copy it, as is the assertion in the Apple vs Samsung case, the originator of the design doesn't have the luxury of time needed for its product design to acquire secondary meaning in the eyes of consumers. Consumers immediately see the same design from multiple companies and so don't grow to associate the design with the company that originated that design.

    This is where design patents come in. Where trademark protection of an iconic product design has no expiration, it takes time for a new product to acquire that protection (as stated above). A design patent offers immediate protection of a new and novel design and for a period of 14 years thereafter, giving a company protection of its original designs until they acquire secondary meaning in the market and therefore protection under trademark law. So the design patent serves a valuable function for companies like Ferrari, and Apple.
    Reply
  • Nathillien - Friday, October 04, 2013 - link

    That's a lot of words to justify rounded corners design "patent" or some other dubious Apple patents like "swipe to do some action" or "bounce back feature". Reply

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