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Samsung unveils smartwatch ahead of rival Apple

Agencies | Updated: 2013-09-05 09:06

Samsung unveils smartwatch ahead of rival Apple

Shin Jong-kyun, President and CEO, head of IT and Mobile Communication division of Samsung presents the Samsung Galaxy Gear smartwatch during its launch at the 'Samsung UNPACKED 2013 Episode 2' at the IFA consumer electronics fair in Berlin, September 4, 2013. [Photo/Agencies]

Taking photos felt natural except at very high or low angles, which forced the wrist into an awkward position.

I found easy navigation of the touch screen one of the device's biggest pluses. Samsung has dispensed with buttons on the screen, so there's no home or back button. There is a button on the top right edge of the smartwatch face. Pressing it turns the display into a clock. One tap anywhere on the screen takes and saves a photo in Gear and the smartphone that's paired with it. In clock mode, one swipe from bottom to top pulls up a numeric keypad.

Swiping from left or right shows a list of icons, including the S Voice, Samsung's equivalent of Apple's Siri digital assistant that responds to voice commands. You also get a list of emails and notifications from social networking apps. At any time, tapping the screen twice with two fingers conjures a pop-up window that shows the time, the weather and the amount of battery left.

With the combination of S Voice and the speakerphone in the strap, placing and answering calls was much easier than a smartphone. I tested it in a noisy setting and I had to speak to the Gear more than once to set an alarm in my smartphone or to look up a contact to place a call. But it did work without too much effort. I didn't have the device for long enough to test how well it worked when not very close to the smartphone.

One downside is that the Gear doesn't support a wireless earpiece, so both sides of any conversation can be overheard.

The big disappointment for Samsung gadget owners is that Gear does not work with most of its phones and tablets.  The Gear needs the Galaxy Note III, a smartphone with a giant 5.7-inch screen and a digital pen, and the Galaxy Tab 10.1, a tablet computer. Both will go on sale later this month. At a later date, it will be compatible with the Galaxy S4, released earlier this year, and the Galaxy Note II, which came out late last year.

In some countries, mobile carriers will bundle the Gear with the Note III on a two-year contract. In other places, consumers will be able to buy the Gear without a phone contract.

Overall, the Gear gives us more ways to imagine what wearable computing gadgets might do for us in the future. Gear is smart but in a limited way, as it's essentially a slave to the smartphone it's paired to.

After my brief hands-on experience, I decided the first generation of the Gear was cool but not compelling enough to convince me to ditch my current device, an iPhone.

 

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