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Samsung watch blends style, tech wizardry

By Youkyung Lee
Associated Press

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SUWON, SOUTH KOREA: Samsung’s Galaxy Gear, a new computing device worn like a wristwatch, is certain to pique much curiosity when it starts being worn in public. The black rectangular screen and orange strap were eye-catching as Samsung gave a preview of the gadget on Wednesday.

The Gear is not an independent device; it needs to be linked with a specific Samsung smartphone or tablet computer. The pairing is done wirelessly over a Bluetooth connection built in to both sides.

The Gear’s display is a touch screen measuring 1.63 inches diagonally. Its strap has an embedded camera. The Gear supports apps such as Facebook and lets the wearer answer incoming calls or check email without picking up the smartphone that’s paired with it. The Gear is not the smartwatch with a flexible display, as disclosed in recent Samsung patent filings.

Many analysts believe the next big step for consumer electronics is advanced computing technology in everyday objects such as wristwatches and glasses.

Sony introduced its latest SmartWatch in June and unveiled an update Wednesday. Google is working on Google Glass — a device designed to work like a smartphone and be worn like a pair of glasses. Apple is seeking an iWatch trademark. Meanwhile, the response to projects such as Pebble, a smartwatch that received more than $10 million in investment pledges through funding website Kickstarter, also shows public interest.

Samsung wants to attract not only tech addicts, but also young, design-conscious consumers. The Gear’s design flair and ease of use are its sweetest attributes, but it may not entirely please either group. Although powered by the Android operating system, like many phones and tablets, it will work only with Samsung devices — and only with newer models.

At about twice the price of the Sony SmartWatch and the Pebble, the Gear boasts a camera, a speakerphone and plenty of apps — about six dozen, according to Samsung. Apps include Twitter and sports services such as RunKeeper, which tracks runs and other workouts. Moderate use of the device will require a daily battery top-up with yet another charger to keep track of.

I can imagine wearing the Gear with a casual dress or a formal outfit. It is sleek, with a thin metallic bezel surrounding the display. The strap comes in six different colors — black, gray, orange, beige, gold and green. But the screen, which is pitch black in idle mode, probably draws more attention than a tasteful accessory should. The dark recess in the strap where the camera’s lens is embedded will also elicit questions from the curious.

In terms of what the Gear can do, the three features I tested worked efficiently. It was easy to activate the camera and quick to shoot a photo. It left both hands free while placing and answering calls. The Gear alerted me with a nice soft buzz and showed a preview of a newly arrived email. The full message can also be read. Samsung says replies are possible through voice dictation.

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 the Gear and the smartphone that’s paired with it. In clock mode, one swipe from bottom to top pulls up a numeric keypad.

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

The first generation of the Gear is cool but not compelling enough to convince me to ditch my current device, an iPhone.


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