I like my gadgets, and I rate Samsung, but the Galaxy Gear smart watch, released in September las t year, was a rare miss for the Korean company.
The Gear’s camera, social media, calendaring, messaging and other apps were easy to use, but the one-day battery life was a deal-breaker - and more so because the screen constantly went to sleep to stretch out that modest 24-hour timespan (it could be woken up with a flick of the wrist - but it had to be a "just so" practised flip. NBR was constantly furious when it took several shakes to wake the watch). We already spend half our lives looking for smartphone and tablet plugs with our ABC (always be charging) lifestyle. Another one-day battery life device is just not welcome.
And it’s never a promising sign when you’re not eating your own dog food. NBR noted at a Samsung smartphone launch earlier this year that a lot of the company's staff were wearing traditional watches. One pleaded that he liked to wear his vintage watch. And that’s going to be a factor for all contenders in the emerging smartwatch market. A smartphone can also be deemed a fashion accessory, but a watch goes a step further; it’s jewellery. Looks often win over features - which is why digital watches never took off.
Today (Friday April 11), Samsung is having another go at a smartwatch - or in point of fact, three goes. This time, things look a lot more promising.
First, there’s the Gear 2 ($399), the direct successor to the Galaxy Gear (the “Galaxy” has been dropped).
Samsung says the Gear 2 has three times the battery life - which would make it three days. Peeble, the upstart Smartwatch brand that's grabbing a lot of attention, claims five days.
Another signature change is that the Gear 2’s 2 megapixel camera, which used to bulge out of the strap, is now cleanly built into the face aroudn the 1.63-in touchscreen. The Gear I’s exposed screws are also gone from the brushed metal case, which again makes for a sleeker design and a slightly ligher frame (68g to the Gear 1’s 74g).
Other new features include support for Bluetooth wireless music streaming, a heart rate monitor (and companion fitness app) and dust and water resistance.
And like the original Gear you can see the likes of email, txts and social media updates on your watch when it’s paired with Samsung smartphone - or even use it to make a call, Dick Tracy style.
A step-down model, the Gear Neo $349), has the same features but drops the camera altogether and has a plastic face.
There’s also the Gear Fit, which features a smaller screen and no camera, but still supports email, messaging and scheduling, plus fitness apps like a pedometer, heart rate monitor and timer. Rated battery life is 3 to 5 days, and it weighs just 27g.
The Fit also has an optical heart-rate sensor. Unlike heart-rate monitors that require you to wear a chest strap, this type of sensor works by shining a tiny light through your skin to measure blood absorption, from which it infers your heart rate.
Another positive development: The Gear I, when it was first released, could only be paired with the latest Samsung Galaxy Note 3 phablet. The three new watches can pair with a dozen Samsung smartphones and tablets.
On the face it, things are looking up. NBR is due to get a Gear 2 this Friday - along with Samsung’s new flagship smartphone, the Galaxy S5. Separately, Toybox contributor Scott Bartley - whom a panel of experts has deemed to be younger and fitter than the Technology page editor, is resting the Fit against rival fitness products from Navman, Garmin and others. Track those efforts in the days and weeks ahead via www.nbr.co.nz/s5