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Hands on with Samsung's Galaxy Gear smart watch (PHOTOS, VIDEO)

This morning I got the chance for a quick play with Samsung's Galaxy Gear smartwatch (see full tech specs end of article)

NZ release is slated for early October, got $4449. For the first month, it'll be exclusive to Telecom, and sold as a bundle with the Galaxy Note 3 (which usually sells for $1199)

Immediate impressions: it's slicker and easier to use than I expected, but I think battery life is going to be a deal-breaker for many.

Samsung NZ head of mobile Stefan Lecchi, whose been using the Gear for several days, tells me he's getting a bit over a day's use from one charge.

Given many people are already on a hamster wheel of daily charging for their smartphone and tablet, I'm not sure how many will want a third device on their to-do list - and each time they forget, they're going to be walking around with a dead device on their wrist.

The Gear extends battery life with aggressive power saving mode. Its display stays onscreen only seconds if you don't pick an option (you do get a gentle buzz when a txt, email, call or tweet comes in).

To wake up the watch, you can hit its single, side-mounted button, touch its screen, or simply flick your wrist over - but I as a Gear newbie I found I sometimes had to flick my wrist over a couple of times before the watch woke up.

Voice commands can also be used for basic functions, once you've opened Samsung's S-Voice app with a couple of manual swipes. I found it recognised my Kiwi accent fine (as S-Voice does on Samsung's smartphones).

Beyond the battery life issue, the Gear seems pretty smooth.

Simple finger swipes (see clip above) can be used to switch between apps, and the single button on the side gets you back to the home screen.

A downward swipe-enables the camera.

An upward swipe lets you make a call (see clip below).

For calling - and txt and email alerts - the Gear needs to be paired, via Bluetooth, with Samsung's new Galaxy Note 3 (software upgrades by Christmas will extend phone support to the S II, SIII and S4 as well).

But as long as you are synced to your Android phone (a set up once then forget it process), you can make and take calls by talking into your watch, Dick Tracy-style.

The display is still visible in bright light, and beyond the digital display pictured above, there's a mock analogue option.

The Gear runs on a cut-down version of Android. So far, it only has a few dozen dedicated apps (they include basic Twitter and Facebook clients, plus personal fitness apps).

Samsung's pitch is that many more will follow. That'll depend in part on how sales go, of course.

ABOVE: The Gear's wristband-mounted camera can take 1.8 megapixel stills, or record 720p high definition video.

ABOVE: After around a day's use, the Gear is recharged via a USB cradle.

ABOVE The microphone/speaker is cunningly integrated into the metal clasp. It's used for calling when paired to an Android handset.

ABOVE The Gear has a stainless steel body and a rubber strap. It's a straightfoward, minimalist design, surprisingly free of a Samsung logo. The 4.41cm (diagonal) display is large - but then again there seems to be a big watch trend at the moment, and the larger screen certainly helps with content). The watch itself feels light on your wrist - certainly, it's no heavier than a conventional watch. It's not designed for use in water, but the Gear is waterproof to one metre, for up to 30 minutes.

Will the Gear sell?

It's hard to say. Beyond the battery life issue, at first glance the technology solid. It's user-friendly, and doesn't try to be clever. And being integrated into Google's well-established Android platform won't hurt.

But of course, we're not just talking technology here. 

Watches are jewellery and often people prefer a personal style statement over functionality - just ask anyone from the digital watch makers to the many smartwatch pretenders who've come before.

One thing that's notable is quite a few people these days - especially younger people, don't wear a watch.

I'm one of them.

After my last watch broke, I figured why buy another? I can tell the time on my phone. Of course, that's much more fiddly in practice, so maybe a smartwatch has a place - if only it wasn't in sleep mode by default.

Certainly, as smartphone and tablet sales begin to level off, smartwatches are seen by some as the Next Big Thing.

Last month Google confirmed it was buying WIMM, which has a concept Android smartwatch under development (so far, Google's signature wearable Android device has been its Google Glass smart glasses, now nearing commercial release).

Apple, Microsoft and LG are among other companies tipped said to be developing smartwatches.

On his Technologizer blog, Time magazine's Harry McCracken points out smartwatches have been tried before. "Microsoft’s SPOT watches were remarkably crummy, and went absolutely nowhere in the market. Fossil’s Palm OS-based Wrist PDA fared no better. Dick Tracy would not be pleased," he writes.

Third time's the charm for Note
I'm getting the Note 3 for a proper look shortly (it's also due) first week of October. But first impressions are positive. 

There's an interesting hardware tweak in that it's the first smartphone to feature a USB 3 jack. That means faster data transfer, and the ability to charge via a laptop or PC roughly as fast as if you plugged into the wall - rather than the lousy trickle charge you get from USB 2 to a laptop. You do need your PC to support USB 3 too. The Verge has more on this feature here.

The Note 3's S-Pen interface has had several useful-looking tweaks - some of which should soon be available as a software upgrade for Note 2 owners, Samsung tells me (Note 1 is more iffy).

You can now sign your name to unlock your phone. Unholstering the S-Pen automatically brings up a dial-shaped "Air Command" menu for quick access to pen-friendly apps.

Simply drawing a rectangle onscreen gives you access to apps capable of hoving over the rest of the screen.

You can now circle an element of a website to scrapbook an image. It's also easier ot annotate images, such as scrawling an arrow and writing a note on a PowerPoint slide.

And you can simply write a person's name and phone number onscreen to add them to your Contacts; the hand writing recognition is pretty sharp.

My initial impression is that with the Note 3, this phone - or phablet - has matured from pen-as-gimmick to pen-as-everyday tool.

RAW DATA: Galaxy Gear tech specs

Dimensions:  36.8 x 56.6 x 11.1 mm, 73.8g

Processor: 800 MHz processor

Display: 1.63 inch (41.4mm) Super AMOLED (320 x 320)

Camera: 1.9 Megapixel BSI Sensor, Auto Focus Camera / Sound & Shot

Video: HD (720p) Playback & Recording

Memory: 4GB Internal memory + 512 MB (RAM)

Wireless connectivity: Bluetooth® v 4.0 + BLE

Sensors: Accelerometer, Gyroscope

Battery: Standard battery, Li-ion 315mAh

Audio: AAC, M4A codec supported2 Microphones (Noise Cancellation), 1 Speaker

Featured Apps

Atooma is a contextually aware horizontal intelligence platform that makes your GALAXY Gear smarter.

Banjo gives you the power to see what’s happening right now, anywhere in the world.

Evernote watch app makes it easy to remember things by quickly capturing images and memories and bringing important reminders right to GALAXY Gear.

Glympse allows people to easily share their location temporarily and in real-time, letting recipients see their movements on a dynamic map.

eBay app allows you to complete all your transactions on eBay with ease and in real-time.

Line is a global messaging service available in over 230 countries worldwide.

MyFitnessPal tracks your nutrition and exercise, empowering you to achieve your  personal health and fitness goals.

Path is the personal network designed to bring you closer to your friends and family.

Pocket, the leading way to save web content to view later on any device, brings text-to-speech article playback to GALAXY Gear.

RunKeeper is the personal trainer in your pocket, helping you track your runs, set your goals, and stay motivated.

TripIt from Concur makes it easy to organize travel plans in one place.

Vivino Wine Scanner allows you to take a photo of any wine and get to know all about it instantly.

Samsung Apps

ChatON: mobile communication service

Additional Features

Smart Relay, S Voice, Memographer, Voice Memo

Auto Lock, Find My Device, Media Controller, Pedometer, Stopwatch, Timer

Safety assistance: In case of emergency, press a power button 3 times continuously, and then user’s location information is transferred to the saved contacts with message.

The availability of each Samsung Hub and Google service may differ by country.

RAW DATA: Galaxy Note 3 tech specs

Samsung GALAXY Note 3 Product Specifications

Network: 2.5G (GSM/ GPRS/ EDGE): 850 / 900 / 1800 / 1900 MHz
3G (HSPA+ 42Mbps): 850 / 900 / 1900 / 2100 MHz
4G (LTE Cat 4 150/50Mbps) : up to 6 different band sets

2.3 GHz Quad-Core Processor
5.7inch (144.3mm)  Full HD Super AMOLED (1920 x 1080)

OS: Android 4.3 (Jelly Bean)

Main(Rear): 13 Mega-pixel BSI Sensor, Auto Focus camera with Smart Stabilization,
LED Flash(High CRI), and Zero Shutter Lag
Sub (Front): 2 Mega-pixel BSI sensor with Smart Stabilization,
Full HD recording @30fps
Dual Camera: Dual Shot / Dual Recording/ Dual Video Call
Recording: UHD 30fps, Smooth motion (FHD 60fps), Slow motion (HD 120fps)
Camera Mode: Drama Shot, Sound & Shot, Animated Photo, Eraser, Best Photo, Best Face, Beauty Face, HDR (High Dynamic Range), Panorama, Sports, Golf, Surround shot, Live effect
Codec: H.264, MPEG-4, H.263, VC-1, WMV7, WMV8, Sorenson Spark, MP43, VP8, HEVC
Recording & Playback: Full HD (1080p), UHD (*may differ by market)

Codec: MP3, AAC/AAC+/eAAC+, WMA, AMR-NB/WB, Vorbis, FLAC(*), WAV(*)
(*) Ultra High Quality Audio (~192KHz, 24 bit) support
S Pen Optimized Features
Air Command: Action Memo, Scrapbook, Screen Write, S Finder, Pen Window
S Note, Multi Window, new Easy Clip, Direct Pen Input

Additional Features
Group Play: Share Music, Share Picture, Share Video, Share Document, Play Games
Story Album, S Translator
Samsung Smart Scroll, Samsung Smart Pause, Air Gesture, Air View
S Voice™ Hands Free, S Health
Samsung Adapt Display, Samsung Adapt Sound
Auto adjust touch sensitivity (Glove friendly)
Samsung Link, Screen Mirroring
Safety Assistance, Samsung KNOX
Google Mobile Services
Chrome, Search, Gmail, Google+, Maps, Play Books, Play Music, Play Store, Hangouts
Voice Search, YouTube, Google Settings, Play Games, Messenger

WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac (HT80)
NFC,  Bluetooth® v 4.0 (LE)
IR LED (Remote Control), MHL 2.0

Gesture, Accelerometer, Geo-magnetic, Gyroscope, RGB
Proximity, Barometer, Temperature & Humidity, Hall Sensor

32GB User memory + microSD slot (up to 64GB)

Dimensions: 151.2 x 79.2 x 8.3mm, 168g

Battery: Standard battery, Li-ion 3,200 mAh

More by Chris Keall

Comments and questions

Nah. I'll stick with the Breitling and an iPhone thanks.

You have to pair with with a limited range of phones. Pebble battery life is one week and works with all Android and iOS variants. Yes it's monochrome - but so were near 100% of other watches until now. :P

awful looking, more like a home detention device than a watch