SAMSUNG Smartwatch

For decades kids and techies have dreamed of owning a modern-day version of the Dick Tracy watch, a mobile device that can tell time, make calls, and more importantly, make you look like a secret agent. The so-called smartwatches that have hit the market so far—the Pebble, the Sony SmartWatch, the Fitbit Flex, Nike’s Fuelband—are watches, all right, but “smart” is a stretch. Not one lets you bark top-secret orders at your wrist. As a result, most mobile industry watchers had either written off the category—once seen as the next big thing after mobile phones—or resolved to wait for Apple’s long-anticipated iWatch. But Wednesday’s Samsung event in Berlin brought a big surprise: a smartwatch that might actually live up to its name. The Galaxy Gear is both a control center for your phone and a health-tracking device, but it’s also much more. Think of it as Google Glass for your wrist, or—sure, why not?—the first device that can legitimately claim to be a 21st-century version of Dick Tracy’s “2-way wrist radio.” The Galaxy Gear isn’t a stand-alone device—it’s meant to link up with Samsung’s new Galaxy Note 3 smartphone, which it also launched Wednesday. To answer an incoming call, just lift the watch to your ear and start talking. The Gear also takes pictures, with a wristband-mounted(!) camera that you activate by swiping downward on the watch’s face, and can even shoot 10-second video clips. The watch will also come with Samsung’s “S Voice” feature, its version of Apple’s Siri personal assistant, so you can dictate text messages or pull up your calendar using voice commands (although, perplexingly, you have to tap the watch first to trigger this). Samsung says the watch will also run popular third-party apps, though it’s not clear how usable they’ll be on a screen that measures just 1.63 inches diagonally. One serious limitation: The Galaxy Gear is designed to work only with other Samsung devices. For now, that means the new Samsung Galaxy Note 3 smartphone and Note 10.1 tablet, with the Galaxy S4 a possibility once it gets Android 4.3. The Verge's Vlad Savov found the watch a little bulkier and harder to wear than the Pebble, and added that there's "a tangible lag to anything you do with the Gear." More troubling for would-be Dick Tracys, he noted that "the speaker built into the buckle is too quiet and makes the old sci-fi action of conducting a phone call via your watch a possibility only in quiet areas." If nothing else, though, it shows the world that Samsung is not content to follow trails blazed by Apple—that it can innovate as well as imitate.
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