After one hour of watching Samsung execs parade around on a Berlin stage on Wednesday, I still don’t understand what’s so futuristic about the Galaxy Gear, or smartwatches in general. As a whole, smartwatches rely implicitly on the phone in your pocket; without one, it’s just a (comparatively) ugly timepiece that doesn’t fulfill its purpose—it otherwise adds no value to the experience, not that there is much value to begin with.
Worse, Samsung’s Gear lacks a clear forward looking vision, and instead resembles every other wearable device we’ve seen. Aside from the hype around Pebble—and all it was was hype—no smartwatch has managed to spark any significant consumer interest, so what makes the Galaxy Gear, a device that only works with a handful of Samsung devices, any different?
During the company’s IFA event, Samsung’s Pranav Minstry looked everyone in the eye and with a straight face said the Gear possesses technology from the next ten years. That’s ridiculous, and not true. Instead of introducing something new and exciting—you know, futuristic, as promised—the company Samsung’d us all by unveiling something we can already buy, and for cheaper, too. There’s nothing inside the device that suggests gadget utopia; everything about it is old. Samsung just managed to wrap it into a tidy little package. It’s no more advanced than a dumb phone from years and years ago—just on your wrist.
As the evening drew on, I couldn’t help but think Samsung lacks the imagination to make a Galaxy Gear capable of changing the wearable landscape. There will be people who will buy this, sure—at least the ultra-nerds. But right now, the device is merely among a small ignored group of sameness; a type of wearable technology that sounds neat, until you realize it’s actually not. It can tell you when alerts stream in and… take pictures? Amazing. What we ultimately saw was a device stuffed with features and specs—surprise, surprise—with little regard for actual usability, and no reason to believe Samsung’s future of smartwatches are the next big thing. Really, I just don’t see any reason for the Gear to exist other than the fact that Samsung wanted to beat Apple and Google to market.
The argument that smartwatches add convenience by screening what notifications you want to respond to is flimsy at best. Sure, it’ll shelter you from a few spam emails, but chances are you’ll take your phone out to respond anyway—and with that, whatever small shred of convenience it saved you goes out the window. Beyond the novelty of Gear being a tiny piece of technology strapped to your wrist, the fact is that it’s merely an accessory for a bigger piece of technology that you’ll be using much more often—there’s zero compelling reason to shell out an estimated $300 for a companion device you’ll probably wind up leaving home most of the time anyway.
Manufacturers for the last few years have been attempting to design smartwatches to mimic our smartphones, and for what? So you know when someone Tweets at you? Your smartphone can tell you that. If you’re too lazy to pull your smartphone out of your pocket, then I don’t know what to say. There’s a clear allure and novelty that surrounds smartwatches, I’ll admit that—they’re shiny and new and maybe sound kind of cool. You’re probably telling yourself you want one. But you remember that pocket computer you carry around with you everywhere you go? The 5-inch quad-core full HD 13-megapixel piece of technology you waited all year for? That can do everything the Galaxy Gear can do—you know this—and more. And it doesn’t rely on any other gadget in your arsenal to function either.
What the Galaxy Gear is is basically wearable tech that has existed for awhile, not some innovative thing from the future. Maybe we’re expecting too much out of wearable technology. Is wearable tech even something consumers are clamoring for in the first place? Unlikely. It’s also disappointing that you can’t replace the watch bands, and the battery life will surely become an issue. The price, too, is probably going to be an issue (though it hasn’t been announced yet), especially when consumers are already asked to part with $200+ for a new smartphone that will go out of style in the next few months.
If this is Samsung’s vision of wearable tech, I’m not so sure the Galaxy Gear will even have much of a future, even if the company’s executives are claiming this should cover us for the next ten years.