Editor’s Note Sept. 4: Samsung announced the Galaxy Gear Smartwatch as expected. We’ve got all the details on the Galaxy Gear smartwatch right here on VentureBeat.
Samsung is set to reveal its Galaxy Gear smartwatch next Wednesday, Sept. 4, in Berlin. But this weekend, we got a first look at the watch.
Here it is.
The press has been speculating about the hardware and design, and leaking information, since word got out that the company would be designing its smartwatch to rival new and yet-to-be-released gadgets from Sony, Apple and Pebble.
We’ve been speaking with sources to separate fact from fiction. And this weekend, a source showed us one of the prototypes sent to developers and a few select partners. Note that Samsung is highly security conscious in protecting its designs, and occasionally sends off prototypes that don’t mirror the final design. But it won’t be far off.
For more images of the smartwatch in action, don’t miss our gallery below.
My source, who requested anonymity, also showed me an internal promotional marketing video for the watch. The video was not developed by Samsung, but by an independent team working closely with Samsung. I wasn’t allowed to photograph the smartwatch itself, but I snapped a few stills from the video, which clearly shows the high-quality OLED display, with its square screen. I also made some sketches based on my time with the watch.
I’ll walk you through the specs, and then offer a few insights about potential use-cases for Samsung’s smartwatch. Health and fitness junkies will be intrigued. My initial impression was that it’s a new wearable fitness device to rival a Nike Fuelband or Fitbit Flex — a smartphone companion rather than a smartphone alternative.
Meet the modern calculator watch
At about 3 inches diagonally, the Samsung Galaxy Gear smartwatch is quite large. Although its screen is square, large bezels on the top and bottom give it a chunky, rectangular shape, with rounded corners.
The color is fairly basic — dark black and grey, although it may be enhanced in the final version. The wristband is clunky and masculine, large enough to hold speakers in the clasp. It’s not heavy to hold, but it dwarfed my tiny lady wrists when I tried it on. Women may instead opt for a Misfit Shine, which isn’t a watch but is a small jewel-like button.
The smartwatch prototype has Bluetooth to connect with the Galaxy S family of smartphones and tablets, although it may also connect to all Android devices. It also has Wi-Fi for Internet access, including e-mail, even when it’s not connected to a smartphone, but I didn’t see that in action.
It has a 4-megapixel camera built into the strap, and tiny speakers in the clasp. You can measure health data through the camera. Take a picture of your food, and you can tag it according to what type of food it is, such as “grains” or “fat.” It’s a clear swipe at Google Glass — but would anyone take photos of their meals from a watch, other than for spy movie appeal?
In addition, here are some of the smartwatch’s specs:
- Samsung S Voice for voice commands
- Preloaded with Android apps for social media, health tracking, etc.
- Integration with a companion Galaxy S phone or tablet
- An easy-to-use swipe function to access apps, the built-in camera, and the photo gallery
- Call logs (A cool use-case: You can initiate a call from the watch to a Samsung smartphone device)
- Internet access
- Power button on the side
- Social media integration — you can share to your Facebook or Twitter account from the watch
- 10+ hours battery life
And a few potential use-cases for fitness junkies:
- While you’re at the gym working out, the smartwatch can track your health data, including steps, heart rate, calorie intake.
- You can measure your heart rate at any time via a built-in heart rate monitor.
- The watch will help you devise the perfect workout — one of the first apps devised for the watch suggests workouts to help you lose weight, gain energy or tone up, for instance.
- Track your food intake by taking photos of your meals — plenty of apps are already on the market that help you keep a food diary of sorts. What would be truly innovative is if Samsung could detect the nutritional value of food, based on a smartwatch photograph.
A source also revealed that a health startup, based in Palo Alto, Calif, has been working with Samsung to develop fitness apps for the watch for several months.
The watch’s health-and-fitness focus is not all that unexpected, given Samsung’s burgeoning interest in health tracking technology. Samsung recently launched its health app S Health, which tracks the number of steps you take via an in-built pedometer, measures the humidity and temperature of the room you’re in, and helps you diet-track.
Samsung will do well with the health-concious market, and those who are looking to lose weight. I could envision using the watch at the gym or during a run, as it can be cumbersome to carry a smartphone device. You can track your steps, measure your heart rate, take a photo, call a friend, and share your excitement that you completed a marathon — all from your wrist.
The wrist wars
Samsung’s Galaxy Gear smartwatch appears to be a pre-emptive strike in a smartwatch war that has yet to get underway.
Apple is widely believed to be working on an iOS-based watch, called “iWatch.” The company is rumored to have hired a team of 80 people to work in secret in the Cupertino, Calif. headquarters, so it’s unlikely the design will be leaked to the press. Apple has yet to confirm any new health and fitness gadgets, and it has not confirmed the existence of the iWatch.
But, as Time‘s Harry McCracken recently wrote, we’re still in need of killer use-cases for smartwatches. The lack of battery life and apps remain a problem, one that the biggest contender in this space, Sony, has yet to solve with the second version of its smartwatch.
Apart from Sony, the leading smartwatch contenders have come from outside mainstream electronics companies, with the Kickstarter-funded Pebble being the most prominent example. That’s a sign that the category is not quite yet ready for primetime.
Besides, the wrist may not even be the body part of choice for sporting wearable technology. If you’re in the market for a new gadget to supplement that smart mobile experience, you might prefer to have something head-mounted, like Google Glass. Samsung’s smartwatch seems to have borrowed from Google with its “always available” camera and voice function, although it’s a tossup whether it’s more awkward to take pictures from your watch or from your glasses.
Perhaps you’ll opt out of purchasing either device, and wait to see whether Apple will enter the space.
For those who will remain loyal to iOS, my prediction is that Apple’s iWatch will be a platform of sorts, a “sensor network” on the wrist that compiles data from devices worn around the body. More on that here.
As for Samsung, it clearly believes it will be the vendor to make smartwatches a must-have item for both gadget lovers and fitness fans. With that goal in mind, the company has the right idea by working with third party developers and startups on both social and health apps. Samsung, like Sony, will likely release multiple versions of its smartwatch in the next few years — boasting more and more apps and, we hope, increasing battery life.