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Hands-On with Galaxy Gear

When I first tried the Samsung Galaxy Gear the day it was introduced at the IFA trade show in Berlin, I was impressed by its potential and how it looked and felt on my wrist, but not all that enamored by what it could do.  Now, after wearing one around town, I feel the same way.  It’s an interesting first attempt but it has limited appeal.

Dick Tracy’s wrist-watch radio

The Galaxy Gear comes with several built-in apps, including the ability to receive or make phone calls.  Like Dick Tracy, you really can use it as a wrist-watch phone by talking into your wrist and listening through the speaker. It’s not the world’s greatest speaker phone but it does work as long as you’re in a really quiet environment and the person on the other end doesn’t mind a somewhat muffled call.   When a call comes in, it displays the person’s name if they’re in your contact list. You can make a call by typing in a phone number, scrolling through your contact list and pressing on a contact or speaking the person’s name into the watch and hoping that Samsung’s S Voice feature will recognize it (it worked in about two-thirds of my tests).

Messages on your wrist and weak photos

Other built-in functions include the ability to see incoming text messages and emails. There’s no onscreen keyboard for responding to those messages but you can use S Voice to respond by voice or type the message from your smartphone.

The watch also has a 1.9 megapixel camera on the band. It’s really easy to take a picture – provided you can get your wrist in the proper position – but the quality is weak compared to most modern camera phones.  You can also use it for video.

There is also a built-in pedometer but you can download other fitness apps.

Galaxy Gear requires a compatible Samsung Smartphone which, to date, is limited to Samsung’s Galaxy Note II and Galaxy S III that has been upgraded to Android 4.3. Other smartwatches, like the Pebble, work with a much wider number of iOS and Android devices.

Once you install Samsung’s Gear Manager app on your phone, you can use it to install additional apps including Evernote, Gympse, MyFitnessPal, Banjo and a handful of others. The device could certainly benefit form more apps. For example it lacks apps form Facebook and Twitter.

Is it worth $299 to keep your phone in your pocket?

For now, about the only benefit you get from having a Galaxy Gear is the ability to answer calls, check messages and use a few smartphone apps without having to take the phone out of your pocket or purse.  Some might find that really valuable, but – personally – I find it only marginally useful.  At $299 plus the price of a compatible phone, it’s hardly what I’d call a good value.