Samsung continues to innovate around its S Pen and gigantic displays, but it's the Galaxy Gear smartwatch that all eyes are on for now.
Samsung, as promised
, introduced a smartwatch and a new phablet at a live-streaming event in Berlin Sept. 4. It also threw in a new, feature-rich 10.1-inch tablet. (But with a Samsung smartwatch to finally ogle, who has time to care about another tablet?)
In New York, the press were gathered in Times Square to tune into the event (via a faulty feed that eventually dropped off), and the world's top-selling device maker showed off the Galaxy Note 3, calling it "the best large-screen phone in the market place;" the Galaxy Note 10.1 2014 Edition, the Samsung tablet with now as cumbersome a name as the Apple iPad with Retina Display; and the Galaxy Gear, a smartwatch that Gregory Lee, the new president of Samsung Telecommunications America, said was "like nothing available today."
While Samsung has indeed beaten Apple to the smartphone game, Galaxy Gear isn't alone, of course. Joining a number of options on Kickstarter and Indiegogo, in June Sony introduced the Android-running SmartWatch 2. And in San Diego, at nearly the exact moment of Samsung's Galaxy Gear launch, Qualcomm introduced the Android-running Toq
The Galaxy Gear is unique, however, in featuring Samsung's S Voice technology, which enables a user to place a call without touching the Gear—while driving, say, or while leaving the grocery store (to use a less dangerous Samsung example) with bags in his arms.
With S Voice, a user can also check the weather, set alarms, create calendar entries and draft messages, all hands free.
Here's what else you need to know about the Gear:
• The Gear has a unique look. It has a 1.63-inch AMOLED display (320 by 320), a thick plastic band and an intense silver clasp. The bands will come in six colors—black, gray, orange, oatmeal, rose-gold and lime green. It weighs less than 3 ounces and features an 800MHz processor.
• On one side of the wrist band is a 1.9-megapixel camera. Looking into the tiny display to take a photo is a bit reminiscent of taking a photo with an old clamshell feature phone. The Gear's camera shutter, however, makes an obvious photo-snapping sound that can't be disabled—a nod to privacy concerns.
• This is a companion device. Exactly whom it's a companion to isn't quite clear—several Samsung representatives at the press event said it was an exclusive companion to the Galaxy Note 3, but multiple news reports say it will also pair with the new Galaxy 10.1 (2014 Edition!). Either way, it's hard to imagine that Samsung won't eventually open it up to additional Galaxy devices, if not at least the Galaxy S 4.
• A Smart Relay feature alerts users to calls, texts, emails and alerts that are incoming on a paired smartphone, and a user can accept or reject these using the Gear. From the home screen, a user swipes from side to side to access apps, such as the calendar, the camera and notifications, and swipes down to access the camera.
• The Gear runs Android, but only applications designed with the Gear's 1.6-inch touch-screen in mind. It will ship with 50-plus apps available, including a MyFitnessPal app that helps users to achieve their fitness goals.
• The Gear includes Bluetooth and WiFi connectivity, and an Auto Lock feature that enables a user to lock her phone from the Gear. That said, when the devices are in close proximity, it can dismiss the need to type a safety code into the phone to unlock it.