Smartwatches: some of us think they’re the natural evolution of the “basic” timekeepers that most people wear on their wrists these days, and others think they’re simply a fad and are “trying to do too much”. Whichever camp you’re in, the game changed when Samsung announced its own device into the category: Galaxy Gear. But is it really a “smartwatch”, and how is it different than Pebble?
In case you missed the announcement, the Galaxy Gear is a watch-like device, worn on the wrist, and available in six different colors. Unlike the Pebble smartwatch, this one features a color touch-screen with a heavy emphasis on “gesture” interactions. Also unlike the Pebble, which is a “watch first”, the Galaxy Gear is a much more powerful device. It will have an 800MHz single-core SoC (compared to Pebble’s 120MHz) and a battery that Samsung says will last “more than a day” on a single charge (compared to Pebble’s 5-7 days). Why all the power? Why the short battery life?
In short, Galaxy Gear is much more than just a watch. It includes a camera, speaker, and microphone in the wristband, a number of sensors inside the “watch” itself, and the ability to answer a call just by holding your hand up to your ear, as if you had your phone in-hand. Sure, that’s pretty cool, we’ve got to admit that.
Unfortunately, unlike Pebble, which works with virtually any Android- or iOS-powered device, Samsung’s device uses a new system for managing data that’s transferred between your “watch” and your phone or tablet. It’s called “Smart Relay”, and (for now), it’s a Samsung exclusive. It’s so exclusive, in fact, that it will only work with newly announced Samsung products like the Note 3. Older devices like the Note II or Galaxy S 3 will have to wait for a software update before they’ll be able to use it. Hopefully those updates don’t get hung up by your carrier for very long.
Lastly, the Galaxy Gear will sell for about US$300 — twice what a Pebble costs, and $100 dollars more than a Nexus 4.
That’s the difference
Taylor, Michael, and I all wear our Pebble’s regularly. We’re happy with them. They don’t have microphones, speakers, or cameras built in… but they’re not supposed to. This isn’t a Dick Tracy watch. Pebble is a device that helps you keep your smartphone or tablet in your pocket. It shows you your alerts, so you don’t have to pull your phone out. It lets you see who’s calling and reject them if you don’t want to talk. It even lets you control your music and podcast episodes, all from your wrist. Of course there’s much more, but the point is that Pebble is about showing you stuff that’s on your phone, so you don’t have to dig your phone out of your pocket or even turn the screen on.
Galaxy Gear is another kind of device. It’s powerful from a processing standpoint. It can interact with your phone, much like Pebble, but it can also do more — as long as you have one of the (yet to be released) devices that support it.
Some will claim Galaxy Gear is competition for Pebble, but it’s really not. The Pebble smartwatch and Galaxy Gear are for entirely different people, for doing entirely different things. I, for one, am happy that Pebble only does what it does — and works with devices that people have today.