It’s really tough to get me excited about a new smartwatch from Samsung. That’s not necessarily because of the company’s earlier efforts, : I stood up for the original Galaxy Gear and enjoyed it much more than did most of my fellow tech reviewers, and I even bought and used a Gear Fit for a short time, preferring its futuristic and lightweight build to the clunky first-gen Pebble I’d adopted a year before.
Rather, my antipathy to new Samsung smartwatches stems from the fact that the company’s first effort landed exactly one year ago, and we’re already on iteration five. That’s a ridiculous release pace, and as eloquently (if obscenely) stated by a listener on the most recent Pocketnow Weekly podcast, it’s led to a line of products that are almost great, but not quite. Based on that track record, it makes little sense to get excited about any new wearable from Samsung – let alone a device that represents a major departure from the philosophy of nearly every other modern smartwatch.
But being a futurist above all, I’m usually much more enamored than skeptical of new technology (at least, until I review it). In the run up to IFA in Berlin later this week, that peculiar predisposition has me drooling for Samsung’s standalone smartwatch for all the wrong reasons. Here’s three reasons I’m looking forward to the Gear S – even though I probably shouldn’t be.
Why I like it
The whole allure of the Gear S is its ability to serve as a communicator and media companion even in the absence of its paired smartphone. This is the capability detractors of the whole smartwatch category have been crying out for in the comments for the past two years. While I’ve never quite understood the beef people seem to have with the traditional pairing requirement, I do appreciate how attractive the notion of true independence can be. The idea of going out for a quick walk or jog (or kayak trip) without having to take a smartphone along is a seductive one, made possible by the Gear S’s SIM card slot and 4GB of internal storage. From a practical perspective, it lightens your load … and from a fantastical point of view, it finally fully realizes the dream of the wrist-worn communicator.
Why it’s terrible
An extra SIM card means an extra data plan. As generous as wireless carriers can sometimes be with their rates, there’s no guarantee we’ll see doorbusting prices on whatever plans operators cook up for the Gear S. With smartwatches already struggling to gain a foothold, the addition of another monthly charge is only going to hurt adoption – and the confusion of maintaining a separate phone number for the watch won’t help matters either. And with a 300 mAh power pack driving the whole shebang, let’s not even talk about battery life.
Why I like it
Samsung announced its new Gear Circle wearable alongside the Gear S. It’s a magnetically-closing headset that wirelessly pairs to a smartphone, capable of vibrating for alerts and accepting voice commands. While Samsung’s not positioning it as a direct companion to the Gear S, that pairing would be a sensible one given the awkward nature of holding your wrist to your head to take a phone call. An accessory like this is really the only way to make an independent smartwatch viable for someone who still depends on voice calls, or for the music addict who never likes to stray far from his or her tunes. And it doesn’t look bad to boot.
Why it’s terrible
It’s never a safe bet to make the proper use of one product depend on the purchase of another. After all, even if people don’t decide to buy the Gear Circle, they’ll need to have some kind of Bluetooth headset to avoid looking like a secret agent with their hand on their ear every time they make a call. And carrying two devices instead of one is fundamentally less convenient, which is why you don’t see many people these days toting the old dumbphone-and-tablet pair that some predicted gaining steam when tablets went mainstream a few years back. It’s not as big a deal when both devices are wearables, but the added cost is still onerous.
Why I like it
As I’ve said more than once on the Weekly, probably the biggest reason I’m itching to strap on the Gear S is its curvaceous display. The device resembles a Gear Fit that’s been stretched along its wide axis, its central feature the 2-inch 360 x 480 AMOLED screen that curls slightly around the wrist. I’ve been taken with curved displays before, most notably on LG’s monster G Flex that’s serving as my IFA sidekick this week in Berlin. It’s an instant cure to the stagnant sameness of the smartphone world, breaking up the rectangular regularity that grips so much of the modern landscape. And on a smartwatch, the whiz-bang factor of a bent screen is bolstered by a practical bonus: ergonomically, it’s more comfortable. It makes so much sense on a device that wraps around your wrist (something I’ve also said before).
Why it’s terrible
It’s not. If the Gear Fit and Galaxy Round are anything to go by, that curved AMOLED is gonna be awesome, hands-down. But it’s also the biggest aesthetic distinction of this watch, the number-one reason I want to experience it in person. In that way, it serves as a highlight to all the things I’m not looking forward to putting up with in exchange for the privilege of using it: the half-baked S Voice assistant; the clunky Samsung UI; a special charger I’ll probably forget somewhere; and too-narrow, too-specific features like a Financial Times app and a heart rate sensor, neither of which I’ll put to any use whatsoever. I have a strong feeling that the entire time I use the Gear S, I’ll be wishing it was powered by Android Wear … and given my feelings on that platform, I sure hope I’m wrong about that. But as always, we’ll have to wait and see.
You’ve got feelings on the Gear S; I just know it. Hop on down to the comments to share what you’re most (and least) looking forward to experiencing on the world’s newest standalone smartwatch, stay tuned for our hands-on coverage coming from IFA in Berlin later in the week, and for some more flavorful initial impressions on the Gear S that don’t come from my mouth, check out our recent installment of the Pocketnow Weeky podcast for Stephan Schenck’s and Stefan Constantinescu’s thoughts on the world’s most curvaceous new wearable!