Novel gadgets emerging on our wrists, but are the advancements worth it?

This week at the IFA, one of the world’s largest consumer electronics shows held in Berlin, Samsung unveiled its latest device in an already-impressive arsenal of personal electronics: the Galaxy Gear Smartwatch. As far as a name goes, it’s flashy, it’s catchy, and it of bragging rights. As for the product itself, those privileged enough to get a preview of it at the IFA were optimistic and gave it a mostly positive review as far as being a new piece of technology and the first (mostly) of its kind. Though Apple reportedly has an “iWatch” in the works, Samsung is the first to create and manufacture a device which can truly be a called a “smartwatch.”

So what does the Gear do, exactly? I admit, the name is plenty captivating and calls to mind those devices seen in sci-fi movies which can do everything a smartphone can do and more. First off, by itself? Not much. The Galaxy Gear must be linked to an Android device to do most functions, including making or receiving calls and checking texts and emails. And it can’t be hooked to just any device. Right now, it will only work with the new Samsung Note 3 – which was also unveiled at the IFA. In the future it will likely work with other Android devices, but if you’re eager to get one right when it goes on sale, you’ll have to drop 199 dollars for the Note 3- a phone/tablet hybrid- and an additional $300 for the watch.

Three hundred dollars for a 1.6 inch, 2.6 ounce exceptionally fancy watch? No doubt there are luxury watches more than twice as expensive, but for the average consumer, the price tag will certainly be a deterrent when deciding whether the Galaxy Gear is worth owning. And yet, people have proven that they’re willing to spend copious amounts of money to have the latest thing. But will the Galaxy Gear be a Vista or a Windows 7? It’s hard to tell. For one thing, I can’t imagine paying so much for a device that will most likely be rather difficult to navigate.

That was a consistent complaint listed among the various sources that reviewed the Galaxy Gear. The screen is absolutely miniscule compared to most smartphones, though not compared to regular watches obviously, and it will no doubt be difficult to navigate for those with bigger fingers. In a world where phones are getting larger and larger, what benefit is there in having a device the same size as the top halves your thumbs put together? While the Gear advertises being able to easily slide between apps, as on a regular phone, how convenient is it if the apps are tiny? Checking my stock report (if I had one) would be rather difficult.

So, it’s small, it doesn’t do much when not connected to a phone- it can only run a few different apps that you can install while connected as well as take pictures that are temporarily saved until re-connected, it can only be connected to the Note 3 right now, and it’s expensive. In addition to all that, it has poor battery life. According to Samsung, the battery is expected to last no more than a day depending on usage before it has to be recharged. As the review pointed out, that means yet another charger that has to be carried around when traveling.

All that aside, it is supposed to allow for easier access of apps for those who need two hands to do their jobs- such as mechanics or construction workers who may need to access blueprints or schematics while working. But how does a screen so small allow for easy viewing? You would have to do an intense close-up of whatever you’re looking at to make it an even semi-viable option. Even if it eliminates the need to pull out your phone, which is one of the main selling points of the Gear, you still have to hold your wrist still in order to read the watch.

Making and receiving calls would also be dilemma. Checking emails and texts would be fine, if cramped, but how does one go about making a call from a watch? From the various reviews, it appears as though every call would have to be on speakerphone, though no review specifically described how calls were conducted. Call quality aside – it was reviewed to pretty good for the size of the device – if it works as a regular phone does, you’d have to awkwardly hold your wrist to your ear in order to make calls, or otherwise make a call you don’t mind everyone around you hearing.

So is the Galaxy Gear Smartwatch a game-changing piece of technology? I think that depends a lot on how the general public responds after they go on sale. Will they sell out of stores? Or will people sort of look at them and wonder why they would actually need another piece of technology when they already have a laptop, a tablet, an e-reader and a smartphone? The Gear might be more viable once Samsung opens the technology up to being compatible with all Samsung phones, and hopefully with all Android devices.

As for how this represents the future of personal electronics? It’s hard to say. Phones may be getting bigger now, but with Google Glass and now the Smartwatch, perhaps an age of small hands-free personal electronics is just warming up. One day in the not-so-distant future, perhaps we might all wear contact lenses that project information directly onto what we see – an idea which is not so different from what Google Glass is doing now. Electronics are constantly evolving; maybe the Galaxy Gear is just another step in the process.

—Lily Elbaum ’16 is a student at Vassar College.

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