Samsung unveils Galaxy Gear smartwatch accessory

 

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Samsung has unveiled a smartwatch with a colour screen that can show alerts, be used for voice calls and run apps.

The Galaxy Gear had been highly anticipated since the firm is currently the world's best-selling smartphone maker and has beaten Microsoft, Apple and Google to unveil such a device.

Samsung called it a "fashion icon".

However, analysts warned that a decision to limit the watch to working as an accessory to other Galaxy Android devices might limit its appeal.

Samsung has previously said growth in the sales of its handsets was slowing, so investors are eager to see if it can find another successful product.

Galaxy Gear The Galaxy Gear is being made available with a range of colourful watch straps

It unveiled the watch - which will go on sale from 25 September - at the Ifa consumer tech show in Berlin.

"The introduction of the Galaxy smartwatch comes as no surprise to the industry, which has been expecting Samsung to beat the likes of Apple - as well as watchmakers and other consumer electronics companies - to market," said Chris Green, principal technology analyst at the consultancy Davies Murphy Group.

"Consumers might be a bit disappointed to find that the smartwatch is a partner device reliant on being paired with a Samsung Android smartphone or tablet, rather than being the completely autonomous media and communications device many consumers were expecting and hoping for."

The South Korean firm's approach contrasts with that of Sony, whose forthcoming Smartwatch 2 can be paired with any device running Android 4.0 or higher.

Galaxy Note update

Samsung Note 3

Although it may be less groundbreaking, Samsung's other announcement - the Galaxy Note 3 - is likely to be a bigger seller.

The "phablet" - a device bigger than a smartphone, but smaller than a fully-fledged tablet - has a 5.7in screen.

That is a tiny bit bigger than its predecessor - but thanks to a smaller bezel around the display, the handset itself remains the same size. It is even slightly lighter than last year's offering.

But the feature that will likely be most tempting to those considering an upgrade will be the Note 3's ability to record in 4K video - the "ultra high-definition" format with four times the detail of 1080p "full HD".

Samsung, like other device manufacturers, has faced mounting pressure from governments and police around the world who say more should be done to deter phone theft.

To that end, the Note 3 will come installed with the company's new security software, Samsung Knox. The company said it will provide a far deeper level of protection of data when the phone has been stolen as well as a defence against malware.

But one industry watcher said Samsung's decision should not be a surprise.

"Samsung is trying to build its own ecosystem, so why do something that brings value to somebody else?" asked Carolina Milanesi, an analyst at tech advisers Gartner.

"Although the price of the Galaxy watch is high there's not going to be great margins as there's lots of technology going into it."

Samsung says the Galaxy watch will cost about $300. That is the equivalent of £190, although the firm has not announced a UK price yet.

However, it is already clear it will cost more than Sony's £120 device.

Start-up Omate is planning to release a watch in October that matches Samsung's in price, but its device is set to feature a 3G chip, meaning it can make calls and work as a standalone device.

Qualcomm has also unveiled Toq, a watch using the firm's Mirasol colour display technology, which should mean better battery life than its rivals. It also links up to a range of Android smartphones, and will go on sale next month at a suggested retail price of £190.

Unknown demand

The Galaxy Gear features a 1.6in (4cm) LED display, a 1.9 megapixel camera, a speaker and microphone, has four gigabytes of internal storage and a non-removable battery.

Samsung said the watch could be used as a way to make voice calls without having to take the phone it was linked to out of the owner's bag or pocket.

It comes preloaded with 10 different clock options and there will be about 70 apps available at launch including Evernote's note-taking software, auction service eBay, the social network Path and several fitness programs.

Sony Smartwatch 2 Sony's Smartwatch 2 is compatible with more makes of Android phone

Gartner has predicted the global wearable computing market - which includes eyewear such as Google Glass and activity tracker armbands - could be worth as much as £6.5bn ($10bn) by 2016.

Tech consultancy Canalys has forecast as many as five million smartwatches could be sold in 2014.

But in truth no-one is sure how great consumer interest will be.

A new survey of more than 1,500 smartphone owners in the US and UK commissioned by telecoms consultancy CCS Insight might temper expectations.

It found 65% of the respondents had heard of smartwatches and more than 50% knew about wearable fitness trackers.

However, of those who already owned a smartwatch or fitness band, more than 40% had stopped using it because they often forgot to put it on or had become bored with the idea.

Qualcomm Toq Qualcomm's Toq may help promote its Mirasol screen technology

"Samsung has a history of latching on to the latest trends and throwing a product into the market to try and get ahead of potential rivals," said CCS Insight's Ben Wood.

"Galaxy Gear is the first attempt but I expect that there will need to be several more iterations before it is something that will will appeal to anyone other than an affluent geek."

Unappealing 'anachronism'

Ms Milanesi agreed that neither Samsung nor Sony's watches were likely to be the breakthrough product that makes smartwatches a mainstream product.

"Once you get a curved display you'll see more interesting designs, but for the moment you are basically just putting a glass screen on a wrist and I don't think that will appeal to many," she said.

"Samsung is also claiming a day's battery life with fair usage. It's like going back to a time you had to wind your watch up every night before going to bed.

"I don't think consumers want to do that with a watch or a band. They want to have it on without having to worry about charging it every day."

Research firm Forrester was equally sceptical.

Galaxy Gear Samsung suggests the watch can be used as an alternative to a Bluetooth headset to make calls

"The wrist is the one of the most accepted places on the body for consumers to wear a sensor device," said analyst Sarah Rotman Epps.

"[But] there are very few functions you could perform better on a watch than on a phone.

"Maybe Samsung will tap into unmet demand with this product, disproving naysayers as it did with the Galaxy Note phone which succeeded after many 5in competitors failed.

"But my bet is that smartwatches are sci-fi inventions that are already anachronisms in this modern world."

Smartwatches compared

Galaxy Gear smartwatch

Samsung Galaxy Gear

£190 ($299)

Full specifications

Released: September 2013

Samsung has beaten its main rivals to get its smartwatch out first. But with a hefty price tag, and an inability to connect to non-Samsung devices, the Galaxy Gear is not expected to be a game-changer.

Killer feature: Can be used to make calls when paired with a Samsung handset.

What they say: "It's too dependent on its parent device for functionality - which will cost you a fair amount too - and, like all other smartwatches, fails to truly live up to the "smart" part of its name." - The Verge

Pebble watch

Pebble

£95 ($150)

Full specifications

Released: January 2013

The Pebble watch was a crowdfunded phenomenon, raising a record-breaking £10m on Kickstarter. However, distribution issues have stunted its growth so far.

Killer feature: Clever integration with IFTTT.com (If this, then that) lets users set up highly customisable and useful functions.

What they say: "The Pebble isn't cheap, and it's definitely not yet a must-have device. But it's close." - The Verge

Sony Smartwatch 2

Sony Smartwatch 2

About £130

Full specifications

Released: September 2013

Sony's Smartwatch 2 does its very best to look cool - even with its chunky 1.3in screen - but it needs to be significantly better than its predecessor, which Gizmodo described as "maybe the worst thing Sony has ever made".

Killer feature: Using near-field communication (NFC), the watch can be contactlessly paired with other devices.

What they say: "The Sony Smartwatch 2 is a stylish, good-looking smartphone accessory. But it feels like it lacks a killer feature." - Trusted Reviews

Omate Truesmart

Omate Truesmart

£190 ($299)

Full specifications

Released: October 2013 (limited supply)

It took less than 24 hours for Omate to hit its $100,000 target on Kickstarter last month. Intriguingly, the watch has a built-in five megapixel camera, for those moments when you really need to shoot from the... wrist.

Killer feature: Full access to the Google Play app store, meaning the phone can make use of the entire ecosystem of Android apps, just like a smartphone.

What they say: "Just one problem... the way wireless plans work... you'd have to pay for a separate plan to enable voice, text and data on your watch." - Time

Hyetis Crossbow

Hyetis Crossbow

£770 ($1,200)

Full specifications

Released: December 2013 (planned)

Sensing an opening in the smartwatch market for something a little more sparkly, the Swiss-made Crossbow has positioned itself as something of the Rolex of smartwatches.

Killer feature: The Crossbow has a rather staggering 41 megapixel camera - and biometric sensors.

What they say: "It has two batteries built in so you can record your entire brutish life using the built-in camera." -Techcrunch

Casio calculator watch

Casio calculator watch

£20

Full specifications

Released: Early 1980s

The original and the best! Some 30 years since it first took the watch world by storm, the Casio Calculator watch, in its various guises, is still going strong as the ironic hipster timepiece of choice.

Killer feature: Has a calculator.

What they say: "When I look at it, I am transported back to 1983 in second grade, and I remember how envious I was of Nicholas, who had this watch and was all stoked about going to see The Return of the Jedi." - Amazon reviewer

 

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