Samsung Galaxy Gear: The crazy concepts vs the sober reality

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Story highlights

Samsung launch new 'smart watch' with built in camera and pedometer

Many commentators critical of the new design

Designers have their own visions of the perfect smart watch

CNN  — 

After months of hype and speculation, the Samsung Galaxy Gear smart watch arrived this week with a bang… followed by a whimper.

Some commentators were impressed with the device’s technical specifications including its 320 x 320-pixel, 1.63-inch AMOLED touchscreen, an 800MHz processor, a 315mAh battery, and the camera mounted in the wrist strap capable of capturing 1.9-megapixel stills and 10-second video clips. But many were disappointed by the countless features the smart watch did not include.

Prior to the Galaxy Gear’s launch, the internet was awash with fervent speculation as to what the watch would do. Many hoped that it would come replete with remarkable features such as acting as a projector, or allowing you to check your pulse and body temperature.

Some commentators envisaged a watch made of radical new lightweight or transparent materials that could interface with the world around you to offer a genuine new experience not currently offered by smartphones or tablets.

Read more: 20 wearable technologies from the future

At the device’s glamorous launch, JK Shin, president of Samsung’s IT and Mobile Division, said that the “Samsung Galaxy Gear benefits consumers by integrating smart device technology even deeper into their everyday lives, and bridges the gap between the mobile device and fashion worlds to create truly wearable technology.” But does it really deliver on its promise?

CNN spoke to a number of amateur designers who had mocked up smart watch ideas of their own about their impressions of the Galaxy Gear. Most seemed united in their disappointment.

“I’m waiting for a smart watch that does something extra than just bring my phone to my wrist,” says design engineer Esben Oxholm, who mocked up his own smart watch concept in February. “I can’t tell you what it is, because I don’t know. I just know that I’m not paying 300 to 400 bucks for a wrist attaching remote control that needs to be recharged every day.”

Christoph Behling, lead designer for Tag Heuer watches, shared Oxholm’s criticisms, saying that in his view the Galaxy Gear will not serve as a replacement for regular watches, because it is lacking in two fundamental aspects: both in its form and its function.

Read: Making music from body movement

“At the moment, it is a decent enough electronics product, but it is not a decent enough watch,” Behling says. “I can’t see how it will benefit my life. Do I really want to leave my lovely Swiss watch at home in order to have a piece of mass produced consumer product with, in my view, limited functionality?”

Behling says that Samsung’s decision to tie the Galaxy Gear to a mobile phone means it cannot act as a proper cell phone substitute. Equally, he thinks that its rather industrial looking design, with exposed screws and a metallic finish will win few fans: “They didn’t really engage with the idea that the watch is an accessory. It needs to be more targeted to a specific lifestyle where it delivers a particular function.”

Not all reviews have been negative. TechCrunch reporter Matt Burns praised the Galaxy Gear’s ‘attractive’ screen and design; The Verge’s Vlad Savov described it as “quite unlike anything you’ve seen before.”

Some have noted that the smart watches have in fact been about for years. Others say that the smart watch proper still hasn’t been invented. Through all the fevered commentary, technological enthusiasts continue to draw up their own visions of what a smart watch should be. Many now rest their hopes on Apple to deliver the device they are waiting for, with countless speculative designs being proffered by the vast community of “Macolytes.”

Read: The dos and don’ts of product design

So how far are we still from a watch that offers haptic feedback, wrist-based payments, gesture controls, and agnostic support for devices regardless of whether they are iOS, Android or Windows phone?

According to some commentators, we are still Galaxies away.