LIVE FROM IFA 2013, BERLIN: Samsung this evening took the wraps off its new smart watch and also updated its successful Note ‘phablet’, two new Galaxy products that it is pitching as “companion” devices designed to work with one another and further boost sales at the world’s largest smartphone vendor.
The Galaxy Gear smart watch is the South Korean vendor’s biggest foray yet into the heavily hyped ‘wearable’ market and the device’s credentials certainly stand out amongst earlier smart watch offerings from the likes of Pebble and Sony. The high-quality stainless steel exterior is complemented by a 1.6-inch display screen (available in six colours), 1.9MP camera and 25-hour battery life.
Attempting to address doubts over whether a market for smart watches truly exists, Samsung talked up the concept of ‘smart freedom’, allowing users to choose who, when and why they are connected. “We wanted to make a wearable that is designed for everyone,” claimed Pranav Mistry, head of Samsung Research’s US Think Tank Team. “Today we reinvented a centuries-old concept. It’s an engineering marvel and something that redefines tomorrow. Welcome to the future.”
“We believe it will become a new fashion icon around the world,” added J K Shin, Samsung’s president and CEO of mobile.
For a price tag of $299 consumers can use the Galaxy Gear to make and receive voice calls (via a built-in speaker), and check email, texts and alerts. Users can also draft messages, create new calendar entries, set alarms, and check the weather with S Voice. The Smart Relay function means any content can be simultaneously transferred to a user’s Galaxy Note 3 or Note 10.1 tablet (via Bluetooth). A pedometer also tracks physical activity. Tailored applications from the likes of Evernote and Path were also touted, with more on the way.
However, early analyst reaction to the smart watch wasn’t positive. “Based on the features announced today, it appears that Samsung’s Galaxy Gear smart watch is a prototype masquerading as a commercial product – and because of that, it is unlikely to be successful in the market,” said Ian Fogg, director for mobile and telecoms at IHS. “The device exhibits multiple shortcomings, including a high price tag, a short battery life, its status as a companion device and its limited compatibility. The bottom line is the Galaxy Gear smart watch probably will not succeed in the market and Samsung will need to try again with a more refined product.”
Meanwhile the Note 3 phablet, according to the company’s mobile president Shin, is “slimmer, lighter, has a larger screen [5.7-inch full HD] but is more compact and has a longer battery life” than its predecessor. Samsung was keen to talk up enhancements to its S Pen stylus, via a new Air Command function. Air Command is a small pop-up window that’s brought up automatically by the S Pen and offers quick access to features like Action Memo (which can link memos to actions), a scrapbook, the S Finder search option, and the updated S Note, which can sync content with your PC and tablet through Evernote.
More powerful multitasking was also promoted; with the new ‘Multi Window’ functionality users can toggle between applications without closing the window or opening a new page. Consumers can also run one application in two windows at the same time. And ‘Pen Window’ from Air Command extends the multitasking experience by allowing consumers to draw a window on the screen and launch popular applications while continuing current tasks.
The Note 3 boasts a 13MP camera, can support LTE-Advanced technology (as well as LTE in all spectrum bands), and comes with a stitched leather back cover. The Note 3 will be available in black, white and pink. In an effort to appeal to the Bring-Your-Own-Device (BYOD) market, it also comes fitted with Samsung’s KNOX security application.
Both the Samsung Galaxy Gear and Note 3 will be available in more than 140 countries around the world starting from 25 September. Consumers in Japan and the US will have to wait until October. “They will be companion devices,” claimed Shin.
Finally, the company also updated its tablet portfolio with the Galaxy Note 10.1 2014 edition, the headline improvement of which is a significant upgrade in screen resolution (four times the pixel density of the earlier model, according to Samsung).