In the beginning, computers were the size of buildings. To use one, you walked into it. Over the decades, they grew small enough to sit on a desk, then to carry in a briefcase, then to keep in your pocket. And now we’re entering the age of computers so small we wear them like jewellery.
Just what kind of jewellery, however, has yet to be decided. Will we wear our computers on our foreheads, as with Google Glass? Or will we wear them on our wrists, as with the new Samsung Galaxy Gear smartwatch ($300)?
Samsung isn’t the first company to put a computer on your wrist. There have been a bunch of crude early efforts: the Pebble, the Cookoo, the Metawatch, the Martian. But the world waits for an Apple or Google or Samsung to do a more coherent job of packing a lot of components into a minuscule space.
Apple’s iWatch is only a rumour. But Samsung’s Galaxy Gear watch is here now. It’s ambitious, impressive, even amazing. But it won’t be adorning the wrists of the masses any time soon. One big reason: It’s really only half a computer. It requires the assistance of a compatible Samsung phone or tablet; without one, the watch is worthless. And right now, only two gadgets are compatible: the Galaxy Note 3 (an enormous phone with the footprint of a box of movie-theatre Raisinets) or Samsung’s new 10.1-inch Galaxy tablet.
By Thanksgiving, Samsung says, it hopes to make its popular Galaxy S4 phone compatible, too; after that, the older Note 2 and S3. But the Gear watch will never work with devices from rival companies; Samsung is trying to create an Apple-like ecosystem of Samsung gadgets that work smoothly—and—together.
The watch is huge, but it’s beautifully disguised to hide its hugeness. You can buy it with a plastic wristband in different colours. You can’t exchange the bands, though, because important elements are built into it: a micro-speakerphone in the clasp and a tiny camera lens in the band.
The Gear feels fine on your wrist. It’s not waterproof, but it can withstand little splashes. You charge its battery by clamping it into a tiny USB charger—every night. So what does the Gear do? A hodgepodge of random things. Some work well, and some not. For example:
Tell the time: On your compatible Samsung phone, you install an app called Gear Manager. It’s the front end for the watch,