Here’s a new wrinkle on the smartwatch (at least, as far as major manufacturers go): Samsung has unveiled the Gear S, a smartwatch with its own 3G connectivity. It can pair with the user’s smartphone, but it can also effectively act as a standalone cell phone.
The Gear S is based on the Tizen operating system, unlike Samsung‘s recently-released, Android Wear-based Gear Live. You’ll remember that Samsung also recently switched last year’s Galaxy Gear smartwatch from Android to Tizen, which it fully controls, unlike Google‘s OS. The Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo, released earlier this year, also run on Tizen.
As my colleague Kevin Tofel wrote yesterday, the appeal of Android Wear is questionable – it’s mostly about notifications and its apps aren’t hugely compelling yet. To my mind, the Gear S may provide a good alternative.
For runners, there’s a lot to be said for a smartwatch that has its own connection and doesn’t mean carrying a handset at the same time. The device won’t have Google Now, but it will be its own smartphone, rather than an extension of one. Calls can be forwarded from the user’s smartphone (which is presumably sitting in a drawer at home or something), to the Gear S.
The Gear S has GPS and the usual health-and-fitness sensors, along with Samsung’s S Health features and the ability to use the Nike+ Running app and similar apps. It will use Nokia’s Here for pedestrian navigation, and the Financial Times is providing a “fastFT” news service. The device can sync information with the user’s smartphone when paired — it features Bluetooth 4.1.
On the physical front, the device looks rather good by 2014 smartwatch standards (see also: the new LG G Watch R.) It has a curved, 2-inch Super AMOLED screen with “condensed font,” it comes in black or white and it has changeable straps. It’s dust and water-resistant and it comes with 4 GB of internal memory for apps and music. It has a 1 GHz dual-core processor, and Samsung claims its 300mAh battery will typically last two days.
This could be very attractive to those who like the smartwatch idea but don’t want the data to feed into Google’s profiling engine. The only clear downside I can see is that the Gear S will require its own SIM card in order to behave autonomously. OK, that, and the fact that a 2-inch on-screen keyboard is always going to be somewhat limiting.
Early Thurday, Samsung also announced the Gear Circle, a rather weird set of wireless headphones that can be worn as such or like a necklace, if you click the ends together. Apart from providing audio playback and a mic for voice commands, this device — designed to be paired with a smartphone — also vibrates for notifications. The Gear Circle has a 180mAh battery with claimed play time of 9 hours, talk time of 11 hours and standby of 300 hours.
We don’t yet know the prices for either of these devices, but with IFA just round the corner I dare say we’ll soon find out.