Early reaction to Samsung's new Galaxy Gear smartwatch, announced yesterday in Berlin, was decidedly downbeat if not downright negative.
Several analysts said that a $299 pricetag for the smartwatch alone is too expensive. Phones4U have just announced it will also cost £299 in the UK, a massive premium on the US price. They also objected to Samsung's requirement of pairing the smartwatch with a newer Samsung device via Bluetooth 4.0. Those compatible devices include the new Galaxy Note 3, a 5.7-inch phablet, which could add an additional $150 to $200 to the total cost.
The Gear device can act as a voice dialer by using the Bluetooth connection, has a 1.9 megapixel camera and can run dozens of modified Android apps on its 1.6in Super AMOLED touchscreen. However, analysts were disappointed that the watch is missing a key element seen as vital in emerging smartwatch technology: It lacks biometric sensors that could be used to monitor heart rate, respiration and other body functions deployed in other wearable fitness devices.
"How much will people really be willing to pay for such limited use?" asked Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates.
"Samsung is pursuing a spaghetti-on-the-wall product strategy: Launch a smartwatch and maybe it will stick," said Forrester analyst Sarah Rotman Epps. "Maybe Samsung will tap into unmet demand with this product, disproving naysayers as it did with the Galaxy Note, which succeeded after many 5in competitors failed - from the Sony Milo to the Dell Streak," Rotman Epps added.
Still, she not only dismissed the new Gear, but was scathing of the entire smartwatch category: "My bet is that smartwatches are sci-fi inventions that are already anachronisms in this modern world."
Gartner analyst Carolina Milanesi had similar worries.
"I was expecting more sensors and more focus on fitness from Samsung," Milanesi said. "The price is high for what the device does. Overall, I think this is more an overpriced toy than a device that really drives value to consumers."
There were some voices of praise. Independent analyst Jeff Kagan said that linking the Gear with the Note 3 via Bluetooth and the newly announced Galaxy Note 10.1 tablet "is another step into the future. Customers should love this." Samsung said a software upgrade will also allow the Gear to pair with the Galaxy S 4 smartphone and eventually other Samsung devices.
Kagan said Samsung continues to "push the innovation envelope" and predicted that the Gear will be as popular as its Galaxy smartphones and tablets. "Samsung beat Apple to the punch," he noted. Apple is expected to unveil its iWatch smartwatch as soon as next week.
"The smartwatch will be popular," Kagan added. "As smartphones do more, we use them all the time. With Gear, we can make a call or check email on our watch, and much more."
On the other hand, Gold said that Samsung will need to sell Gear at below $100 to get mass market appeal. "At $300, that's probably as much as most people will pay for a phone itself," he said.
Still, Gold saw one element of promise for Samsung with the new Galaxy Gear and Note 3. Samsung said it will be pre-loading its Knox security and management software on the Note 3, which would extend many of those software features to the Gear, which operates paired via Bluetooth in a limited range. Knox first appeared on the Galaxy S 4 unveiled in March.
Samsung is "obviously targeting the Note 3 for enterprise adoption and BYOD, where I think they may find some real success, especially since few companies find vanilla Android safe enough to deploy," Gold said.