Watch out: Pebble vs Galaxy Gear showdown

Samsung may have announced its first ever smart watch, but it’s not the only game in town, so really, what is the Galaxy Gear like against another smart watch?

Wearable technology is still a relatively new thing, and even though people wore an iPod Nano as a wrist watch for some time, it wasn’t actually a dedicated fashion accessory, at least not the way a watch is.

And when Apple redesigned the Nano, it completely removed the ability to make its media player wearable.

That move saddened people, especially since many in the industry believe wearable tech is the next frontier, since we all have smartphones, and many of them are so big, a companion device like a watch or a pair of glasses makes a lot of sense.

Pebble certainly sees it like this, and raised a lot of eyebrows and grabbed a lot of attention when it first launched a crowd-sourcing campaign to make its electronic ink smart watch.

The Pebble maintains a Bluetooth link with a watch or tablet and makes it possible to intercept emails, text messages, and phone calls using the watch, while also being able to create and run different watch faces.

It’s not the first smart watch, either – Sony has one, too (below) – but due to the Kickstarter campaign raising over $10 million US dollars, it is one of the most successful.

Samsung seems keen to get a piece of this pie, though, hardly surprising since many other companies are talking up their own products that will act as fashionable companion accessories heading to stores in the near future.

This week, Samsung showed off its smart watch to Australia, sitting under the same brand as the popular Galaxy smartphones, and called the “Galaxy Gear.”

Originally announced at IFA in Germany in early September, the watch works with Samsung smartphones to deliver the time, messages, and emails, just like the Pebble, but also a whole lot more.

For instance, you can actually take pictures and small videos using a camera on the band, make phone calls from the wrist thanks to a built-in microphone and speakers, and even run apps.

Other functionality includes being able to find lost connected phones using sounds (and, conversely, finding the watch using the phone if it ever goes missing), tracking footsteps using a pedometer, and scan wine bottles with the camera to make note of it later using an app built for this.

“Galaxy Gear represents an exciting step for Samsung in pioneering innovation that provides users with a meaningful experience and offers greater freedom when using our mobile technology,” said Samsung’s Tyler McGee.

“We feel Galaxy Gear will completely change the mobile technology landscape and we’re extremely proud to deliver the device to Australians just weeks after it was announced globally.”

Pebble on the left, Galaxy Gear on the right. It'll continue like this in all the pictures.

In the hands and on the wrist, the Samsung smart watch is actually smaller than you think it’s going to be, and is easily comparable with the Pebble, at least from a size point of view. This writer doesn’t have the thickest of arms, and had expected a larger device, but came away being surprised by it, finding it more comfortable than originally suspected.

Using a 1.63 inch screen means the Gear isn’t overly big, and unlike the Pebble’s reliance on buttons to be pushed, Samsung is sticking with a touchscreen, with top to bottom gestures for switching from apps to the camera, and horizontal swipes to make your way through the apps. It’s not hard to work out how to access different functions, and once you’ve memorised it, it should be easy as pie.

We’re surprised by the camera in the strap which, while it doesn’t have a lot of modes or much resolution at 1.9 megapixels, seems to take semi-decent shots, and even allows you to get up close with a macro mode.

The strap feels a little flimsy, though, but Samsung has included a clasp to help keep it pressed in place, so we’re not concerned about it falling off.

Overall, a decent first impression, and one that feels a little better than the Pebble, which given the price difference, doesn’t totally surprise us.

There appears to be more use in this watch, and while we use our Pebble for phone call pickup, reading texts, and controlling music, the Galaxy Gear smartwatch seems more suited for someone keen to let their wrist do more while keeping their smartphone in a pocket or bag.

There is one obvious catch to the entire system, though, and that’s compatibility: currently, the Galaxy Gear will only work with the Galaxy Note 3, which is due for release on October 3, the same day Gear makes its way to stores.

You can't make phone calls directly through the Pebble's strap. You can with Samsung's wristwatch.

Other Samsung devices will eventually be supported, with patches rolling out later in the year for the Galaxy S3, Galaxy S4, and Galaxy Note 2. The patches are expected to arrive in the form of Android 4.3 installations for these devices, and until they do, the Gear wristwatch will not work with the smartphones in question.

There’s also no schedule or word on if the Gear smart watch will work with other devices, specifically those not made by Samsung, which is something other smart watches have no problem with.

In any case, the Galaxy Gear will be heating to stores from October 3 with a recommended retail price of $369, with pre-sales available from today.