Samsung just announced its Galaxy Gear smartwatch ... and the neurons in the early adopter lobe of my brain lit up like a Christmas tree. One look into its deep black 320-pixel square abyss and I was lost in a futuristic fantasy world, one where people don't cower from me like the Terminator when I wear Google Glass—and one in which people need things like smartwatches. (Being me, naturally I need all of them.)
As my prefrontal cortex wrestled those overstimulated brainparts into submission, I was left with one question: can anyone really need a smartwatch? Given the Galaxy Gear's smartphone-sized price tag, let's check the most important facts for a moment, shall we?
Samsung Galaxy Gear Smartwatch:
- $299, on sale in the U.S. in October
- Compatibility: At launch, only the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 and Tab 10.1
- 1.63-inch Super AMOLED display, 320 x 320 resolution
- Six wristband colors
- A 1.9 MP camera
- A speaker and two microphones
- 25 hour battery life
- $150, available now
- Compatibility: Any Android or iOS device with Bluetooth
- 1.26-inch black and white e-paper display, 144 x 168 resolution
- 5 wristband colors
- 3 axis accelerometer with gesture detection
- Battery lasts about 1 week (168 hours)
A Pebble Owner Reflects
My Pebble smartwatch was an impulse buy. After missing the original Kickstarter campaign, I forgot about the buzzy little wristbound thing altogether.
But a few weeks ago, far afield from the urban technology bustle, I noticed a whole gaggle of Pebbles hanging limply on a Best Buy rack in some kind of indiscriminate "quantified self" aisle. I hate Best Buy with the fire of one thousand suns. But a gadget in the hand is worth a pre-order in the bush, so I bought one.
My biggest surprise so far? I actually love it. But that doesn't mean I needed one—or that anyone does. Sure, we arguably don't need any of consumer tech that we gobble up, but the smartwatch concept seems to weigh in far heavier on the side of convenience than that of utility.
Given that, a smartwatch really needs to be, you know, convenient. The Galaxy Gear boasts a measly battery life of a single day. That alone isn't just a strike against the Galaxy Gear—it renders the device an absurdity considering the way that we humans want to use things like wristwatches. Like, every day.
More Smartwatch Bang For Your Buck
After testing one for a few weeks, I realize that a smartwatch is a strange little contraption. Though handy at times, it's largely superfluous. If I hadn't needed a new watch—like, a dumb watch that just tells time, I mean—I probably couldn't justify having one at all.
Being roughly the same price as a nice dumbwatch, the Pebble lays some solid groundwork for the emerging wearable category. But the Galaxy Gear? At $299, twice the price of the Pebble, the purchase would be nigh impossible to justify. The Pebble isn't overpriced, but it isn't cheap enough for me to recommend to my non tech-obsessed friends, either.
Smartwatches inject our day to day lives with a couple ounces of sweet, sweet convenience. And that's pretty much it. I use my Pebble to get texts and emails so I don't have to reach for my Nexus 4 or subject the world to Google Glass. I use it to flip songs on Rdio on the speakers in my living room. I look at the time. It's a nifty little gadget, but it is by no means essential.
All Eyes On Apple
At its big event next week, Apple may well release an iWatch. In true Apple fashion, the smartwatch concept will likely see its most refined iteration to date. Still, until we can cram $299 worth of technology onto a platform the size of a postage stamp, a smartwatch priced like a full-fledged smartphone will remain a luxury perched in the upper echelons of early adopterdom.
Next week, if Apple really wants to pop the cork on the smartwatch craze for mainstream consumers, it'll price an iWatch even lower than the $150 iPod nano, which wasn't too shabby as a modded proto-smartwatch. If Apple doesn't do it, I guess we can sit back and wait for Amazon or Google to get interested and take smartwatch pricing to the chopping block, like those companies did with tablets. Or better yet, we can resist the smartwatch siren song altogether and forgo plugging in yet another device at night so it can greet us bright and early.
Until the price is right, that is.
Lead image courtesy of Pebble; image of Pebble smartwatch by Taylor Hatmaker