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Samsung Announces $300 Galaxy Gear Smartwatch

By Wesley Fenlon

Samsung crams its smartwatch full of powerful tech, but a high price and short battery life may make the Galaxy Gear a tough sell.

Let September 4, 2013 be known as the day the smartwatch wars began in earnest. Samsung finally showed off its Galaxy Gear smartwatch, which has been rumored (and even officially acknowledged by Samsung) prior to Wednesday's reveal extravaganza. And here it is, a watch with a 1.63-inch 320x320 pixel AMOLED display, a metal case, a rubber strap, and a built-in camera. The Galaxy Gear will sync up with Samsung's Galaxy devices via Bluetooth; it's not a standalone wrist-mounted phone. That said, Samsung's packing more into the Gear than the smartwatches that have gone before, and they're charging for it--$300, to be precise.

The Galaxy Gear's 1.9 megapixel camera can shoot 720p video. A pair of microphones and a built-in speaker can handle voice calls, provided you're synced up to a Samsung phone. An 800 MHz processor gives the Galaxy Gear a significantly higher clock speed than the Cortex M3 processor in the Pebble smartwatch, for example. Motion controls are onboard, thanks to a gyroscope and accelerometer.

As seen in other smartwatches, the Gear also includes a pedometer and can run a variety of apps for messaging, notetaking, exercising, and music. Notifications from a synced device will pop up on the watch screen. 4GB of flash memory provide internal storage for apps--Samsung promises 70 will be available for a late September launch--and photos and video shot with the watch's camera. The watch's microphones can be used both for voice commands and making calls, though The Verge points out that the Gear's speaker is too quiet to support voice calls in moderately noisy environments.

Despite using Bluetooth 4.0 Low Energy, the Gear may not have the battery power to last for a full day of use. It runs on a small 315mAh battery, and The Verge noted that watches with low battery power weren't able to use the camera app in their hands-on testing. That's not the only bad news--they also reported lag and a general lack of intuitive design in the watch's touch-based user interface.

Samsung plans to launch the Galaxy Gear globally in late September and in early October in the United States. Currently, only the just-announced Galaxy Note 3 and Galaxy Note 10.1 will be Bluetooth compatible with the watch. Software updates planned for October will add Gear support to the Galaxy S4, S III, and Galaxy Note II. If you don't have a Samsung Android device, it looks like you'll have to drop $300 for the watch and another $200 for a phone to pair it with.