The cellphone market is almost exclusively dominated by two platforms: Apple’s, and Android’s. While the Apple lineup is easily the most recognizable brand of phone on the planet, Android controls somewhere in the avenue of a cool 97% market share with their fleet.

We talked about Apple’s entrants to the smartwatch market in previous issues. The Apple Watch represents the company’s best foot forward in providing its users a more portable way of using their platform. For a time, this was Apple’s territory and theirs alone. Competition failed to shine through due largely in part to their inability to outperform Apple’s proprietary technology. This was once the case with our cellphones, too. There were iPhones, and then there was everything else.

That has come to a complete halt, in terms of both phones and companion devices like smartwatches. Android, what with their colossal advantage in numbers, boasting more users and devices running their software than Apple, have bridged the smartwatch gap in some pretty impressive ways.

While their Star Wars versus Star Trek-style rivalry has raged on for most of our “connected” lives, the most noteworthy entrant to the race and possibly the most impressive device anywhere on the market just showed up to the party. As with any Android platform, there’s a lot of products on the shelf to choose from. But as it is with phones, nothing quite comes out ahead of the Samsung. Their S-lineup is considered by many to be the best phone available today.

Bringing the power, accessibility, and user friendliness of their flagship phones to your wrist, Samsung’s Gear device is the current talk of the town. It’s the same dance that got them to the ball with their smartphones: add variability, Google’s ease-of-use approach to software, and add some more variability and choice for good measure.

Let’s take a look at how it stacks up against the Apple Watch and other smartwatches.

Samsung’s Gear is technically available in two very distinct flavors — as a fitness band, or as a fully-functioning timepiece-styled watch that looks like others in this price point. If you go for the fitness band, it’ll look, feel, and perform a lot like what you’re used to seeing. It’ll have your companion apps for running, exercising, and other fitness related activities.

If you go the route of the more traditionally-themed piece, be warned, it is a subtle watch at times. Where the Apple Watch looks like a clear companion for an iPhone and feels lost without one, the Samsung Gear is more “everyday life” — you probably wouldn’t peg it for a digital display going by the pictures alone. When idle, it looks like it has an authentic dial and face set in precious metal. In particular, the black, platinum, and 18 karat rose pink/red configurations are popular, and it’s pretty difficult to tell (from a few feet away) where the metal casing ends and the digital display begins.

As is par for the course given Samsung’s groundbreaking work with the screens on their S-model phones, that’s good work in the visuals department.
If it weren’t for your telling them, someone might not know you were wearing a smartwatch at all. For some, this will be a selling point. The whole thing feels more like a luxury watch than a gadget. That means you can wear it in any situation without calling too much attention to yourself. It’s just a watch when you need it to be just a watch. You can buy this watch for how good it’ll look paired with a suit — forget the fact that it does other things.

That’s serious kudos to Samsung. Some smartwatches are a bit gaudy, and they feel inappropriate outside of a track meet. Thanks to a genuine leather band and attractive coloration options, that isn’t the case here at all. Speaking of cases — there is a more outdoorsy, sports casing available that Samsung are calling the Frontier.

When you need your Gear device to step up, it does. It transforms from everyday jewelry into a digital suite of highly capable apps in the touch of a button, like something out of a James Bond movie. For functionality, you can’t beat it. Straight out of the box, it’ll use your network plan to offer you the ability to send and manage emails, texts, make calls, all without your phone.

There’s a suite of onboard software you’ll find in most smart devices, such as an altimeter, compass, and other “gadget-y” functions that have been around before the digital watch ever took hold. It’s fairly inclusive, also providing access to productivity-increasing tools, and nearly all the functionality, be it a little more compact and not quite as expansive, as its bigger smartphone cousin.

The onboard hardware isn’t too shabby at all, to be honest. This is where a lot of manufacturers tend to scrimp and save — they make an entry-level smartwatch for cheap, knowing most users don’t have expectations in place yet for how well a smartwatch could or should perform. Samsung, like they notoriously have with their phones, have tossed away any notion of skirting their users on quality. Especially when it comes to horsepower, of which the Gear has a lot of.

Given its relatively small workload compared to your phone, computer, etc., it won’t be bogged down or have its pace slowed very often. Specifically, that’s down to a 1.3” 360-360 pixel circular screen, a 380mAh, and 4GB of internal storage.

About that battery — it’ll offer up around three days of use. That positively blows away the competition: some users report getting only five hours of use from their entry-level or off-brand devices. Samsung, again mirroring their position in the smartphone market, are excellent on battery life. The allotted storage is adequate, which is more important than ever as Android has a slight edge when it comes to first or exclusive access to apps.

Just recently, an update added Spotify functionality to the whole package, so you won’t need your phone nearby to jam while you workout, take calls, and catch up on your emails.

All told, it’s both a fantastic watch and a fantastic companion device.

tagged in Samsung Gear