Samsung’s first smartwatch was a surprising thing. Announced alongside the Galaxy Note 3 during the IFA trade show of 2013, the Samsung Galaxy Gear was a marvel in the early smartwatch world. It carried features no one expected — among them a camera — and managed to set the bar particularly high for what smartwatches could do.
The Samsung Galaxy Gear was primarily sold as an accessory to the Galaxy Note 3. In fact, it was only compatible with the Note 3 at launch. The $299 smartwatch served up a 1.63-inch AMOLED display with a high 320 x 320 resolution. It was powered by an 800MHz processor and carried 512MB of RAM and 4GB of storage. It connected to the Note 3 via Bluetooth 4 Low Energy and included other features such as an accelerometer and a gyroscope. The internal 315mAh battery was enough to provide 24 hours of battery life per charge.
See also: The best Wear OS watches you can buy
What? A camera?
The watch had two eye-opening features for the time: a camera and a speakerphone. The camera was built into the watch’s strap and captured 1.9MP images, and could record 720p video. Samsung pitched the camera as a tool of opportunity, something to use when your smartphone wasn’t handy. (No, Samsung didn’t promote spying, despite the spy-like nature of having a camera on your smartwatch.) Video capture was limited to a maximum of 10 minutes, thanks to the 4GB of storage. The quality of the photos and videos was questionable at best, which was no surprise given the limitations of the technology at the time. Moreover, because the camera was an internal component of the strap, that meant no swapping straps.
The camera was built into the watch’s strap and captured 1.9MP images.
Speakerphones may be common to the smartwatches of today, but in 2013 they were not. The speakerphone produced just enough sound to manage your voice calls in quiet spaces. Gear owners were able to dial calls directly from the watch and issue commands to Samsung’s S Voice tool.
Pushing the limits
The Samsung Galaxy Gear did face some limitations. For example, it did not have Wi-Fi, LTE, or any other way to independently connect to the internet. It was wholly reliant on the Galaxy Note 3 for its connection. The charger was terrible. It was a clunky affair that acted more like a clamp around the watch than a cradle. The watch couldn’t serve as a standalone music player, though it could control the associated phone’s music app.
Related: The best Wear OS apps for Android
Speaking of apps, the phone ran Google’s Android operating system (pre-Android Wear) with a heavy user interface overlay. Samsung said it stripped down the UI to make the watch easier to use with a single finger when on the move. A single hardware button took you back to the home screen. It included several watch faces, as well as simple apps like a stopwatch and pedometer. There were some third-party apps available as well, including Evernote, eBay, MyFitnessPal, RunKeeper, and Tripit. There was even a “find my phone” tool that helped you locate your lost Galaxy Note 3 — as long as it was within Bluetooth range.
Have there been any smartwatches with cameras since the Galaxy Gear? Samsung trotted out a Gear 2, which also had a camera, but few of the main smartwatch makers added the tech to their own wearables. For example, you won’t find a camera on the Apple Watch. The bulk of smartwatches with cameras available in the market today are novelty devices, with many targeting children rather than serious users.
That makes Samsung’s approach with the original Galaxy Gear a semi-unique one in the world of smartwatches.
This is the seventeenth post in our “Did you know” series, in which we dive into the history books of Android and consumer technology to uncover important and interesting facts or events that have been forgotten over time. What do you want to see us cover next? Let us know in the comments.