Samsung has first mover advantage in the smartwatch space, launching its Galaxy Gear wearable last month. However the mobile companion device only worked if you also picked up Samsung’s just released Galaxy Note 3 or Galaxy Note 10.1. Which means the vast majority of Samsung’s existing user-base are currently denied the chance to indulge their smartwatch-owning fantasies unless they also upgraded their main phone or bought a new tablet. But not for much longer.
Samsung has announced the Gear will become compatible with a swathe of its existing handsets via two updates: the Android 4.3 Jelly Bean update, and a separate update due to start rolling out globally at the end of this month.
The list of devices that will add Gear compatibility is the Galaxy S4, Galaxy S3, and Galaxy Note 2 (via the 4.3 update). Samsung said it will also extend Galaxy Gear compatibility to “other Galaxy devices” — specifically saying this will include the Galaxy S4 Mini, S4 Active, Mega 5.8, Mega 6.3, and Galaxy S4 Zoom — via a separate update (which suggests those devices aren’t getting Android 4.3. Or not yet, anyway).
One caveat: Android updates are a notoriously fragmented affair, with carriers acting as gatekeepers to hold back the rollout progress of each update. So it may take a considerable time for the Gear update to be successfully pushed out to all carrier combinations across all markets. “Software update schedules for each device will vary by country and carrier,” is how Samsung couches that caveat in its press release.
As well as enabling S4, S3 and Note 2 owners to buy and hook up a Gear, the v4.3 update will add easier text input, updated graphics and multimedia on the Android side, plus Samsung’s Knox security offering, Smart Switch, HomeSync and Group Play 2.5.
Once these existing device owners have successfully updated, and if they then choose to shell out $299 for the Gear add-on, they can expect to be able to make and answer calls on the smartwatch, and view incoming messages and notifications.
The Gear also has a 1.9MP camera attached to the wristband for taking grainy spy shots without reaching for your main cameraphone. It also has a handful of its own apps, such as a pedometer app.
Reviews of the Galaxy Gear have not been too kind, however — so if you’re buying this smartwatch, you are effectively using your own money to volunteer to be a beta tester for an alpha product.