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Death by review: Samsung's preemptive strike at Apple's iWatch

October 4, 2013: 7:43 AM ET

Stung by the copy-cat label, Samsung set out to prove it can out-innovate the innovator.

Galaxy Gear.

Samsung's Galaxy Gear.

FORTUNE -- "The curtain closed on this device," said CNBC's Jim Cramer after he read the New York Times' review of the Galaxy Gear, Samsung's pre-emptive strike at Apple's (AAPL) rumored iWatch.

Without an actual iWatch to copy, Samsung had to design its own. The Gear went on sale in the U.S. this week for $299.99, and now the reviews are in.

They are not kind. They could be fatal. Excerpts below.

David Pogue, New York Times. A Watch That Sinks Under Its Features. "Nobody will buy this watch, and nobody should. But there's something here under all the rubble. Sometimes the Gear can be liberating; sometimes it makes possible tasks that you can't do while you're holding a smartphone. We just need somebody to find the right balance of labor between the watch and its companion device — to figure out what a smartwatch should and shouldn't be."

Vlad Savov: The Verge. A perfect companion for your life companion? "A smartwatch the Galaxy Gear is not. Frankly, I'm not sure exactly what it's supposed to be. Samsung describes it as a companion device, and the Gear is indeed chronically dependent on an umbilical link to another Samsung device, but it never left me feeling like it was a helpful companion. The notifications are Orwellian, the media controls are exiguous, and the app selection has no substance to underpin the hype. Samsung's attempt to turn the Gear into a style icon is also unlikely to succeed, owing to the company's indecision about its target demographic. Trying to please all tastes has resulted in a predictably charmless and soulless product."

Brad Molen, Engadget: Samsung Galaxy Gear review. "If you purchase a Galaxy Gear and don't have a compatible device, congratulations -- you just bought yourself a brick. It's not going to do a single bit of good for you until you find a friend who happens to use a Note 3, and even then, it would only work as an actual watch with very limited capabilities (which we suppose is better than nothing, but we doubt you'll want to fork out $300 for it)."

Christina Bonnington, Wired: Downside outweigh upsides. "Galaxy Gear just isn't something most folks need. It's not even something I wanted to keep on my wrist all day. While the feature set is more advanced than any other smartwatch, the technology and its uses are clearly in their infancy. I imagine that later generations of Galaxy Gears, with a trimmer design, lighter weight, speedier processor, and maybe even a better camera, might be a slightly easier sell. Yes, it's a noble attempt at innovation. But for the most part, the end result is too clunky and awkward for true appeal beyond being a brief conversation piece on your wrist. For now, the Gear remains a $300 smartphone accessory."

Andrew Hoyle, CNET: Style over substance. "If a watch is to be truly smart, it needs to be able to provide a window into all the smart functions of your phone. E-mail and social networking are both absolute musts and voice control that works properly every time is essential. The Galaxy Gear falls down on all of these points."

Brian Klug, AnandTech. Samsung Galaxy Gear review. "Ultimately the Galaxy Gear isn't the perfect solution to wearable computing, but rather a first attempt. It's more a proof of concept that you can own. If we look at Samsung's history in nearly every market we've followed it (SoCs, SSDs, smartphones), the company has a tendency to show up early with the wrong solution, but iterate aggressively to the point where it ends up with a very good solution."

From Apple's smartwatch patent.

From Apple's smartwatch patent.

Jamie Lendino, PCMag. Samsung Galaxy Gear. "Is the age of the smartwatch dawning? Not quite yet, at least if the Samsung Galaxy Gear ($299.99 direct) is any indication. Like other smartwatches currently on the market, it isn't a standalone product—it's a companion device for your Samsung Galaxy smartphone or tablet. The Galaxy Gear is nice accessory and certainly has potential, eliminating the need to go digging in your bag for your phone all the time. But some serious operational snafus make it more of a compelling science project than something you need to buy now."

Zach Epstein, BGR: Aims for the future, but gets stuck in the past. "In the end, the Galaxy Gear feels like a product that Samsung rushed to market in an effort to get a head start in the category many are calling the next big thing. Had rumors of Apple's forthcoming "iWatch" not popped up late last year, the Galaxy Gear would almost certainly not exist. And if it did still exist, it wouldn't exist as it does today."

"Don't you feel that shift in favor of Apple?" CNBC's Cramer, who blows hot and cold on the company,  asked at the end of his Galaxy Gear segment. "It's changed. I think that Samsung suddenly becomes what we used to think of Samsung, and Apple has become what we used to think of Apple."

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About This Author
Philip Elmer-Dewitt
Philip Elmer-DeWitt
Editor, Apple 2.0, Fortune

Philip Elmer-DeWitt has been following Apple since 1982, first for Time Magazine, and now on the Web for Fortune.com.

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