Samsung's Gear S isn't the first cellular-enabled smartwatch, but it is the first from a big name brand. We have an AT&T Gear S in house, and, before running our full review, have some early thoughts.
Update: We've now published our full review.
We already spent some hands-on time with the Gear S at Samsung's Note 4 launch event, but this is the first time we've used one that isn't strapped down with security devices. Now that the Gear S is untethered and out in the wild, how does it hold up?
Well, it looks huge on my wrist, but it doesn't feel awkward at all. It's very comfortable, and feels light for its size. There isn't the slightest jewelry aesthetic here, like with the Apple Watch or Moto 360. Nope, the Gear S' tush is firmly planted in the tech producty end of the wearable spectrum.
The Gear S' first killer feature is its 2-in curved screen. It looks awesome. Everything is sharp and colorful, and swiping over the curved glass feels oh-so smooth. Samsung has an image-rich news app that looks especially good on here; hopefully it's a glimpse of what third-party devs can cook up.
The second killer feature is its standalone 3G wireless radio. There's a nano-SIM card inside, and the watch has its own phone number. But never mind that, because you can initiate and receive calls and texts from the watch using your phone's number – even when the phone isn't nearby. In other words, you won't have to give your friends a separate number for your watch.
Fortunately it doesn't look like wireless carriers ruined the Gear S by crippling its standalone capabilities; it does quite a bit on its own (at least on AT&T). You do need a Samsung Galaxy phone (running Android 4.3 or higher) to pair with it, so it won't replace your phone. But it is a standalone device when you need it to be.
While on the go, I've used the Gear S to send and receive texts and emails, and make and receive phone calls, while my phone sits on a charger at home. I could also check the weather, and even browse the web (via Opera Mini) when my phone was nowhere near.
The third, and final, killer feature is its keyboard. No longer do you have to use voice for any and every smartwatch interaction. The Gear S has a virtual keyboard, much like the one you'd use on a Galaxy phone. You can type texts and emails, or even search the web, without any speaking.
It's a bit tricky to hit the right letters on the 2-in screen, but so far the auto-correct is very good. There's also an option for Swype-like tracing, which wasn't available during my initial hands-on.
We're just scratching the surface with the Gear S, and we'll be spending a lot more time with it before running our full review (where we'll cover battery life and everything else we left out here). Stay tuned.
The Gear S is available starting today, running around US$300-400 full retail (it varies from carrier to carrier). Carriers are also offering the watch discounted with a contract or installment plan.
While waiting for our review, you can get a quick refresher with our features/specs comparison of the six Gear watches from back in September.
Product page: SamsungView gallery - 6 images