Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Five Reasons Why This Galaxy Gear 2 Is Going To Be Put Down

The Gear 2 psychoanalyzes itself.
Disclosure: I was a former employee in charge of the Samsung Apps Store. And in an earlier post, I did write about how enthused I am by the advent of wearables. I guess I Gear-ed myself for a Galaxy of hurt.

53 days, 8 hours and counting. This is the current lifespan for the Samsung Gear 2 that sits on my wrist. I remembered my initial excitement. As head of product marketing, I had access to some of the latest mobile technology available in the market. Given an opportunity to test-drive wearable technology, I chose a smartwatch over Glass (which I could get shipped over by a developer friend in the US). 

At that point, Samsung was marketing its Galaxy S5 heavily. In the bundle that was purchased, surprise, surprise; a Samsung Gear 2 was also offered at a heavily discounted rate. I'm Asian and thrifty. I took the leap. 

And that was where I got stuck in low Gear.

Ive Got Design
In the glitzy world of advertising, everything is edited to perfection. Maybe I was out of consumer marketing for too long, I took one glance at how Samsung marketed the Galaxy Gear 2. Sleek, brushed satin finish steel on the bezel, pictured next to the Galaxy S5 flagship. It didn't take much. 

I am not Jony Ive so I was easily sold on the Galaxy Gear 2 (and its discounted price) design. I think the lead designer in Korea was told - design something that causes zero emotional reaction. The designer succeeded. When I removed the new Gear 2 from its very beige packaging box; I nearly asphyxiated from holding my breath. As I rotated it under a bright lamp, the ascetic lines of the Gear gave me chills down my spine and not in a good way. Wow, it isn't.  

Buyer's remorse weighing heavily on me, I started digging more into the smartwatch space afterwards. What I found astounded me; the conceptual designs, Moto 360, Pebble, and a whole plethora of choices waiting in the wings. Most of them looked fantastic and came in a huge array of personalization choices. What's worse, the innocuous-looking Galaxy Gear 2 was sported on the wrists of so many. Yes, the exact same color choice (black wristband and silver) was also the de facto choice for every infrequent geek wanting a smartwatch. Other fancy colored variants for the Gear are hard to find in Accra. (No, Ghana is not high on Moto or Pebble's priority list so you can't get one here.) 

Not only did the big-bad-black-boring-bland block bug me, it appeared everywhere I looked. My frivolous side kicked in. I wasn't the only one. Do not tell me that I can customize the home screen on the Gear 2. I know how to do that. But the Gear screen stays adamantly off when idle, so the external design of the smartwatch is critical. Samsung, if you loved it, you woulda put da bling on it.       

Wall-hugging Life Form
Gripes about the proprietary and very unnecessary charger cradle aside, the battery life of the Gear 2 is crazily unpredictable. To put it simply, the life of the Gear 2 was as unpredictable as trying to get lucky by going out on a date with your psycho ex - it might take longer, it might take a short while but at the end of the day, you never know what you're going to get.

With notifications for various apps (some IM, calendar alerts, social media, email, etc) switched on, I can rarely get more than 14 hours of operating life from the Gear 2. I unplug it at 6 am every morning. The big bad block will gleefully beep that it is in need of juice (varies between 4-20% reserve) by about 10 pm every night. On the Gear site, it proudly states 2-3 days life on typical usage. Well, I think I'm a typical user and I've not seen anything better than 14 hours at a push. I do not want to be bothered with a wearable that needs to be charged every night. I already need to charge my Galaxy S5, why do I need to waste another socket point to charge the Gear every night? Oh, for the love of wireless charging...

Hey, here's an idea, why doesn't Samsung make a charger that can charge TWO devices at once? Proprietary charger cradle, my S5. The Gear is so high-maintenance, if I ignored it for a full day, it would probably sulk and die of natural causes.      

Manager, Schmanager
Most peripherals would need drivers and software to carry out its functions. I didn't expect any different for the Gear. On first setup with Gear Manager, Samsung's answer to smartwatch 'management', it was clear why Samsung should not venture into the app space. As if to match the Gear in its bleh-ness, the Gear Manager app looks like the below.

Pic was taken after I disconnected the Gear 2.

Basic app design principles, Suwon. On a big smartphone screen, I do NOT want to scroll down a list a la Web 1.0. I want well-designed icons cleverly located together in one (quite) huge screen for me to click on. And no, unlike all its other TouchWiz apps, Gear Manager does not allow you to select another view. If new app designers can utilize the real estate on-screen to the max, there shouldn't be a reason why Samsung couldn't do the same. The carnage carries on if you select 'Notifications' where the mind-boggling long list of all my apps is shown. Can anyone say, Navigation Drawers? You scrolllllllllllllll to check the apps you need. What happened to 'Air view' the feature that you have natively in the Galaxy S5?

Please refresh yourself here with a lesson from Android.

Apps, What Apps?
It might surprise some that you can download apps for your Gear. It's surprising because it's hidden under the "Samsung Gear Apps" option, which is also hidden below the fold of the screen earlier. When you do decide to venture deeper into the labyrinth, it's quickly evident that a similar lack of finesse went into the Samsung Gear apps store. 

To address the team, it's a pretty good cross-section of apps. There are Gear-specific apps, no doubt collected from the big bounty Tizen app challenge. Personally, these challenges are great for bulking up the number of apps, not the quality. What this store had in terms of breadth of apps, it made up for with lack of depth. The Gear store looks the same as the current Galaxy Store for the regular smartphone apps. Wait, it IS the same store. When I click on one I'd like to download, I'm greeted by empty screens so there is no way to check if you like an app before downloading. Presumably this is a legacy from the old Galaxy store which required specifically-sized images. Or did someone forget to upload them?

I have the Endomondo Sports Tracker app that I love for my cycling and walking activities. I paid for the Doubletwist music player and synchronization app. No prizes for guessing if either were available for Samsung Gear. No prize at all.

(s)UX So Bad
User Experience (UX) is a constellation of various factors: visual design, hardware build quality, flow, ease of use, mechanics, etc; that all contribute to the positive emotions of the user towards the product. Beside learning a new form of navigation (swipe down to 'close' screens) versus the 'Back' button of my essentially Android phone; the Gear 2 has served no further function that being a secondary notifications display when my phone's in my pocket or jacket.

With the lack of Gear-phone integration, I still pitifully have to reach for my Galaxy S5, unlock it and view it in the full app. The end game is that I have now switched off all notifications on the Gear. It serves as a watch (that I need to wake up by flicking my wrist several times, sometimes resembling a Parkinson's sufferer). Retard, accelerometer. Its other semi-useful purpose is to act as my pedometer which syncs to S-Health. (S Health, there wasn't another name to choose?) It's Health for, well...you can finish the rest.

A US survey stated more than 1/3 of wearable device owners stop using them in six months. I've given the Gear 2 close to two whole grim months of daily use. I don't think I can wait any longer...for the apps to come...for the battery life to be fixed in a firmware upgrade. At the end of this week and a full 60-days later, this Galaxy Gear 2 will be put down.

Somehow, I don't think I'd miss it too much.