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Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Samsung Unveils Galaxy Gear Smartwatch

BERLIN â€" Samsung Electronics unveiled on Wednesday its highly anticipated digital wristwatch that can snap photos, track workouts and use an array of apps â€" gadgetry that the company hopes will catapult it into a market of smart portable devices that leave cellphones in users’ pockets.

Named the Samsung Galaxy Gear, the so-called smartwatch will join Google Glass as the latest example of wearable technology. The watch is synced to a cellphone, allowing users to answer calls and receive text messages from their wrists. The timing of the release could also give Samsung a leg up over Apple, which has yet to unveil a similar device but has long been rumored to be working on one.

At a much-hyped unveiling ceremony ahead of Berlin’s Internationale Funkausstellung, one of the world’s largest trade shows for consumer electronics, Samsung’s head of mobile communications, J.K. Shin, introduced the new device by pretending to receive a text message on stage.

“Don’t forget to mention Android,” Mr. Shin’s message read.

He then raised his left arm, exposing the watch to applause from both the Berlin crowd and people in Times Square in New York, who were patched into the event via video stream. Like other smartphones and tablets Samsung produces, Gear runs on Google’s Android operating system.

From the Gear’s small screen, which measures 1.63 inches diagonally, users can also receive e-mails, share pictures and use myriad apps designed for Gear. It does not, however, function as a stand-alone device and must be paired with a Samsung phone or tablet.

Pranav Mistry, the head of research at Samsung Research America, said the watch was “packed with technologies from the next decade.”

The watch has a rubbery wristband in which a small 1.9-megapixel camera is embedded. Its display surface has stainless steel bezels with four visible screws in each corner.

The watch is activated by pressing a button on the outer right side of the display or aiming the wristband lens at an object. A gentle swipe downward quickly turns on the camera, a feature Samsung calls the “Memographer.”

“This is a feature that changes the way we interact, the way we express and the way we capture,” Mr. Mistry said.

From the home screen, swiping upward brings up a number pad where a user can make a call. Because a gyroscope and accelerometer detect the Gear’s movement, a user can answer incoming calls by lifting his wrist to his ear.

“We have uniquely positioned the speakers and microphones so you can talk as you would on a regular phone,” Mr. Mistry said.

The Gear is set to be released worldwide next month, although neither Mr. Shin nor Mr. Mistry gave a date. Also under wraps was the cost, something many believe could be a determining factor in whether the next-generation technology hits home with consumers who have historically been reluctant to adopt such “wearables of tomorrow,” as Mr. Mistry called the Gear.

Samsung, which overtook Apple last year as the world’s largest producer of smartphones, got into the watch business in 1999 with a model that consumers shunned.

Galaxy Gear has 512 megabytes of RAM and an internal memory of four gigabytes. It has an 800-megahertz, single-core central processing unit and weighs 73.8 grams. Available colors include lime green, oatmeal beige, wild orange, mocha gray, jet black and rose gold.