Samsung's Galaxy Gear smartwatch clocks in at IFA

The Korean electronics giant's device will sync with Galaxy smartphones and tablets, allowing users to check notifications and play music without pulling out their mobile devices.

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NEW YORK -- Samsung on Wednesday pushed into wearable computing devices with the launch of the Galaxy Gear smartwatch, amping up its war with Apple before the iPhone maker even enters the market.

Gear sports a 1.63-inch 320x320-pixel super AMOLED screen surrounded by a metal frame and includes a 1.9-megapixel camera embedded into the rubberized band. The strap itself is available in six different colors, including a beige option that features a champagne-toned metal frame rather than the standard silver. Gear is powered by an 800MHz processor and 512MB of RAM.

The device will arrive in US stores in October, the same time as the Galaxy Note. The two products will be available in other countries September 25. It will retail for $299, Samsung said.

The smartwatch syncs with Galaxy smartphones and tablets, allowing users to do things like control their music or check messages without touching their mobile devices. Gear runs Android, though the customized interface closely resembles Microsoft's operating system. It will feature 70 optimized apps right out of the gate, including big names such as Evernote and Pinterest.

At launch, Gear only will work with the Note 3 because of software upgrade issues. But it later will be compatible with the Galaxy S4 and Note 2.

The Korean company unveiled Galaxy Gear, Note 3 , and the Note 10.1 tablet during a splashy Unpacked event at the IFA consumer electronics show in Berlin. It held a simultaneous event in New York's Times Square neighborhood to broadcast the launch for reporters.

Gregory Lee, president of Samsung Telecommunications America, showed off Gear and the Note 3 in New York before the main event started in Berlin.

"This is proof and [a] reflection that Samsung is truly relentlessly innovative in bringing first-to-market products and having the best mobile products in the marketplace," Lee said.

Samsung Galaxy Gear Josh Miller/CNET
Samsung's diverse product portfolio and speed have helped it overtake rivals such as Apple and Nokia to become the world's biggest and most profitable handset maker. Gear represents its chance to not only get a lead on Apple but also show that it can be an innovator instead of a follower. That becomes increasingly important as Samsung moves to cement its position at the top of the mobile market and as it looks ahead to a time when cell phone sales wane.

As the smartphone market becomes saturated, companies such as Samsung and Apple will count on computing devices such as watches and glasses to drive consumer spending. Apple is reportedly prepping a wearable of its own, but it's unclear when that will be available. Samsung, meanwhile, will face competition from companies already making wearables, such as Pebble and Sony.

Smartwatch shipments are expected to grow in leaps and bounds in the coming years. According to recent data from Juniper Research, app-enabled smartwatch shipments will hit a little more than 1 million this year. By 2018, however, that figure will jump to 36 million.

Updated at 10:50 a.m. PT with additional details and again at 1:30 p.m. PT with pricing and availability information.

 

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