Friday, June 5, 2015

Samsung Gear (Smart Watch) Rant 1

This is my first blog post, ever!

And since one of the main reasons to create this blog was to rant about Samsung's smart watches, I'll start with that.

If you don't care about it, but are curios what else to expect in this blog, here are few other topics I might cover:
- Home projects with arduino and stuff (I have few things to brag about)
- Rant about Microsoft (like how they screw up pretty much everything they touch/buy).
- Cats (my 2 adorable cats in particular)
- Russians
So it looks like 50/50 positive/negative experiences, I guess.

Now, back to the rant about Samsung Gear.

How it all started:

Since the first announcement of  the first smart watch device (I think it was Pebble, not sure), I thought: "Hey, this has potential! But it is too early to buy one, they sound cool, but not that useful". Boy, was I right :)
And I kept keeping an eye on the news about smart watches and I kept thinking it is too early to buy one.
Until about a month an a half ago.
I went to a local store with the honest intention to just check out some smart watches, just out of curiosity. And, because I know myself too well, I brought a friend with me with specific instructions: "Mate, when I check out the watches, I may decide to impulse-buy one. Please stop me."
He didn't.
I left the store as a proud owner of a Samsung Galaxy Gear 2 Neo smart watch (what a mouthful of a device name).
Do I regret buying it? Definitely not! Am I going to rant about it - hell, yeah! Why? Read on and you'll see :)

What happened next:

Naturally, the first thing I tried was to try to customize the watch to my taste as much as possible.
Naturally, people go to the app store and download/buy apps to do that.
Naturally, I looked to browse the app store.

Surprise number 1: You can't do that from a normal web browser! You can browse google play (what a silly name for "android store", really) and apple's app store from any browser, you can even install crap on your phone from your PC's web browser. But no, Samsung decided their store is for "customers who bought our crap only"! I think I know why now, but back then I was surprised - after all, Samsung are famous with their strategy: "if Apple farts, we shit in our pants (which are water resistant, by the way)".
Ok, no biggie, just a minor inconvenience for a spoiled consumer like me. I can live with that.

Surprise number 2: There are simply no good apps in the store! There is plenty of crap and almost nothing useful in this store. So, I think Samsung played it smart here, by not making the store available to people who haven't bought their hardware. Just in case people are more rational than me when spending money and decide to check out the store before they buy an expensive watch.
I finally bought a decent-looking watch face (special kind of app that serves as a main "clock" app). I think it was called Power Watch. It was far from perfect (for me), but is way better than most of the junk available in the store. I even contacted the developer, asking him to do some minor tweaks if possible. The dude even responding, saying ... well, I don't remember what he said, but he sounded like a nice person.  But it was clear he isn't going to reshape his app in my taste (totally understandable, no offense taken here at all).

Key moment: Out of a sudden it stroke me - "Wait a minute, I am a programmer, if there is no app that suits my taste, perhaps I should make one for myself!". Although, I am a pretty lazy guy (or to be more precise, I manage the effort/reward ratio too well), so I was concerned developing for this thing would be some complicated pain in the ass and it might simply not be worth it. But it wouldn't hurt at least checking it out, so I did. And (call it surprise number 3 if you want) it seemed fairly straight-forward. Basically, you download an IDE, SDK, write some code (or just open an example), compile, upload - you're in business. Apps are developed using HTML5/CSS/JavaScript. I did not have any first-hand experience with these, but ... how hard can it be? And it is a good way to learn new stuff.
So ... I went for it ... and I became a Samsung developer in my spare time.
And a month and a half later, I felt the need to create my own blog, so I can rant all I want about it :)

For those of you who got this far reading - I am impressed! I would have stopped reading by now - after all, who gives a fuck about some jerk whining about stuff no one even understands!

I will take a step back now, and focus the rest of this post on my impressions from the watch from a pure consumers' perspective. Call it a mini review if you want. I will cover my "developer adventures" in separate posts later.

Ok, let's do this in Q&A form.

How does it look?

IMO, as a bulky $12 Chinese electronic watch from the 1990's.
And no, this is not my hand, I got the image from the internet.
So, you spend $200 on a watch that is too big and looks cheap and plastic (probably because it IS plastic).
I don't care, I favor function over form, so it didn't stop me from buying it.

How much does it cost?
I just said that 2 paragraphs above! $200. Are you paying attention?

Why did you buy it then?
Because it handles notifications quite well. Basically, everything that shows up in the phone's notification area also shows up on the watch. With vibration and sound (if you want). You can see e-mails, SMS, skype, viber, everything. When you receive a message it shows you the type of the message as an icon and the sender. If you tap the screen it shows you the content. Unfortunately, you can't reply from the watch (except to SMS messages with predefined texts and maybe voice, never tried).
You can also take voice calls directly from the wrist - it works surprisingly well, I even use it sometimes (while driving, shaving, etc,).
Generally, it reduces the need to pull the big Note 4 out of your pocket significantly.

Why are you complaining then?
THAT is the question, isn't it? :)

Well, I'll start with the biggest complain - the thing doesn't have a light sensor! You know, the little thingy that makes your phone's screen go bright when you're outdoors and the sun is shining and dims it when its dark so you don't get any tan on your face. What's the big deal? The big deal is that you don't see shit outdoors, unless you manually set your brightness to maximum. But if you do, it shines like a torch and pokes your eyes when you're inside (and also eats your battery like my cats eat Gourmet's canned food, which is fast). And, by default, changing brightness takes about 6 seconds if you do it from the settings and maybe 3-4 seconds if you use the shortcut, which 90% of the people don't know (that is - tap with two fingers twice when the screen is on). Oh, and you can't even tell if the screen is on if your brightness is set to a low value and you're outside - all you see is a black screen.
So, you buy a $200 watch, which looks bulky and cheap and plastic, and you can't even tell the fucking time when you're outside!
Why? Whyyyyyyyyyyy?!?

Maybe they decided to cut costs and not include a light sensor?
Well, I recently bought 20 light sensors (for my arduino projects) for $1.35! Free delivery to my door!
Here is the link:
This is 0.0675 dollars per piece! And if you order like a million I'm guessing they will be way cheaper. Not sure about the free delivery though :)
It is true - these are too big to put in a small device like this. But I am also pretty sure there are much smaller variants of these and they don't cost significantly more.

Maybe they didn't have enough room to fit a light sensor?
Think again. There is an older model, called Gear 2 (mine is Gear 2 Neo). The older one is the same form factor, but has a 2 megapixel camera (and is more expensive because of it). Now, which one you think is bigger - a 2 megapixel camera (which is basically 6 million light sensors) or a single light sensor?

Maybe .... maybe they didn't think ... 
Yep, that's my conclusion - they didn't think.
Because the other explanation is they actually did it on purpose, which is ... frightening.

As a matter of fact, the next model - the Gear S ($350, even bigger, with standalone GSM, WIFI, GPS, etc.) does have a light sensor. Kudos, Samsung!

Is this all? All that fuzz and hype, just about a missing light sensor?
First of all, this is a big deal. It practically renders your expensive watch useless in a significant percentage of the time.
Second, I said I will focus this post on the consumer point of view. Most of my complains are as a Samsung developer, not as a Samsung consumer. They overlap, because a lot of stuff I'd like to use is simply not doable by 3rd party developers, and Samsung aren't doing it either (at least not nearly as good as we would like). But this is subject to a whole new post or maybe series of posts.

Still, is this all? If it had a light sensor it would be perfect?
Uhm .. no.
Remember when I said the app store is basically a big pile of junk? Well, I'm pretty sure this is because the options for developers are so limited, that they simply do not have the tools to produce quality apps, even if they have the will and skills to do that. But again, this is for the next post(s).
There are also other minor annoyances, like:
- Wrist up gesture: By default, the device's screen is off (all black). When you lift your arm (like you do when you take a look at a regular watch) the device detects the gesture and turns the display on. This is done using a module called MPU ("Motion Processing Unit", basically an accellerometer, eventually a gyroscope and ideally, a dedicated chip to offload data calculations from the main CPU). The problem is, they have done it poorly. Sometimes it doesn't recognize the gesture at all, and when it does, it takes too long (maybe half a second). It is enough to actually be annoying. I have some experience dealing with MPUs (from my arduino quadcopter project, which is not yet complete) and I am 100% sure it can be done MUCH better.
- Screen off timer: There is a simple power-saving related feature, to turn off the device's screen when it is not used for a while. Given that the main battery drainer is the screen, it is a no-brainer must-have feature. The problem is, whoever implemented it, also falls in the "no-brainer" category. There is a setting - how long it should wait before the screen goes off. And the minimum value of that setting is 10 seconds! 10 freaking seconds! It takes less than a second to see what is the time.  And that is the reason the screen should be on like 90% of the time. For the other 10% the user would have to tap the screen to do something else. Give him 1-2 seconds to do that. That is a total of 2-3 seconds. Which means, every time the screen goes on, it stays on with no need for about 70-80% of the time. And these devices do suffer from battery life issues, so wasting power like this is just ... stupid. By the way, every time I rise my hand to take a sip of beer the screen turns on. And I drink a lot of beer :)

It can't be that bad. There must be something that can be done.
Well, it isn't that bad. The reason I am ranting is because it could have been so much better, but it is not, with no logical reason (besides pure incompetence, which I hate in my guts).
Also, I am doing what I can - I am a registered Samsung developer now, remember?
I have developed an app - it started as an app for my personal use, then I decided to put it on the market and that's how my adventure begun :)
The app minimizes the brightness (lack of light sensor) problems to acceptable levels, pretty much solves the power save problem and adds few more nice features on top of that.
If you happen to own a Samsung Gear 2 or Gear S - look it up on the market, it is called "Watch Plus" (that was a shameless advertisement of my own app, but what the hell, this is my blog).
I would love to add more features, but most of them are simply not doable, just because Samsung's API is so bad.
And I will rant a lot more about that in future posts.

Ok, I am not a blog virgin anymore :)

Cheers, and stay tuned for more boring posts (if you have problems with sleeping, bookmark this shit).

1 comment:

  1. Tldr! Бъзикам се! Прочетох го цялото......can you believe it? И не заспах! Can you double believe it? :D
    Усетих драмата и болката през буквичките, и даже разбрах за какво иде реч, демек много ти се отдава. Welcome to the blogger club, отнема време и пие много бира!