Samsung Smart Watch Leads IFA's Gadget Parade

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The next upgrade in the connected life is waiting to be shackled to your wrist. At least, that’s Samsung’s story: The Korean conglomerate helped open the IFA electronics trade show in Berlin by introducing the Galaxy Gear, a smart watch designed to operate as a counterpart to some of its Android phones.

The idea here is to free users of big-screen phones such as Samsung’s new Galaxy Note 3 from having to grab their “phablets” just to check their email or the time. The touchscreen- and voice-controlled Gear uses Bluetooth to sync data, transfer photos taken with its tiny camera and borrow the phone’s Internet connection for its own apps.

Is It the Right Time for Smart Watches?

But the almost half-inch-thick Gear, as I realized after strapping a demo unit to my wrist, is a hefty hunk of electronics to wear. And its automatically-dimming touchscreen will still need recharging about once a day — in a separate cradle, instead of just over a micro-USB cable like most phones.

Another high-profile IFA exhibitor, Sony, showed off a different kind of phone peripheral. Its new QX10 and QX100 camera modules clip onto smartphones to borrow their software, screens and bandwidth. Ideally, they get you the high-quality glass of a “real” camera with the easy editing and uploading of a smartphone — but their use of WiFi to talk to their host phones could come at a hit in battery life.

Tablets occupied even more space at this show than at last year’s, but not necessarily in the way you’d expect. Android devices are getting more company from those running Windows — in particular, the upcoming Windows 8.1 release that’s supposed to fix some of Windows 8′s defects.

That touch-optimized operating system is also pushing more Windows laptops to adopt tablet features. Lenovo’s Yoga Pro 2, for example, ships with the 360-degree screen hinge of earlier models that lets you fold it into a tablet or prop its display up for easy tabletop viewing, but adds apps that invite you to control it Kinect-style with hand gestures observed by its webcam.

Is Apple Developing a Smart Watch?

The connected appliances that populated last year’s IFA increased in number and ambitiousness. Are you ready for your washing machine or refrigerator to flash a message on your TV that the laundry’s done or a filter needs replacing? You may need to be. Wi-Fi has become so cheap to include that the only barrier to adding networked smarts to an appliance may be the work needed to craft an effective interface.

The largest attractions at IFA, as at CES, were gigantic 4K televisions with four times the resolution of HD. Buying one would be a fine way to show up that videophile neighbor who can’t shut up about his HDTV. But how do you do the same for somebody who keeps yammering about a new 4K TV? By buying an OLED 4K set (maybe a fourth as thick as a regular one) or a curved 4K OLED set (which… um, I’m not actually sure what that does for you.)

No, I’m still not a fan of 4K TV. But is it less necessary to daily life than, say, the laser-guided beard trimmer Philips showed off here? Let me ask a connected watch and get back to you on that.

(Disclosure: IFA is covering most travel costs for me and a group of other U.S.-based tech journalists.)

Credits: Rob Pegoraro/Discovery