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Samsung Says Time For Watch Is Now

Samsung Electronics on Wednesday became the highest-profile company yet to introduce a smartwatch, beating a Who's Who of companies to the market for wearable computer devices.

Samsung's Galaxy Gear smartwatch looks like something developed for wannabe secret agents. With the device, users will be able to take phone calls by talking to their wrist, or snap photos and videos with a wristband camera. It has voice-enabled features, like the ability to dictate messages and notes, set alarms and check the weather.

It's designed to work in tandem with the South Korean company's Google (GOOG) Android-based smartphones. The Galaxy Gear provides glanceable information and alerts like incoming calls, text messages and e-mails. It lets users place and receive calls and access data while their phone is in their pocket. It reportedly will cost $299, with U.S. sales starting next month.

Analysts see problems. Lux Research analyst Cosmin Laslau says the Galaxy Gear likely won't be a hit because it's bulky and has poor battery life and questionable utility. It's a "gimmicky accessory," he said.

But Samsung's smartwatch joins similar devices from Sony (SNE) and startups like Pebble Technology and I'm Watch. Apple (AAPL), Google, LG Electronics and Microsoft (MSFT) are among likely entrants.

Wireless chipmaker Qualcomm (QCOM) announced Wednesday that it will release a smartwatch in Q4. The Qualcomm Toq (pronounced "talk") will act as a second display for your smartphone, the company said.

Samsung executives unveiled the watch along with a new Galaxy Note 3 smartphone and latest Galaxy Note 10.1 tablet at a media event in Berlin.

Samsung executives said their smartwatch can run 25 hours on a single charge. But Lux's Laslau said other guys, like Apple, are"really aiming for closer to five days of run time.

New technologies to enable slimmer, lighter designs with longer battery life are required for broad adoption, he says. Samsung had to "dramatically downsize the battery" to get the watch to a wearable size, he says.

And recharging a watch daily isn't something most consumers will put up with, Laslau says.

Future watches will benefit from innovation in energy storage, displays, touchscreens, sensors and power electronics, Laslau says.

The Galaxy Gear smartwatch features a 1.63-inch Super AMOLED (active-matrix organic LED) display, 800-megahertz processor and dozens of apps for communications, travel, and health and fitness. The wristband includes a 1.9-megapixel camera, a speaker and a noise-canceling microphone. It weighs 2.6 ounces.

"Samsung Galaxy Gear benefits consumers by integrating smart device technology even deeper into their everyday lives, and bridges the gap between the mobile device and fashion worlds to create truly wearable technology," J.K. Shin, chief executive of Samsung's mobile division, said at the unveiling, which was webcast live. "Samsung Galaxy Gear frees users from the need to constantly check their smart devices while maintaining connections.

ABI Research analyst Jeff Orr, however, also says Galaxy Gear is likely to have limited uptake. He points to a steep price and the fact it only works with newer Samsung smartphones.

To be a hit, a smartwatch will have to be open in nature and connect with more Google Android and Apple iOS phones, Orr says.

But he said Galaxy Gear is "not a bad first step for a big consumer electronics brand" in terms of style and functionality.

Samsung's Galaxy Note 3 is a large-screen smartphone with a penlike stylus for scribbling notes and drawings. It has a 5.7-inch Super AMOLED display and can run multiple apps at once.

The Galaxy Note 10.1 tablet has a 10-inch display and is built to balance productivity, content creation and consumption, the company said.

Other consumer electronics companies will also launch products this month ahead of the holidays.

Apple onTuesday is expected to debut its high-end iPhone 5S smartphone, midrange iPhone 5C smartphone and perhaps a new iPad and Apple TV set-top box.

Amazon.com (AMZN) is expected to show off its latest Kindle Fire tablets this month. And late last month, Google came out with its flagship Moto X smartphone.