The Samsung Galaxy Gear smartwatch can be tweaked to run a full build of Android 4.2.2.
The clever chaps over at ArsTechnica have been fiddling around with Samsung’s smartwatch, the Galaxy Gear, and, thanks to the “USB debug” checkbox in the device’s settings, have discovered that it’s possible to sideload Android apps and launchers via the Android Debug Bridge (ADB) to get a more-or-less stock Android experience with full Android applications.
Doing so opens up a lot more possibilities with the device than using Samsung’s stock interface and it’s reasonably capable thanks to the 800MHz processor and 512MB RAM – that’s a good deal more powerful than many older Android phones.
However, it’s not without its limitations.
For one thing, there’s only 4GB of onboard storage, so you can’t cram tons of content on there, and for another, while ArsTechnica reports that the 1.6-inch touch display is “surprisingly sensitive”, the demonstration video showing the watch running Candy Crush Saga shows that it struggles with precise touch control at this scale. There are a few moments throughout the showcase where repeated taps and gestures are required.
“The real killer is that the Gear is unable to reach the Internet on its own,” adds Technica’s Ron Amadeo, “While other wearables, like Google Glass, have full Internet access via Bluetooth tethering, the Gear is strictly an accessory when it comes to the Web. The paired smartphone contacts the Internet and passes notifications to the watch through the companion app, and that’s it. Sideloaded apps have no access. This means that if you want to play music or watch a video on the Gear, you’ll be back to doing it the old-school way, with locally stored media.”
You won’t get a full suite of Google apps either, at present, as Amadeo explains.
“Without root, it’s impossible to get Gmail, YouTube, and the rest of the Google Apps running. Normally, Google Apps come packed-in with a device, so the apps rely on various APKs being present in the system folder in order to function. A few games work, like Candy Crush, but others, likeAngry Birds, are just too much for the little watch.”
Here’s Amadeo’s description of how to sideload content onto the Galaxy Gear, in case you fancy giving it a go:
“If you have a Gear and want to try this for yourself, first you’ll need to get ADB up and running, which means installing the Android SDK on a computer. Then put the Gear into its little charging case, turn on “USB Debug” in the settings, and plug the USB cable into your computer. Once the Gear is recognized, you’ll be able to use it with ADB. You’ll need to somehow acquire the APKs you want to test out, either by downloading them to a rooted phone and copying them to your computer or by… finding them on the Internet somewhere. Once you have the files you want, open a command line, and a simple “ADB install [filename]” will get the job done. After a few seconds, your app should pop up in the Gear’s “Apps” screen, and it will be time to cross your fingers and hit that icon. Loading media uses the “push” command and requires a destination. “adb push breakingbad.avi /sdcard/movies” will work just fine on the Gear.”
He also adds a few thoughts on launcher apps, “While I installed Nova Launcher to make the Gear look and act more like a normal Android device, the Gear comes with a much-less-ridiculous-looking app launcher that will display icons in a 2×2 grid, including sideloaded ones. While the 4×4 layout on Nova is extremely difficult to use on the 1.6-inch screen, the built-in Samsung launcher is very useable.”
*VIDEO SPOILER ALERT – BREAKING BAD SPOILERS BELOW*
We’re going to include the demonstration video below, but bear in mind it includes footage from the Breaking Bad final episode, so be warned if you want to avoid spoilers. If you still want to watch but don’t want spoilers then stop the video at the two minute mark.
Anyone with a Galaxy Gear thinking of trying this? Let us know how your thoughts or experiences in the comments below.