Android roundup: What time is it? It's smartwatch time!

The Galaxy Note III becomes official, Sony rolls out the Xperia Z1, the Nexus 5 'leaks' as Google fakes us off a piece of that KitKat bar.

Having helped drive watches from the wrists of smartphone users around the world, the smartphone industry is now seemingly bent on bringing them back – on its own terms, of course. This week's debut of smartwatches from Samsung and Qualcomm – coupled with the widely rumored release of one from That Other Smartphone Maker – signal that the turning point for wearable technology is upon us.

Both the Samsung Galaxy Gear and the Qualcomm Toq are essentially extensions for your Android phone, bringing basic information and functionality to your wrist and eliminating the onerous requirement that you actually dig your phone out of your pocket in order to talk or text or play Billy Joel songs. You pair the two devices via low-power Bluetooth and a specialized app on the phone, and you’re all set, much like the popular Pebble Kickstarter project.

[FIRST LOOK: Samsung’s new Galaxy Gadgets]

The Galaxy Gear and the Toq are both expected to cost about $300, and won’t do much without a smartphone to work with, meaning that the price for full functionality is fairly high. What’s more, the Gear will only work with Samsung’s new Galaxy Note III (more on that later), at least on its initial release.

On some levels, however, it’s actually kind of ingenious, when you think about it. While the actual convenience factor of having some smartphone functions available in a wristwatch form factor is minimal – and the prices aren’t cheap – it may provide some social capital for users. Our knee-jerk reaction to a person buried in his phone is one of annoyance, but someone who’s merely checking a wristwatch occasionally just comes off as mildly distracted. Plus, it can be done more stealthily, so fewer people will realize that you’re boorishly ignoring them and checking your texts.

As others have pointed out, though, neither device makes a compelling case as to why it needs to be a part of your life. It’s a neat idea, sure, and maybe some well-to-do techies will decide that the marginal convenience factor is enough to recommend it. But it’s tough to see this being the Next Big Thing in personal technology. (Feel free to quote me smarmily if it turns out I’m dead wrong and we’re all wearing these things.)

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As I mentioned earlier, Samsung also debuted the Galaxy Note III and Galaxy Note 10.1 (2014 edition) at the Gear’s official announcement at IFA in Berlin on Wednesday. The two tablets are basically just evolutionary upgrades of previous models, featuring stuff like sharper screens, better cameras and more powerful internal hardware. They both look impressive, of course, but there’s nothing terribly revolutionary about either one.

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Nor, sadly, is there much new ground covered by Sony’s long-awaited Xperia Z1, which also debuted at IFA. A 20+ megapixel camera certainly does deliver plenty of those megapixels, but the Z1 mostly just brings Sony up to par with the Galaxy S4 and HTC One – which both came out months ago – as well as with the more recent LG G2.

Sony still harbors ambitions of breaking into the top three in the smartphone market, however, and some analysts, at least, think the company may be well positioned to build a little momentum in the closing months of 2013.  

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By contrast, Google’s announcement that Version 4.4 of Android would be named KitKat – not Key Lime Pie – was much more surprising, representing as it does a reversal of the company’s previous policy of avoiding brand names in the sweet labels for its Android versions. Most of the focus so far has been on the fact that Google went all cross-promotional with KitKat, partnering up with candy maker Nestle, who released a nice spoof of those twee design videos we see so much of in the smartphone world.

Given that the tech world has too much time on its hands, this has already spawned parodies of its own.

(H/T: Android Police)

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Interestingly, a since-pulled intro video for KitKat may have “accidentally” outed Google’s next Nexus device – a Google employee can be seen using a hitherto-unseen phone to take pictures of a KitKat Android statue. The Verge has a copy of the video in question. The phone being used by the fellow in the olive polo shirt at about 38 seconds is what started the hubbub.

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Thanks to the KitKat news, we’ll all be treated to Android Police’s David Ruddock shoving a Key Lime Pie in his face on the next installment of that site’s podcast. I’d say that it will teach him a lesson about shooting his mouth off, but he gets to shove a sweet dessert in his face – hardly the least pleasant consequence for losing a bet I can think of.

Email Jon Gold at jgold@nww.com and follow him on Twitter at @NWWJonGold.

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