Samsung Galaxy Gear is a timepiece with an agenda

Is your life so complicated that you must strap a small machine to your wrist, learn a new interface, and wear this device during almost all waking hours to avoid missing appointments?

Maybe not: Many of us stopped wearing watches years ago in favor of glancing at our phones.

But Samsung's Galaxy Gear is no ordinary watch. This $299 device, unveiled early last month, functions as both external monitor and peripheral for its new Galaxy Note 3 Android smartphone--the only phone officially compatible with it, although Samsung plans to add Gear support to such recent Android models as its Galaxy Note II, Galaxy S III and Galaxy S 4.

Setting up a review unit loaned by Samsung last week began simply enough. You pop the watch into its charging cradle and tap that against the back of a Note 3; that NFC-wireless tickle cues the phone to download Samsung's Gear Manager app, which then walks you through pairing the devices via a power-efficient Bluetooth Low Energy connection.

(Along the way, you're asked to consent to three licensing agreements, two displayed in four-line increments on the phone.)

You can install a small catalogue of watch-specific apps--I added Gear versions of Glympse, RunKeeper, and Vivino Wine Scanner--and choose what phone features can push notifications to the Gear's 1.63-in. touchscreen.

The defaults cover little more than calls, texts and your calendar. Those basic forms of phone-to-watch integration generally worked well: I liked being able to read a text on the phone's screen and then speak my reply, and placing or taking a call through the watch allowed me to keep the slab-like Note 3 stashed in a pocket.

(Does making a phone call on a watch from behind the wheel violate the District of Columbia's ban on handheld phone use while driving? Further research is needed.)

But adding notifications for such third-party apps as Twitter and Facebook revealed a major limit to the Gear's adeptness as a phone's second screen. Those apps could only trigger a generic notification there: "For details, view this notification on your mobile device."

Tapping that button on the watch opened the corresponding item on your phone, except I could never figure out which Google Now item had caught the watch's attention.

To stop the watch's screen from shutting off automatically after 10 seconds of perceived inactivity--you can illuminate it again by raising your arm, but I often had to resort to pressing its power button--you'll have to hit the phone's own settings, available by swiping left or right from its home screen.

Flipping through the Gear's screens also reveals pages for Samsung's Siri-esque S-Voice speech input, a voice-memo tool, a pedometer and a remote control for the Note 3's music player.

You can take pictures and record video with the Gear's 1.9-megapixel camera, but the results looked too dim and grainy for anything but documenting exceptionally odd, amusing, silly or illegal behavior. And even then, you'd best have good sunlit exposure.

The Gear itself is also better suited for sunny climes, in that a .44-in. thick watch makes for an awkward fit under long sleeves. Button-down dress shirts, especially with French cuffs, essentially clamped it in place, making it easier to grab the Note 3 than to wiggle the watch free.

Samsung has estimated the Gear's battery life at 24 hours, but the review unit showed 29 percent of a charge at that mark. I then saw the phone make it to 36 hours of less intensive use before hitting a low-battery alert. But charging it requires that chunky cradle--yet another adapter you can forget to pack or take home from a trip.

The Gear makes a decent case for the idea of a window to your phone that allows for "message and notification triage," as we wrote of Pebble's connected watch earlier this year. But it may need some feature triage of its own first.