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Samsung's $299 Galaxy Gear smartwatch coming Sept. 25

Forget boring old phones and tablets. Smartwatches are the hottest trend in tech, and Samsung is jumping into the market with the new Galaxy Gear. The $299 Gear watch is not a phone. Instead, it links up with Samsung's Galaxy smartphones and tablets to let users know when they receive a call, text message or e-mail.
Credit: From Samsung

Julianne Pepitone

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- Forget boring old phones and tablets. Smartwatches are the hottest trend in tech, and Samsung is jumping into the market with the new Galaxy Gear.

The $299 Gear watch is not a phone. Instead, it links up with Samsung's Galaxy smartphones and tablets to let users know when they receive a call, text message or e-mail.

Samsung co-CEO J.K. Shin unveiled the smartwatch at the IFA consumer tech conference in Berlin on Wednesday, and he said the Gear will begin shipping to 140 countries on Sept. 25. The U.S. and Japan won't get the Gear until October.

Shin sported his own Gear, which includes a 1.63-inch watch face and runs on Google's Android operating system, during his brief discussion of the new device. The watch strap is available in several colors, from black to "oatmeal beige" to "wild orange."

More details came out later in the event, when Pranav Mistry -- the head of Samsung's think tank team -- described how Samsung set out to create "something out of sci-fi."

Mistry said Samsung focused on features that would let users keep their phones in their pockets, or avoid having to touch either the phone or the watch altogether. Users can make hands-free calls directly from the Gear, as well as dictate e-mail, set alarms and check the weather solely with their voices.

If an e-mail or text message is deemed too long to read on the Gear, users can simply open their phones and a feature called Smart Relay will display on the screen whatever was being viewed on the watch.

Mistry also showed off how Gear users can "point your wrist and shoot" both video and photos. Other features include a pedometer and an option to make the watch beep if it has been misplaced.

At launch, more than 70 apps including eBay, Evernote and RunKeeper are available to download on the Gear.

Shin called the Gear a "perfect companion" to the Galaxy Note III smartphone. Samsung also revealed the new Note III on Wednesday, in addition to a new Galaxy Tab 10.1 tablet.

Like the Gear, both the new tablet and new smartphone will also launch Sept. 25. The Gear will be compatible with only the Note III phone for now. Samsung said after the event that it couldn't confirm when or if other Galaxy devices will be compatible.

Samsung will face loads of competition in the smartwatch space. Startup Pebble smashed fundraising records on the crowdfunding site Kickstarter, and big tech firms such as Motorola, Sony and Casio have released their own watches. Behemoth Apple is strongly rumored to be releasing an "iWatch," and Google rumors are swirling as well.

The smartwatch innovations come as consumer tech evolves past phones, laptops and tablets. Fitness companies pioneered the field of wearable devices, with Nike launching its Nike Plus running sensor way back in 2006.

The products have become more tech-heavy since then: The current slate of wearables includes highly specific trackers focused on heart rate, exercise intensity and sleep patterns, as well as more futuristic applications like the eyeglass-computer Google Glass.

Smartwatches, however, have come under particular scrutiny, with critics questioning whether the devices will drum up enough consumer interest to become mainstream must-haves.

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