I was debating which Android Wear watch to get at Google I/O between the Samsung Gear Live and the LG G Watch. Sadly what won out overall was probably the look of the Gear Live (which looks like a Tizen-powered Gear 2 minus the camera and a few other minor details). Samsung’s offering also has heartbeat monitor and a higher resolution OLED display but LG has a bigger battery and LCD display (which didn’t help much with outside viewing from my brief usage).

I’ll say what everyone else was saying: We’d all rather have the Moto 360. But those come later this summer – which ends in September. Both the industrial design and the almost round face put the Moto 360 in another league but will probably put it in another price league as well. Both LG and Samsung will come in around $200.

How was the experience with the Samsung Gear Live?

The Gear Live is a sleek form factor watch that isn’t obviously an Android smartwatch. It fits on the hand with an easy double pronged wrist strap which is good for taking on and off quickly. That’s key because you’ll need to charge this thing every night with moderate usage and every few nights with light usage.  The charger is a MicroUSB dongle that affixes to the back of the gear live. I accidentally left it on one time to give you an idea of the size of the dongle. It is a pretty straight forward process but it was hard to tell on the display that the Gear Live was actually charging.

The process for getting it to sync with the phone should and will be more straight forward but beta testers had to download new versions of Google Play services and Google Search (among other things) to get the Android Wear App and sync the watch. Then, before 1st start, the Samsung had to download a 40mb firmware file over Bluetooth. I synched it with a review unit of the Samsung Galaxy S5 Active on AT&T which works great once it is up and running. Contrary to previous hopes/beliefs, the watch won’t sync with iOS devices which was confirmed by Android head Sundar Pichai. You’ll need to have a relatively recent Android 4.3 device to sync with.

Android Wear App

The default watch face for the Samsung is a white analog watch on a black background which I’m assuming is good on battery (which incidentally lasts over 24 hours of moderate to heavy usage in brief testing). I have to say I’m a little disappointed with the face options you get on the default Samsung (invoked by holding down the watch face for a few seconds), especially contrasted with the Moto 360’s high-end default face.

Once up and running, the Gear Live is pretty unspectacular at first glance. The easiest way to imagine it is having your Android Notifications tray on your wrist comboed with a bluetooth phone mic and display for making Google Now requests.

Some people have complained about the amount of notifications but you can mute the thing with a simple “pull down from the top” gesture when you don’t want to be disturbed. This gesture also provides the date and battery life.  If anything, I’m bored with how little information I get. Sure emails come in and Twitter notifications and a few other things I usually ignore. I thought Google would be delivering interesting Field Trip-like cards relevant to places where I walked. Walking around both New York City and San Francisco yielded little in the way of geo-spacial information.

That’s not to say the watch isn’t useful. Google Now by itself is a pretty useful thing and combine it with notifications and quick ways to reply to emails or phone calls is pretty cool. I think these options will become more robust in future iterations. I’m already user of the navigation features and for getting sports scores just like the happy folks in the video above.

Perhaps what’s most important about Android Wear compared to say Google Glass, is that it is understated. Most folks won’t know your watch is a Google device and unless you invoke it, probably will think you have a normal, if slightly bulky, wristwatch…something that society has long ago accepted wholeheartedly.



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6 Responses to “Review: a few days with Android Wear on the Samsung Gear Live”

  1. jrox16 says:

    This is just the beginning… like with Smartphones, it’s going to take some time before these smartwatches really blow us away. In 2-3 years they will last multiple days and do so much more. Unless the Moto 360 is as beautiful in real life as they say and comes with wireless charging, or the iWatch is real and re-defines what a smartwatch can and should be, I’ll wait to see how the next generation fares.

  2. Hi Seth,

    Thanks for the review, was Google Now always listening like on the Moto X?

  3. Alan Kuehnau says:

    Is there a listing of “other than Samsung” compatible phones?

  4. stefanovago95 says:

    “All things you can do with your smartphone”

  5. I like the look of the 360 a lot, and was very tempted to wait for it as my pebble is still very serviceable, but the dead zone at the bottom of the notifications would drive me batty.

  6. J Washburn says:

    Cool review. Thanks for sharing your first impressions. I’m very curious about playing music on this device. Could you take it on a jog and leave your phone behind? Does it have a headphone jack? Or maybe a way to connect to Bluetooth headphones? Does Google Play Music even run on it? Thanks!