Saturday, July 12, 2014

Hands-on review: UPDATED: Samsung Gear Live review

Hands-on review: UPDATED: Samsung Gear Live review

Hands-on review: UPDATED: Samsung Gear Live review


.Face it, your smartphone is getting bigger

whether you like it or not, and Samsung's popular, but ridiculously sized, phablets are chief among the super-sized phones.

For this very reason, the Samsung Gear Live feels increasingly relevant. Its Google-powered Android Wear software safely relocates our notification-checking addiction to the wrist.

There's no need to fumble around with that 5.7-inch Samsung Galaxy Note 3 screen to see why the device just vibrated.

The smartwatch has the answer too. A simple flick of the wrist solves the notification mystery and keeps your easily breakable and losable smartphone in your pocket more often.

Samsung Gear Live review

It should be noted that this isn't a smartphone-eliminating device. There's no SIM card and you can't make calls directly from the watch, surf the web or kill time on YouTube.

Like the rival LG G Watch, it still requires toting around an Android phone running Android 4.3, Android 4.4 or, if you're adventurously testing the beta, Android L.

It's a $ 200 (£170, AU$ 250) digital convenience for quick glances at texts, emails, Facebook notification s and other apps with the occasional ability to respond with voice commands.

Samsung Gear Live review

Samsung has been down this same road before with non-Android Wear watches like the maligned Galaxy Gear and its better, square-shaped follow-ups, the Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo.

But it's Google's work-in-progress software that makes the Gear Live a little more relevant, a little more compatible and a little better priced than Samsung's Tizen-running smartwatches.


Samsung Gear Live ushers in the pred ictive powers of Google Now in smartwatch form, along with the LG G Watch, but the hardware design is easily the most predictable aspect of it all.

The square watch face has a 1.63-inch Super AMOLED display and a 320 x 320 resolution that provides a remarkably vivid 278 pixels-per-inch picture.

Samsung Gear Live review

It's always-on screen illuminates with the rotation of your wrist or a tap of the touchscreen and it looks best at the highest brightness. Of course, that does compromise battery life considerably.

If all of this sounds familiar, that's because these are the same display specs as the Gear 2, Gear 2 Neo and Galaxy Gear. Samsung hasn't rocked th e boat at all in ten months time.

There's actually little reason for it to update the specs. Look at the Pebble Steel. It sports a monochrome e-paper screen that is dated and doesn't feature a necessary touchscreen.

Samsung Gear Live review

The LG G Watch, meanwhile, has an inferior 1.65-inch LCD IPS display that's 280 x 280 with 240 pixels per inch. The difference is noticeable in a side-by-side comparison.

Gear Live gets away with last generation watch display specs, at least until the forthcoming Moto 360 wi th its circular watch face emerges as the potential flagship Android Wear smartwatch.

Design and comfort

Donning the chunky, but solidly-built Samsung Gear Live is a comfortable enough experience, but the company hasn't refined its smartwatch formula much at all.

That means the watch design is not only unoriginal, it's beset by the same pros and cons we found when we first latched the Galaxy Gear onto our wrists.

Samsung Gear Live review

Gear Live returns things to a cleaner look thanks to a right-side-located button that matches the one on the Galaxy Gear. Gone is the tacky home button that was front-and-center on the Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo.

You won't find a similar power switch on the irritatingly button-less LG G Watch. It has to be turned off in the settings menu and be plugged back in to turn on again.

Samsung's single physical button doesn't get in the way, thankfully, even when bending your wrist and hand at a right angle. It's flush with the side of the watch face.

This button is actually non-essential for illuminating the watch. Tapping the screen or flicking your wrist wakes the display, while palming it with your hand puts the device into a dimmed always-on mode.

Samsung Gear Live review

Adjacent to the power button is a tiny microphone that picks up "Okay Google" initiated commands. There's no micro USB port for charging on the side.

Instead, a proprietary Po go charging terminal is around back, directly above the heart-rate monitor. There are also the "presto pins" that release the watch straps.

I made use of these spring-loaded pins right away, as if someone at Samsung curiously designed the Gear Live for left-handed shoppers at Ned Flanders' "Leftorium" store by default.

Samsung Gear Live review

Switching the straps around wasn't difficult, though the four miniaturized pins holding them in place look as if they could be prone to failure one day.

There is also a lack color options at the moment. The LG G Watch at least offers a white and gold option to brighten up the watch b ands a bit and a softer, traditional watch clasp.

Samsung designed the Gear Live to be compatible with watch 22mm bands, so a variety of alternative straps are already possible â€" just very few out-of-the-box options.

For now, the default straps are either black or wine red, and though Gear Live is lighter at just 2.1oz (59g) vs LG's 2.2oz (64g), it inherits its predecessors' stiff rubber material and the Gear Fit's two-pronged clasp.

Samsung Gear Live review

It's more of a premium build compared to the similarly shaped and hard-to-button Fitbit Flex and Fitbit Force clasp, but can be just as a nnoying to fasten in a rush.

The troublesome clasp could actually be a deal breaker for some folks who struggle at first. Even though it gets easier with practice, it's been an immediate turn off when we showed others the watch.

Internal specs

Samsung Gear Live sticks with the 512MB of RAM, 4GB of non-user-replaceable internal storage and a 300mAh battery, all of which is like its still-available Tizen-powered watches.

However, it bumps up the processor from a 1GHz dual-core chip to a slightly faster 1.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 400, which handles the simplified Android Wear without delay.

It does this while actually dropping some weight. Gear Live's 2.1oz (59g) fits in between the Gear 2's 2.9oz (68g) and lighter Gear 2 Neo's 1.9oz (55g) configurations.

Samsung Gear Live review

This is due in part because the Gear Live is not rigged with the Gear 2's unnecessary outward-facing camera. And we're specifically calling an outward-facing camera unnecessary.

We're not going to argue if manufacturers one day turn their camera sights on us. No, not for selfies, but for Dick Tracy-style video calls via Google Hangouts. For now, the camera equipment is thankfully "Over and out!"

Samsung Gear Live still retains a discrete heart rate monitor on the opposite side of the watch face. Gyro, compass and accelerometers are tucked into this watch along with Bluetooth 4.0 for that all-important connection to your compatible phone running Android 4.3 or above.

A different sort of comatibility, the specs are safe from water damage to a point. It's not quite waterproof, but it is water resistant with a rating of IP67. That means it's safe at a depth of 1 meter for 30 minutes.

Samsung Gear Live review

That's far short of the sensors and antennas found in the Samsung Simband prototype and actually less than the IR and NFC-included Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo.

However, the Samsung Gear Live specs only serve to power Android Wear, the interface that's the real star of this familiar smartwatch design.


Android Wear is a simplified version of Google's increasingly inescapable mobile operating system, and it's meant for wearables like the Samsung Gear Live.

Sliding through its card-based interface, it's clear that the software borrows heavily from Google Now and the Google Glass UI, which is a modified version of Android KitKat.

The contextually-aware intelligent personal assistant often lays out commute times based on events in your calendar or places you commonly visit at certain times of the day.

Samsung Gear Live review

Google also knows which sports teams are your favorite based on search and automatically displays them with real-time score updates.

The same applies to appointments, friends' birthdays, stocks you're interested in, tracking of packages and so on. It all sits right under the current time without you needing to set anything up.

Samsung Gear Live review

Swiping up and down moves between the different notifications, while flinging them to the right dismisses them like a bad Tinder match.

Landing on a notification card and moving your finger to the left allows you to explore more choices within the notification. Often times, the options are generic with "reply," "delete" or "open on your phone."

Voice recognition, initiated by saying "Okay Google" any time the screen is active, handles everything from text message dictation to calling up apps.

Samsung Gear Live review

For the most part, Google's software picks up the right words, but there are glitches. It also doesn't wait long enough before cutting off your sentence. There's no time to think.

This is extra annoying when, instead of the "Take my heart rate" command opening the Google Fit app, the Gear Live h ears "Take my heart" and displays search results for a music video you can't open.

The errors are just as common as we previously experienced with Google Glass and require a lot of quick canceling and repeated, methodically speaking sentences.

Apps and fitness

Right now, Android Wear is more like "Android Where?" with a lack of apps. It's to be expected. Gear Live and other smartwatches need to latch onto developers first.

There are approximately 35 apps within this subsection of the Google Play Store, though this is far from the full list of Android Wear apps. A few are missing.

Samsung Gear Live review

Evernote for Android Wear and Flappy Bird-clone Flopsy Droid, for example, are compatible, but for some reason didn't make the cut in the official subsection.

Some apps in the list are better than others. Google Maps is incredibly handy when asking the watch, "OK Google, navigate to..." The route appears on the phone and turn-by-turn directions populate the watch.

That's convenient when driving. Normally, the phone interface is dangerously complex and takes too many presses to get the route to show up. Not here.

Samsung Gear Live review

Voice recognition also makes it easy to send Google Hangouts and texts and the same technology can be used to call a driver when logged into Lyft.

Dropcam, a recent Google Nest acquisition, turns its small security cameras off and on as you enter and exit your home's WiFi fence. "Welcome back. Ca mera is off" and "See you soon. Camera is on" messages let you know everything is safe.

Gear Live doesn't contain a speaker, but calling up a song with "Play: Turn Down for What?" pushes the track to your phone thanks to Google Play Music. That's great for the gym.

Also practical when working out are Runtastic and Runkeeper, allowing you to start running, biking and tracking other exercise sessions without fiddling with the phone.

Samsung Gear Live review

Google Fit is built into the smartwatch and tracks daily steps and, when asked, your heart rate. My steps score was inflated compared to the far more accurate Jawbone Up24, a problem I have experienced with Fitbit's line of wearables.

The heart rate monitor was all over the p lace too, jumping more than beats per minute with each reading. As Samsung contends, the heart rate monitor is not for medical purposes.

While Lyft is here, Uber is late to this smartwatch platform party. We're hoping that it and other notable apps are on the way to the expanding Android Wear platform.

Compatibility and battery life

Samsung Gear Live is compatible with phones running Android 4.3 and above, a requirement it shares with the LG G Watch and forthcoming Moto 360.

It's easy to pair with your device via Bluetooth and the required Android Wear app. But we weren't able to connect on our Nexus 7 2013 tablet. This is strictly a phone affair.

Samsung Gear Live review

We also have no way of syncing the Gear Live or any Google -powered smartwatch with an iPhone 5S, even when running the iOS 8 beta.

Android Wear watches aren't compatible with Apple's closed ecosystem just yet, which isn't surprising. The Cupertino company is expected to launch an iWatch later this year.

Samsung Gear Live review

Plus, Google has run into issues trying to bring Google Glass up to speed when tethered to an iPhone. Some features still don't work as well as when using an Android.

The fact that iPhone isn't compatible with Android Wear isn't a problem right now, but it may be a sticking point for Apple fans when that stylish Moto 360 finally releases.

Battery life

Samsung Gear Live has a lot going for it, but it doesn't last long enough between recharges. The battery life is ab out a day max with a decent brightness setting.

Its 300mAh battery is actually smaller than the 400mAh size found in the LG G Watch, which can last a safer day and a half.

Samsung Gear Live review

Contrast that to the Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo, which could triple Gear Live's battery life with a the same 300mAh battery, but 2-3 days on a full charge.

All of this is especially inconvenient because of how Gear Live charges. It comes with a small proprietary travel charger that is just begging to be lost.

Samsung Gear Live review

Keeping the Pogo charger with you even if you're taking a day trip is a must since there's no way to insert a micro USB like one might expect.

By contrast, the Moto 360 is set to include Qi inductive wireless charging. It's still likely to require toting around a different set of cables, but at least it's an open platform that could charge the Qi-compatible the Nexus 7.


Owning a smartwatch may become essential given the pace at which our smartphones are growing in size, and the Samsung Gear Live is the best Android Wear out of the gate.

That doesn't necessarily mean it's recommended for everyone. There are several Google-powered watches still to come.

Samsung Gear Live review

HTC, Asus and even Fossil have products in the pipeline in addition to Motorola, and may prove better with more tim e in the oven.

But Samsung does a good job at fulfilling the needs of early adopters and claiming another "world's first" co-championship, like it enjoys doing with every product category in tech.

We liked

Samsung Gear Live is a "convenience gadget" that allows you to quickly glance at predictions from Google Now and see notifications pushed from your smartphone whenever the watch vibrates.

All of your notifications beamed to the wrist may sound like overkill, but truthfully, you're always tempted to look at your smartphone every time it beeps and buzzes anyway.

This always-on device just makes things easier to deal with, whether it's something you can dismiss or an important message you need to act on.

Gear Live gets the better of the LG G Watch with a higher resolution 1.63-inch screen that's slightly lighter and less boxy, though still square-shaped. It's marginally the better of the two.

Samsung Gear Live review

We disliked

Samsung's smartwatch design isn't very original compared to the Galaxy Gear and Galaxy Note 2, and it won't turn heads like the Moto 360.

Couple that with the facts that the clasp is hard to fasten and the battery life is abysmal, and you've got a gadget built for early adopters and very few other people.

The app list needs to grow so that its usefulness isn't so limited. By that time, we may have a cheaper or even second round of Google-powered smartwatches from Samsung and LG.

Samsung Gear Live review

Final verdict

Android Wear early adopters should go with the Samsung Gear Liv e over the less elegant LG G Watch, but know in advance that it's far from perfect. Everyone else should wait for the Moto 360.

The hardware has its hiccups with straps that are annoying to clasp together and, to make matters worse, you'll be taking the watch on and off a lot because of its terrible one-day battery life.

There's also the fact that the display and most of the internals haven't changed since Samsung introduced the Galaxy Gear last year. It's still toeing the line.

Android Wear, while in its infancy, takes Samsung's hit-and-mostly-miss smartwatch experiences and gives it some practically. Without it, Gear Live would be the same smartwatch we got ten months ago.

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//PART 2