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Samsung Gear Live: It's the world's best smartwatch, but probably not for long

Jon Phillips | July 15, 2014
The Gear Live is the best smartwatch I've ever used--but that's not a remarkable achievement considering all the crappy-to-middling efforts we've seen from Samsung, Sony and Qualcomm. If I were being generous, I'd say Samsung finally landed on a simple, wrist-friendly interface that does away with messy nested menus and convoluted features like voice calling.

The Gear Live is the best smartwatch I've ever used — but that's not a remarkable achievement considering all the crappy-to-middling efforts we've seen from Samsung, Sony and Qualcomm. If I were being generous, I'd say Samsung finally landed on a simple, wrist-friendly interface that does away with messy nested menus and convoluted features like voice calling.

But let's be serious — all the credit goes to Android Wear. Google's new smartwatch OS defines the Gear Live experience from top to bottom, and it's a great step forward for Samsung's meandering smartwatch efforts

I've been using Android Wear ever since Google distributed the Gear Live and G Watch review units at Google I/O in late June, and I've become a fan of the system's voice commands, Google Now alerts, and smartphone notifications. If you need an Android Wear refresher course, you'll find it in a longer version of this review on Greenbot. You can also read my feature-by-feature Android Wear walkthrough.

But for now, let's just focus on the Gear Live hardware, and what makes it a better empty vessel for Google's OS than LG's G Watch, the only other Android Wear watch available today.

Slightly more interesting industrial design

Samsung is famous for heavy software customization tweaks on its Android phones, but Google is locking down Android Wear to ensure a consistent user experience among all the watches that use the OS. The upshot is that Samsung must rely almost entirely on industrial design tweaks to differentiate the Gear Live from the LG G Watch, and the tweaks it's realized really aren't that significant.

The Gear Live is more visually interesting, with a slightly more oblong shape and brushed metal finish. The G Watch, meanwhile, looks like an almost perfectly square black tab. The two competitors have near identically sized displays — 1.63-inch for Samsung; 1.65-inch for LG — but Samsung's Super AMOLED screen has a higher 320x320 resolution, and produces slightly more saturated colors. The difference in display quality is almost imperceptible.

Unfortunately, both watches are all but impossible to read in sunlight. It's a serious problem, and makes me think that the first manufacturer to deploy Android Wear on an E Ink or Mirasol display will have a winner.

But for the strap and charging adapter

Just like in its previous smartwatch efforts, Samsung has used a strap that's a pain in the ass to attach. You have to stabilize the watch against your wrist, line up the two opposing ends of the rigid silicone strap, and then squeeze a pair of metal prongs into two finicky holes. I prefer LG's strap buckle, but at least you can replace the Gear Live band with any 22 mm strap you wish.

 

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