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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.

A 300 mAh battery powers the Gear Live, and I found the watch lasted for at least a day on a single charge. That's better than my HTC One M7 in terms of longevity, but it's still pretty horrible for a "lifestyle" accessory like a watch.

Even worse, Samsung uses an annoying proprietary charging adapter. It's basically a flimsy dongle that attaches to the watch with a worrying snap. Also, Samsung's dongle doesn't have any weight to it. It just flops around on the end of a USB cable, requiring a bit of extra attention any time you want to recharge. I much prefer LG's magnetic charging cradle.

Both watches have 1.2GHz processors. Both have 512MB of RAM and 4GB of storage. And both watches have zippy interfaces, suggesting Samsung and LG spec'd internal silicon for that perfect balance between price, performance and power draw. Yet here's an interesting innovation from Samsung: It had the wisdom to include a power button! LG doesn't include a power button on the G Watch, so to turn it on, you must place it in its charging cradle or poke a minuscule hard reset button on the back of its chassis.

Price wins the battle for Samsung — for now

Beyond the differences above, there's not much to distinguish the Gear Live from the G Watch. Both watches have accelerometers that generate step counts, but Samsung also adds a simple heart rate monitor. I found Samsung's step count numbers to be wildly inflated relative to my Jawbone UP24, and I found no use for the heart rate monitor whatsoever, as you can't use it for continuous, real-time reporting in the middle of a cardio workout.

Samsung has considerably fewer digital watchfaces to choose from (13 to LG's 24), but Samsung beats LG on price, selling the Gear Live for $200 while LG is charging $230 for a more pedestrian industrial design and a lower-res, lower-brilliance display.

The upshot is that the Gear Live is the better purchase — for now. 

Android Wear is by no means a perfect smartwatch OS. There's barely any third-party app support, and the platform quickly needs an official Twitter app to allow for tweet dictation directly from your watch. Google also needs one or two apps that demonstrate what a truly location-aware "context stream" would look like. In early June, Google's Android Wear developers showed us what a walking tour app might look like, but nothing like this has yet to materialize.

But, hey, the new OS is only two weeks old. There are surely many bug fixes, revisions and improvements ahead. 

The same goes for Android Wear hardware: We've only seen two devices, and both the Gear Live and G Watch exude "early first effort." Upcoming Wear models could address illegible display performance in sunlight, and we should also expect battery life to improve with generational iterations. 

 

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