Samsung’s Samsung Gear Live is their fourth attempt at a smartwatch. They put out one of the earliest models when they released the Samsung Galaxy Gear last year and the Samsung Gear 2 earlier this year.
The Samsung Gear Live looks a lot like the Samsung Gear 2. Many will think of the Gear Live as an upgrade coming just months after the Gear 2 launched. Instead, Samsung forked their product line in a new direction, adopting the Google Now-centered Android Wear for this watch.
We’ll compare these two and help buyers choose which fits their wrist best.
This category will do more to decide the choice than any other. The Samsung Gear 2 only works with a few Samsung Galaxy phones, including the Samsung Galaxy S4 and S5 and Samsung Galaxy Note 3. If you own an HTC, LG, Nexus or Motorola phone, then don’t bother with the Gear 2.
Owners of an iPhone, Windows Phone, Blackberry or Android phone running something older than Android 4.3 Jelly Bean can’t use either watch.
The two watches differ most importantly in the area of software. Gear Live users get Google’s new Android Wear, which interacts with their Android operating system (Android 4.3 and newer) using Google Now. Users will talk to their watch to get things done. See our “hands on” video below.
The Samsung Gear 2 runs Tizen, a new wearable operating system that Samsung just pushed out to replace Samsung’s version of Android that used to run the watch. Tizen looks just like the older OS and functions the same.
The Gear Live uses Google Now for most of the functionality it brings. Speak into the watch and it sends the commands to the phone and displays the results on the watch’s screen. Users can open some apps, search the web and tell their phone to make calls.
The Gear 2 software does more from the watch. We’ll list those later.
Neither watch comes with a long list of apps that work with it. However, it’s very early for Android Wear and we expect the list of compatible apps to grow over the coming weeks and months. Expect Android Wear apps to do a lot more than Samsung Gear 2 apps. It’s likely that app developers will jump on the Gear Live bandwagon thanks to greater potential in the future.
Style and Look
The two watches look alike, but differ enough to make it obvious to careful observers.
Buyers can get the Samsung Gear 2 (above) in black, gold or orange. The Samsung Gear Live comes in black or wine red (below). While looks and color are a matter of preference, the Gear 2 seems more refined. We get a brushed aluminum bezel around the Gear 2 screen under the glass surface. The included band feels textured and looks nicer than the plain hard plastic band on the Gear Live.
The Gear Live band opens so it will fit people with larger wrists. The Gear 2 band comes with a snapping clasp that requires the user to slide their hand into the opening. Users can swap out typical bands if they like.
Samsung made both of these watches out of high-quality aluminum, with bright Super AMOLED displays that look beautiful. The bands feel like they’ll hold up to some punishment. Each watch gets an IP67 rating, meaning that wearers can get it wet and it won’t die. Don’t go snorkeling with it, but you can probably shower with one on if you must.
Here are the measurements of the two watches:
- Samsung Gear Live – 56mm x 38mm x 8.9mm and 2.12oz
- Samsung Gear 2 – 58mm x 37mm x 10mm and 2.oz
There’s minimal difference in size and weight, and they feel the same on the wrist.
The Samsung Gear Live comes with a single button on the right side. Hold it down to bring up settings. Tap it to either pull it out of the low-power state or put it into the low-power state. It also turns on the watch when it’s off.
The Samsung Gear 2 puts the single button on the top of the watch just below the screen. Press it to boot the watch. Press it to wake up the watch and take a picture in the camera mode. It does other things depending on which watch app the person runs. Press and hold when it’s on and the watch brings up the Power off/Restart menu, which also shows an onscreen button to mute the sounds and turn on the Outdoor mode.
Samsung uses a terrible charging system with a micro-USB connector plugged into a plastic piece that snaps on the back of the watch. This proprietary system means that the user must keep another charger in their bag or on the nightstand.
The Samsung Gear 2 will do more without 3rd-party apps than the Samsung Gear Live. It comes with a built-in camera, voice memo app, remote control for a TV, Bluetooth speakerphone feature and a few others. Both offer pedometers and heart rate monitors.
The pedometer software on the Gear 2 seems to work better, showing what seems like a more correct reading than the Gear Live.
The Gear 2’s 2MP camera won’t win the owner any photo contests, but it’s nice for a quick snapshot. Soon, the Gear Live will control the Google Camera (Free in Google Play Store) with an updated version of the Google Camera that’s rolling out now. People can place their phone where they like and tell it to take a picture through the watch.
No one will want to make prints or create artistic shots with it. Shooting shots with a wrist camera can prove awkward, as the image above proves. However, the one below came from the Gear 2 when I had time to place it. The lighting doesn’t look great, but I got a quick snapshot to remember my son’s soccer game.
The Samsung Gear 2 also works as a Bluetooth speakerphone. When a call comes through the paired phone, slide to either reject or answer the call. If the wearer answers the call they can talk on their wrist. This may feel awkward, but the user gets used to it. Gear 2 users will miss that feature if they switch to the Gear Live.
The Gear 2 uses S Voice while the Gear Live works with Google Now for voice control, which we think adds a check in the Gear Live’s column.
Gear 2 also does the following, which the Gear Live won’t do:
- Play music stored on the watch
- Control a TV using the a built-in IR blaster
- Record voice memos
- Display a timer on the watch
- Dial phone numbers even without a contact name
- Toggle phone features like Wi-Fi, hotspot, Bluetooth without 3rd-party apps
Third-party apps might bring the above functions to Gear Live, but as simply as built-in apps.
Ease of Use
The Gear Live offers a simpler set of features, but also fewer of them. Since almost everything works through Google Now, people used to using it will find the Gear Live easier to adapt to using. I didn’t use Google Now that much before getting the Gear Live, but find it easy to learn. The only challenge comes in learning the right voice commands.
Samsung users who already know how to use S Voice will likely find Gear 2 easier to use. The built-in features will also make doing those things quicker.
Price and Value
The Samsung Gear 2 costs $100 more than the Samsung Gear Live. For price-conscious buyers, it’s an easy choice. However, seeing the above list of features that come built into the Gear 2 will make owners of a Samsung Galaxy S4, S5 or Note 3 think twice.
Google announced the Android Wear platform at Google I/O just a couple of weeks ago and the first hardware only became available in the last week. In time, the number of Android Wear apps will probably dwarf Samsung Gear 2 apps. That’s because Samsung’s not the only player in the game. LG makes the other Android Wear phone, and later this year we’ll get the Moto 360 Android Wear smart watch.
Smartwatch buyers should definitely consider the Samsung Gear 2 ($299.99 direct from Samsung) or the Samsung Gear Live ($199.99 direct from Samsung). They’re attractive smartwatches with plenty of useful features. But which should people get?
For those who don’t own a Samsung phone, there’s no choice because only Gear Live works with other brands. Samsung phone owners should pay extra for the Gear 2 if they want features like using the watch to talk during calls, taking snapshots, recording voice memos, controlling their TV and playing music. Everyone else should grab the Gear Live with excellent Google Now integration and the promise of a growing app collection.