The Pebble Smartwatch and the Samsung Gear Live present different approaches to the smartwatch. The Pebble hit Kickstarter and instantly rose to the top of the list of Kickstarter crowd funding campaigns. Samsung joined the smartwatch club with the Samsung Galaxy Gear and then teamed up with Google to offer the Samsung Gear Live, the company’s latest smartwatch. The Gear Live offers another compelling option for smartwatch buyers. We compare the new Samsung Gear Live vs Pebble Steel smartwatch to help potential buyers figure out which one offers best choice. See also our comparison of the Gear Live and the Samsung Gear 2.
The Samsung Gear Live looks a lot like the previous Samsung Gear 2, but with minor stylistic changes. Samsung adopted Google Now-centric Android Wear for this watch, making a bulky, but more attractive metal watch with a hard polyurethane band.
The Pebble Steel feels less refined and a little more like the Geek’s watch compared with the Gear Live, and comes with a pair of proprietary watch bands that users cannot replace with typical watch bands like they can with Samsung’s watch.
See our Pebble Steel video review below:
Both watches work with Android 4.3 and above. However, the Pebble Steel has the Gear Live beat in one important area: it also works with iPhone. In fact it worked better with iPhone than Android. So Pebble’s the only option for iPhone owners until Apple releases an iWatch. Gear Live only works with Android.
Google’s new Android Wear, which interacts with their Android 4.3, uses Google Now. Users talk to their watch to get things done. See our “hands on” video below.
The Pebble Steel runs Pebble’s own operating system and does more on the watch after users install apps through the companion Pebble app. The Android Wear interface depends on the phone while the Pebble Steel can run apps directly on the phone, meaning it’s less dependent on a smartphone.
Anyone who’s used Google Now on an Android phone will understand how the Gear Live works. Commands begin with the key phrase “Ok Google” and then users give the command, like “Ok Google. Where am I?” “OK Google. Set an alarm for 5 a.m. tomorrow.”
Pebble Steel requires physical interaction using one of the buttons on the sides of the phone.
Since the Pebble hit the market years earlier, it comes with far more apps ready to run at this point. However, the Android Wear community will likely catch up, giving users all the most useful apps.
Style and Look
Samsung Gear Live looks better than the Pebble Steel. That’s a matter of taste, but it seems more refined and comes with a cleaner and simpler design. Both look bulky, but the Gear Live doesn’t look as nerdy. It also feels more sturdy because the Pebble buttons don’t have the same precision as the Gear Live.
The Pebble Steel comes with a Gorilla Glass screen, so it won’t scratch. The Gear Live screen may not hold up as well in extremely rough environments.
The Pebble Steel comes in two colors and includes a metal and leather band. However, the bands don’t work with traditional watch bands, so users can’t replace the band with one from a local jewelry store.
The Samsung Gear Live comes in black or wine red (below).
The Gear Live and the Pebble Steel come with bands that open all the way, making them fit people with beefy wrists, like me, unlike the old Samsung Gear 2 as seen below with the Gear Live. That makes both of them more comfortable and easier to put on and take off… even with thick wrists.
Both companies made these watches out of high-quality aluminum. They also get an IP67 rating, meaning the wearer can get them wet and they won’t quit working. Don’t go snorkeling, but feel free to shower with them if necessary.
I put the Gear Live to the test while baptizing four new members in my church, a ceremony where we put the person entirely under water. The water didn’t hurt the watch at all.
The Gear Live uses a bright Super AMOLED display that looks beautiful. Unfortunately, it’s a bit hard to see in bright light or outdoors unless the user picks a high contrast watch face. The Pebble Steel, however, with its e-Ink display, looks just fine in bright light. People who spend a lot of time outside should definitely get the Pebble Steel.
Here are the measurements of the two watches:
- Samsung Gear Live – 56mm x 38mm x 8.9mm and 2.12oz
- Pebble Steel – 46mm x 34mm x 10.5mm and 2.oz
There’s minimal difference in size and weight, and they feel the same on the wrist. The Pebble Steel measures slightly thicker but also lighter.
The Samsung Gear Live comes with a single button on the right side that’s barely noticeable. 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 Pebble Steel has four buttons, three on the right side and one on the left. The center brings up settings and acts like an Enter key. The upper and lower switch between onscreen menu items. The left side button acts like a back button. These buttons also control play, pause, rewind and fast forward.
The Samsung Gear Live uses a terrible charging system with a plastic connector that snaps on the back of the watch with a micro-USB port on the side. It’s a little hard to figure out at first. Pulling it off after a charge takes some force and feels like it might break the charger or the watch.
Pebble Steel uses a magnetic charging connector that works better. It can snap off easily, but the company improved the strength of the magnet after the first Pebble, which disconnected too easily.
The battery life on the Pebble Steel lasts from a few days to as long as a week. The Samsung Gear Live will only last a full day. It runs out before the end of the second day if the user doesn’t charge after a day’s use.
Apps are what makes these watches functional. Pebble offers more than the Gear Live and Android Wear, but as stated above, this should change. The Pebble has a couple of years head start on Android Wear.
Samsung removed a few cool features to fit the stringent standards of Google’s Android Wear requirements. The Samsung Gear 2 could take pictures and work as a Bluetooth speakerphone. Neither the Gear Live nor the Pebble Steel will. However, both will control a smartphone camera. Gear Live works with the Google Camera. The Pebble Steel requires a third-party app to snap photos on either an Android phone or an iPhone.
The Gear Live offers spoken command control, displays cards from Google Now and anything else app developers can make it do. The Pebble Steel does more on the watch itself. Users can control their music, see notifications from both iOS and Android as well as run apps directly on the watch without touching the phone.
Both watches will show notifications like text messages, email and caller ID. They also let users answer or reject calls, but must use their phone to talk.
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 Google Now will find the Gear Live easier. I didn’t use Google Now that much before getting the Gear Live, but it’s easy to learn. Just learn the right voice commands, even if frustrating at first. Android Wear offers a nice help feature. Just tap the watch face to bring up Google Now and slide up from the bottom for a list of simple commands that the watch recognizes.
The Pebble Steel interface didn’t take long to figure out either. It’s easy to use and the button functions seem quite intuitive.
Price and Value
The Pebble Steel costs $50 more than the Samsung Gear Live. For price-conscious buyers, it’s an easy choice. However, iPhone users and people who want to do more on the watch itself will prefer the more expensive Pebble Steel.
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 couple of weeks. In time, the number of Android Wear apps will probably catch up to the number of Pebble apps. That’s because Samsung’s not the only player. LG makes an Android Wear watch, and later this year we’ll get the Moto 360 Android Wear smart watch and possibly an HTC Android Wear watch.
Smartwatch buyers should definitely consider the Pebble Steel ($249 direct from Pebble). They might also want to consider the plastic and cheaper original Pebble ($149). However, the Samsung Gear Live ($199.99 direct from Samsung) offers a better looking watch with more potential since it’s built on a growing platform that will get support from manufacturers that are all bigger than Pebble and more able to promote the Android Wear name. Google, LG, Motorola, Samsung and possibly HTC will support this platform for years and it will probably become the more popular smartwatch ecosystem. Apple might impact this if it introduces a compelling iWatch, but that won’t help Android owners. So the Android Wear in general and the Samsung Gear Live in particular will please more Android uses than the Pebble. iPhone owners should consider waiting till fall when Apple announces new hardware, unless they’re impatient.