The Samsung Gear Live took the familiar hardware from the Samsung Galaxy Gear 2, refined it a bit, and put Google’s Android Wear operating system on it to make it the first Samsung smartwatch compatible with all Android phones running KitKat 4.3 or later, even those made by other manufacturers. After a month of daily use I’ll keep wearing the watch, but wouldn’t buy another one until it gets some needed polish, which means the Gear Live specifically, and Android Wear watches generally, won’t break out as mainstream jewelry because of their look and function.
Android Wear launched earlier this year. The smartwatch platform connects a phone to a watch and puts phone notifications on the watch’s touchscreen. Users talk to the watch to search the Internet, navigate to a location, set reminders or create appointments. Third-party apps extend the watch’s functionality so users can record voice memos, check into restaurants or pause podcasts.
Samsung Gear Live Design
Samsung designed the Gear Live with a beautiful bright super AMOLED screen with a 320×320 resolution or 278ppi. It’s housed in a smooth silver aluminum casing and a plastic back. The hard rubber watch band comes in black, or wine-red, and clasps around the wrist thanks to metal clasp with two raised snaps. These snaps fit into the holes on the other part of the band, which makes for awesome resizing.
The watch feels light even though it looks really big, even on thick wrists like mine. Think cheap digital watch band instead of fine jewelry watch band. The fashion conscious wearer should look elsewhere. Sadly, no smartwatch available today will measure up to style-conscious tastes because they’re all ugly. On a spectrum from plain ugly on the left to stylish beauty on the right, the Samsung Gear Live fits between the LG G Watch and original Pebble Smartwatch at the extreme left end, and the Moto 360 that sits in the middle. No Android Wear watch looks as attractive as the images we saw from Apple during their announcement of the Apple Watch.
The Gear Live carries an iP67 rating, meaning users can shower with it after working hard in a dirty environment. I recently drenched it with a bucket of water and wore it while baptizing someone at my church without any problems.
The Gear Live measures 56mm x 38mm x 8.9mm and weighs 2.12oz. It’s big on the wrist but feels light.
The only control button sits towards the bottom of the right side of the watch. Press the button to wake up the screen, or press and hold to bring up the option menu to do things like adjust the brightness, restart or shut down.
Users can reset the watch from the button, if there’s a problem. I had to do this a few times because it lost the connection to my phone and only resetting to factory settings fixed it.
Samsung uses the same horrible charging system found on their earlier watches. The charging connector snaps onto the back of the watch and plugs into a micro-USB to USB cable to charge the phone. It requires a nightly charge, because it won’t run for more than a 36 hours.
On the back of the watch below the charging connectors there’s a heart rate sensor that works pretty well.
The wearer can change the band to something more stylish or comfortable using standard watch bands.
Unlike previous Samsung smart watches, the Samsung Gear Live works with any Android phone running 4.3 or newer. I tested it with a Samsung Galaxy Note 3 and the HTC One M8 without big problems other than the connection problems already mentioned. These happened on both phones.
The smart watch won’t work with iPhone or Windows Phone.
The Android Wear app makes the first connection and controls some basic options. It also explains a little about how to use the watch.
The Samsung Gear Live comes with a handful of decent watch faces to match different tastes. Some look uglier than others. Third-party watch faces look better. The Moto 360 popularity means some third-party faces only come with round faces, so be sure to check before installing them.
The Google Play Store holds hundreds of Android Wear apps and other apps that recently added Wear compatibility. For example, my favorite podcast app, Pocket Casts, added Android Wear control functionality to their app. Foursquare lets users check in through their watch. Other apps only work with Android Wear.
The Android Wear operating system uses Google Now cards to show notifications. When an appointment reminder shows up on the phone, it also shows up on a card on the watch. Swipe right to dismiss it or left to interact with it. For example, when the Gmail app sends a notification to the watch of new mail, the user can just dismiss the notice by swiping right. However, the user can also swipe left and tap to archive the message on the phone.
The Google Now cards that show up on Android Wear can get annoying. Swipe away an all-day calendar appointment card and the next time the Android Wear OS shows another card for a text message, that same appointment card will show up again, thus forcing the user to swipe it away again and again till the appointment ends. I’d like to swipe away things like this once and make them go away forever.
On occasion, the software doesn’t respond well to touch. I find myself needing to swipe a few times to get it to react the first time. This can get frustrating.
The basic set of functions mostly work fine. I miss some of the Gear 2 features, like using the watch as a Bluetooth headset to talk to callers via the watch. Gear Live lets people answer calls through the watch, but the wearer must still take out the phone to talk.
The Gear 2 also had a camera, which I didn’t use much. The Gear Live doesn’t, but Google Camera app users can control the shutter on Google Camera through the watch. This reduces shakiness in low light shots since the photographer doesn’t tap the phone. The wearer can get into the shot by posing it, moving into the frame and then tapping the watch to engage the 3-second shutter timer.
Ease of Use
The Gear Live offers a simple set of features, and a person already familiar with Google Now voice commands knows how to use Gear Live’s voice commands.
The process of connecting the phone to the watch didn’t take much effort or time. This translates into an easy-to-use smartwatch that does a few things well right out of the box. The connection dropped more than it should, which gets frustrating. A few times I couldn’t reconnect without resetting the watch to factory settings.
The more apps a person uses, the more complicated the watch becomes. Some apps like Wear Mini Launcher (see above) help. The app puts a grid of small icons on the screen when the users swipes from the edge of the screen. Tap the icon to launch that Wear app’s functionality. That’s not what Google had in mind, but the more apps an owner installs, the more necessary such a launcher becomes. Remembering app titles to launch with voice gets complicated with too many apps.
The two biggest frustrations come when the watch touchscreen doesn’t respond to swipes at first. I often had to try to swipe repeatedly before the watch app responded. Second, the connections consistency already mentioned got annoying.
Price and Value
The Samsung Gear Live costs $200. Compare that to other smart watches:
- Samsung Gear 2 (not Android Wear and only works with Samsung watches) – $299.99
- LG G Watch (Android Wear) – $179.99, down from $229 launch price
- Moto 360 (Android Wear) – $249.99
- Pebble Smartwatch (original design, not Android Wear, compatible with iPhone/Android) – $149
- Pebble Steal (not Android Wear, compatible with iPhone/Android) – $249
- Apple Watch (iPhone only) – starts at $349 and not yet available
After a month of use, I wouldn’t buy another Gear Live unless Samsung cut the price or Google updates Android Wear to make it more reliable and intuitive, meaning I don’t have to keep swiping away the same card.
Samsung’s Tizen operating system works fluidly and intuitively, but only with Samsung Phones. I sold my Pebble Steel to get the Gear 2 and sold the Gear 2 to get the Gear Live. After using all three, none of them is really worth the cost, because they all draw attention to themselves for the wrong reason. Android Wear works okay, but a few annoyances made me long for my Gear 2 and inconsistent connections meant I often had to repeat voice commands before giving up.