Samsung Gear Live Review: Is Good, Good Enough?

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Today we’re taking a look at Samsung’s Gear Live, one of the first Android Wear watches.

So at a glance you’ll notice that it’s very similar looking to the Gear 2.  In fact it’s the same sAMOLED display measuring 1.63-inches with a 320×320 resolution.  Though if you look closer you’ll notice the camera is gone.  And as for that button, it’s now on the side.

The strap, though similar, and still user swappable, is slightly different.  Gone is not only that textured finished, which I liked, but the clasp system.
Instead, and I say this with great resentment, Samsung has decided to include a Fitbit like system that’s design is notorious for coming undone.  Why Samsung wouldn’t include the clasp system from the Gear 2 is beyond me – I would have gladly paid $10-15 more for it.  No matter as I swapped out my Gear 2′s band for it – yes, they’re compatible.

The back of the device has the same infrared heart rate monitor, which in my testing now works better for some reason. There is also the same contact points for charging. And yes, it’s the same charging cradle that comes with the Gear 2.  And while some have found it finicky, I’m ok with it, despite the fact that if you lose it you can’t charge your device and you’ll need to drop $20 to get a new one.

So setup is very simple – just download the Android Wear App to your Android phone, pair the two devices (over Bluetooth) and the rest is just waiting for everything to setup.  Initial setup took me about 5 minutes with the Gear Live downloading some things from my phone, or so it would seem, but it was simple as could be.  Once setup is complete, just touch the screen to wake the display, touch it again and Android’s familiar voice prompt appears.

The Android Wear app lists compatible apps, and while some what limited for now, there seems to be more added every day.

Thing you can ask it: send a text, send an email, what’s the weather, take a note in Google Keep, show your steps, navigate some where, start a timer and so forth.  If you can’t recall all of these, or simply want to tap your way to one of them, you just need to swipe up and a list appears.
To return to the voice prompt just swipe down, or swipe to the right, which throws screens away (aka exits them).

Beyond that, Android Wear is designed to be an extension of sorts of Google Now and the Android Notification Center.  So text messages will appear, albeit a truncated version (unless you use Google’s Hangout app and even than it’s a bit difficult to see multiple threads).  To see the entire message you’ll need to open it on your phone, or prompt your phone to do so from the Gear Live.

As a side note, swiping to the left accesses more detail about a card or activates the action on your phone.  This varies from app to app. For example swiping left on the day’s forecast shows the 5-day or if you perform a web search opens Chrome on your phone.

Cards that appear in Google Now will also pop up on the Gear Live, though I can’t seem to figure when or why they do.  Calls can be answered from the Gear Live, but in order to take the call you’ll need to pick up your phone (i.e. there is no speakerphone) or better yet wear a Bluetooth headset.  Also included are multiple watch faces – just tap and hold the screen to select this.  Hopefully you’ll soon be able to add more of these in the near future.

To manually dim the screen just cover it with your palm or hit the button on the side.  If you have the “Always On Screen” option on, the watch face will stay illuminated but reduce its output to a gray scale after a few seconds. There is an airplane mode and the display has 5 degrees of brightness.  Even at it’s brightest it’s not easy to read it in direct sunlight.  Moreover, the Gear Live is IP67 rated, which means it “water and dust resistant”, but there is a good chance it could take a quick dunk (try at your own risk) and still keep on ticking.

So the big question is do I like it?  In short YES. But there are some things that do bother me:

  • I already mentioned the clasp system.  I still don’t get that move.
  • The vibrator, while weaker than the Martian Notifier, is perfectly noticeable for incoming call notifications.  However, text messages only deliver a small blip which can often goes unnoticed.  Moreover you can’t change this in the settings menu.
  • That said, this might be something to do with battery life.  Which in my instance, was about a day.  Basically you’ll want to charge it nightly otherwise it will die the next day and your mileage will of course vary with how often you check the Gear Live for updates.
  • Activating the screen with the turn of the wrist works, but takes some acclimation and if you’re not sitting upright, say laying in bed, it won’t consistently work.
  • Voice to text message seems to send dupe messages – don’t know why
  • It would seem that I don’t always get notifications from the apps I hoped I would.  For instance, Whatsapp doesn’t always seem to appear.
  • Lastly, there is absolutely no audio cues, just the vibrator.  Which mind you is useful if you don’t want to wake up your partner in the morning, but it would be nice to have the option to hear something.

Now, in terms of things I do like:

  • The different watch faces are nice and I’m not bothered by the some what low rez version when the screen is dimmed.
  • The voice recognition, even with background noise is surprisingly accurate.  There is some syntax to learn, but over time I can only imagine it will get easier.
  • The ability to grab directions, initiate a call and send a text messages is more useful than you’d think.  Unfortunately, web pages have to be viewed on the phone, but your search can start with your watch.
  • Though asking it what time a business closes will sometimes result in an answer, since Google stores some of this information directly on its servers. We did this for a local sushi place and it worked perfectly.

So there it is.  That’s Samsung Gear Live, one of two Android Wear watches available right now in the Play Store.  The more I use the Gear Live, the more useful I find it.  That said, I still can’t determine if Android Wear is enhancing my smartphone experience or just fragmenting it all the more.   Nevertheless, it has reduced the amount of time I spend on my actual phone by allowing me almost instant access to Google Now as well as my phone’s notification center.  In other words, I now send many text messages, ask for directions, set reminders, view incoming texts and many other things simply by talking to or looking at the Gear Live.  It may seem like a trivial point, but consider the amount of time it takes to unlock your phone and load up an associated app. That time adds up and believe it or not, the Gear Live actually reduces that time. So yeah it’s good enough, and good enough largely because it provides not only some convenience, but gives you back some of that time you might have lost looking at your phone.


 
 
Overview
 

Release Date: Available Now
 
Price: $199
 
Size: 37.9 x 56.4x 8.9 mm
 
Weight: 59g
 
Battery Size: 300mAh
 
Version of OS: 1
 
Screen Resolution: 320x320
 
Storage: n/a
 
Processor: 1.2 GHz Processor
 
Screen Type: AMOLED
 
WiFi: No
 
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Positives


Works with any Android Smartphone running Android 4.3 or higher, excellent voice accuracy despite background noise, the longer you use it the better it gets,

Negatives


Terrible clasp system (Fitbit like), one day battery life, display just ok in direct sunlight


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Christen Costa

 
Grew up back East, got sick of the cold and headed West. Since I was small I have been pushing buttons - both electronic and human. With an insatiable need for tech I thought "why not start a blog focusing on technology, and use my dislikes and likes to post on gadgets."


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