First Look: Kudos to the Samsung Gear Live smart watch

It uses Google's new Android Wear OS, and doesn't require a Samsung phone

Published: August 08, 2014 02:45 PM

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In July, Google introduced Android Wear, a new operating system for wearable tech devices. The LG G Watch was the first Android Wear smart watch we tried, and we were impressed with Google’s approach. The Samsung Gear Live, which also runs on Android Wear, arrived at our office last week. We've been using the Gear Live for a few days, and it has bolstered our positive opinion of the new OS.

And here's a welcome change for Samsung: The Gear Live is the first of the company’s smart watches to be compatible with any Android phone running Android version 4.3 or higher; Samsung's other Gear models can only be paired with specific Samsung phones.

What we liked

One of the promises of Android Wear is that establishing a common platform for wearables will let developers create apps for a wide range of devices, not just one or a few—so the app library has the potential to grow rapidly. Right now, there are more than 40 Android Wear apps in the Play Store, including ones from big names such as Pinterest, Trulia, and American Airlines.

Android Wear also brings Google Now to the wrist. The Siri-like "intelligent personal assistant" is a natural fit for smart watches. Google Now pushes a series of "cards" to the watch's display with information it deems relevant. For example, a card may tell you how many minutes it will take to get home or to an appointment from your current location. You can tap the card to see traffic and navigation information.

You can also say “OK, Google” to launch a voice-navigated Web search—“What’s the capital of Tanzania?”—or to send a text, check your heart rate, or see how many steps you’ve taken that day. And you’ll see reminders and get alerts for incoming e-mails, texts, and phone calls.

Thinking of trying a smart watch? Check our lab-test reviews of current smart watches.

Since the Gear Live runs on Android Wear and not on Samsung's proprietary Tizen OS, which the last batch of three Samsung Gear watches used, you can choose Android Wear apps for the Gear Live directly from Google’s Play Store. 

Setup and pairing (we used a Samsung Galaxy Note 3 smart phone) were seamless, as they were with the LG G watch.

Compared with the LG G Watch, we prefer the style and fit of the Gear Live. One nice detail: The watch body is slightly curved, which made it more comfortable, at least on our wrists. The Gear Live also has a heart-rate monitor, which the G Watch lacks.

What we didn’t like

The wristband on the Samsung Gear 2 was hard to close. The Gear Live improves on the design, but it's still not as convenient at the G Watch's simple prong-and-frame mechanism.

This won’t be an issue for every buyer, but the Gear Live lacks a built-in camera for capturing stills and video, which the previous-generation Samsung Gear 2 does have.

Finally, the 1.63-inch Super AMOLED screen, while vivid and crisp, fades out in bright light.

Bottom line

The $200 Samsung Gear Live lacks several of the abundant features offered by the $300 Gear 2. But its useful and intuitive Android Wear OS and the wider range of compatible phones are two big pluses for the Gear Live. Compared with the only other Android Wear watch to ship thus far, the $230 LG G Watch, we give a slight edge to the Gear Live for its more attractive design.

—Carol Mangis

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