Samsung Gear Live review

July 30, 2014
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The Bottom Line

An excellent debut that early adopters will love

PROS
  • Great display
  • Comfortable
CONS
  • Battery life
  • Slower to charge than LG G Watch
7.5
With it’s bold, bright and beautiful display and fast performance, Samsung has created a very good first generation Android Wear smartwatch, but it’s battery life leaves a bit to be desired for hardcore users.

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While we were all expecting the LG G Watch to be showcased at this year’s Google I/O, following the announcement of Android Wear a few months earlier, a surprise somewhat was the release of the Samsung Gear Live. With rumours about the device surfacing just a few days before the event, it was great to Samsung’s take on Android Wear show up.

While this is Samsung’s first Android Wear smartwatch, the company has been in the smartwatch game for a while now, albeit with varying degrees of success. As such, the latest release features a lot of similarities to previous iterations in terms of look and design, with of course, a completely different software experience. We’ve already seen the LG G Watch in action, and we now dive into Samsung’s take on Android Wear. Here’s our comprehensive review of the Samsung Gear Live!

Design

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Indicated by the word “Gear” in its name, the Samsung Gear Live features a similar design language to the company’s current crop of smartwatch offerings, the Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo.

The watch face looks quite bold, featuring a metallic lining around a large bezel that houses the screen. Curves at the top and bottom makes it feel like the screen is almost rising up to meet your taps and presses. On the side is the lone button, that can be used to wake the device, or access the Settings menu, by pressing and holding it. Moving to the back shows off the curve of the device, which is very unlike the flat back of the G Watch, allowing for it to more or less contour to your wrist. Found on the back are the charging pins and the heart rate monitor.

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While you might be used to more flat and malleable watch bands with other devices, The Gear Live has one that is perpetually curved, but is luckily easy to put on. The watch band comes with a couple of pins, that fit securely into holes, reminiscent of the Gear Fit. Replacing the watch band might be a little difficult because of this rigidity, but there is information on how to do so becoming increasingly available. Despite the somewhat rigid flair of the Gear Live, it sits very nicely on the wrist, and is actually really comfortable to wear.

Display

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Considering the Gear Live is a Samsung product, it’s no surprise that it features an AMOLED display, which is 1.63-inch diagonally, with a resolution of 320 x 320.

You get a display experience that is very pleasing, with the AMOLED colours making contrast the forte of this screen. A resolution that is higher than what you’d get with the G Watch allows for a bit more sharpness all around, easily noticeable when looking at the icons or notification cards. Touch sensitivity is as good as you’d hope it would be, with no issues in tapping or swiping whatsoever. As was the problem with the G Watch, daylight viewing is problematic, but moving away from the direct rays of the sun brings serviceable vision.

Overall, the display of the Samsung Gear Live is definitely enjoyable, almost feeling like Samsung knew the perfect combination of specs and size needed for the brand new ecosystem.

Performance and Hardware

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Coming with a Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 processor, clocked at 1.2 GHz, and 512 MB of RAM, I has no issues with regards to performance. It has to be mentioned that at its core, Android Wear is not particularly processor intensive, and therefore manages to maintain a good speed throughout. Even with the numerous Android Wear applications that I’ve installed, I haven’t noticed any issues with getting notifications, running specific applications, or even playing games.

The processing package has to also run a couple of different things as well, the first of which is the heart rate monitor. Ever since I reviewed the Samsung Galaxy S5, the Gear 2 smartwatch, and the Gear Fit, I have a set opinion on the functionality of the HRM, and unfortunately, that opinion hasn’t changed with the Gear Live. Aside from the Gear Fit, the Heart Rate Monitor isn’t typically made for serious fitness enthusiasts, and the Gear Live is no exception. I did use it a few times for the sake of novelty, but unless Google Fit comes with a coaching feature to continuously monitor the heart rate, it’s a feature that has little to add to the Android Wear experience.

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The 300 mAh battery of the Gear Live is a little smaller than the unit of the LG G Watch, and unfortunately, its real world performance reflects that. I struggled to get two days of juice out of the battery, even after muting notifications when needed, and letting the screen go completely off when idle. The charging time doesn’t do much justice either, as it take 2 hours to fully charge.

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When it comes to charging, we also have to make a special note about the charging module. Not only is it a small piece of plastic, that can be misplaced easily, but it has to be snapped into the back of the device precisely, making the whole charging process a bit of a chore. Of course, there is also the issue of the charging module breaking, as has been reported by a number of users. The overall battery and charging experience puts a dampener on what is otherwise a good smartwatch.

Software

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When it comes to software, we once again find Android Wear. Since no OEM skins are allowed, the experience is essentially the same as what you get with the LG G Watch. We’ve covered the software experience in depth in that review, so here is just an overview.

Editor’s Note – While the following videos are of the LG G Watch, both use an identical operating system, and this video offers a more detailed look at the Android Wear OS itself and the functionality it brings.

Android Wear is a great way of getting your notifications, and in most cases, manipulating them without having to take out your phone. There are some fundamental issues, like not being able to get back notification cards that you’ve dismissed, but it gets the job done for the most part.

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Voice recognition works very well, and I rarely found myself needing to repeat an instruction to the watch. Voice recognition works smoothly not only with Android Wear commands, but also if you need to dictate notes and messages.

Adding applications is what will make Android Wear grow, and we’ve seen a lot of great additions already, with the number compatible applications increasing on a daily basis.

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Some might even go as far as to say that Android Wear and the devices that power it is everything that the Pebble should have been. That being said, Pebble’s OS does have the battery life that many users will appreciate, but it lacks the color screen, the voice control, and so much more. Google has done right in ensuring that Android Wear manufacturers wont be able to ‘skin’ the OS itself. As an ‘open’ platform. Google has already shown us that this approach has proven to be highly successful for Android, and it’s likely to show us the same with Android Wear.

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Whether its using the Gear Live as a notifier of phone events such as receiving SMS texts or reading incoming emails, or as a remote music controller, Android Wear is a nifty and pseudo futuristic experience when used in day to day life. People often let their jaw fall when they see you reject an incoming call and speak to the watch to have it send back an SMS letting the person know you’ll get back to them later. It’s this kind of advanced functionality that holds so much promise, and, with Google’s robust and ever improving voice recognition engine at its core, will only improve as time goes on.

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The same goes for the ecosystem itself. The list of apps for Android Wear continues to grow as more and more savvy developers get on board with the new operating system.  Oh, but know that you can’t use an Android Wear with your iPhone, since the paired smartphone must be running Android 4.3 or above. Pity. Or is it? 

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Google’s adherence towards promoting an open platform is its greatest strength. It’s developers are a close second. And, at third is the vast and highly competitive ecosystem of excellent OEM’s like Samsung and LG that are committed to advancing mobile technology in all its forms.  The success of Android Wear is ultimately a byproduct of the software, apps, and the hardware that powers it, and if the Gear Live is any indication, then we’re likely to see things only improve from here.

Get the Gear Live on Amazon

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