With the Galaxy Gear smartwatch, Samsung has made their foray into the wearable tech sector. With competition looming on the horizon, Samsung also has a pretty strong contingency of incumbent watches to deal with. The Pebble and Sony offerings are far and away the clear competition right now, as Motorola has all but abandoned the MotoACTV.
We’ll compare the three — Galaxy Gear, Pebble, and Sony Smartwatch — in a few key areas. At first glance, they all seem pretty much the same, but once you dive into the nuance, they become three very distinct choices.
The Galaxy Gear has a gorgeous display, and is the largest of the three. The 1.63-inch Super AMOLED is easily the most vibrant, as well. With 278 PPI packed into the 320 x 320 resolution watch, the screen here is far and away the best.
Pebble has their very curious e-paper display, which is a polarizing decision. Though it does mitigate battery drain, it’s not as pretty to look at when compared to the other two we’re discussing. At 144 x 168, it has an elongated design as well. Though it does look the best of the three when off, that’s really not what you want from a smartwatch screen.
Sony is maybe best known for their displays, and their Smartwatch doesn’t disappoint. While not quite as vibrant or large as the Samsung Gear, the 1.6-inch, 220 x 176 display leaves almost nothing to be desired.
Though the size of the battery is probably a moot argument for smartwatches, the life extracted from them isn’t. Perhaps more than a smartphone, you want your watch to last all day. Trying to find an outlet for your phone is headache enough, but doing so for your smartwatch? No — just, no.
Samsung tells us the Gear will get a full 24 hours under “normal use”, but they also note that testing is ongoing. They did let it slip that with more rigorous use, the battery life would be compromised. For the sake of argument, we’ll say somewhere around 20 hours is fair for the average consumer.
Battery life is where the Pebble comes in strong, as that e-paper display starts to prove its merit. The Pebble homepage notes a full week of charge, and that’s no exaggeration.
The Sony Smartwatch clocks in at around 4 days of life with normal use, which isn’t bad at all. While the full week of the Pebble is ideal, the single day (at best) of the Gear is unacceptable for many. Sony, once again, sits right in the middle of the frey.
This is where it gets really interesting. The Gear is very much a Samsung device, and remains hamstrung by the limitations placed on it. It only works with the Note 3 (for now), and seems to be closely tied into their ecosystem. We doubt it will ever work with anything but a Samsung device, and though it has 70 apps available at launch, you’re still tethered to one device for everything you need.
Sony has a more generous spirit here, as their Smartwatch will work on any Android device, and has about 200 apps available. Sony has updated the software for the watch a few times, giving us confidence they haven’t abandoned the concept like Motorola has.
Pebble, however, wins big points in a small way with their ecosystem. In a strange way, an argument can be made that they don’t have one. It uses the cult hit iftt, but can also be modified by tinkering with the code. It’s open source in an extreme way, which is nice — but not for everyone. The average consumer won’t have a clue how to do any of that, so Pebble will have to rely on their app to do the work for many of us. It’s a nice enough app, and the welcoming open source nature means the possibilities are nearly endless.
So, which is the best?
If we’re comparing the three on specs alone, the Galaxy Gear would have a strong showing for it’s gorgeous design and display. The poor battery life really makes us think twice, as does the very restrictive nature of the ecosystem. For all intents, the Gear is just a notification system for the Note 3. It has things like a camera, but that’s gimmicky.
The Pebble is probably the most confused — and confusing — of the three. It has a terrible display, comparatively, but is a dream come true for tinkerers. It’s probably adequate for the average consumer, but if someone were to get serious about smartwatches, this may not be their choice. While Pebble has a lot going for it, they’re just being outclassed by everyone else.
The Sony falls into the middle of the road just about every time, which is probably why it is discussed so little. Of the three, the Sony Smartwatch is the best all-around choice. It can be used with any Android device, has a pretty robust ecosystem, and will last a few days on a charge. You’ll get more from one or two areas with other smartwatches, but the Sony ties it all in very nicely.