Look and feelWe’re all worried about the size and overall look of these new smartwatches, aren’t we? I can’t deny it’s the physical size that would put me off or make me too self conscious to wear one in public. Even though the Samsung Gear Live runs Google’s new ‘Android Wear’ operating system it’s just about the same watch, physically, as the Samsung Galaxy Gear that precedes it. It’s for that reason that I was a little worried about how it would look and how big it would be on the wrist. When I first opened the box, though, I was pleasantly surprised. It does not look too big or bulky. Fair enough, the footprint is larger than your average watch but it is quite thin. It sits on the wrist nice and snugly thanks to the wrap-around strap. Also, the curved moulding at the side, where the steel abuts the plastic back, adds to the sleek look. At just 8.9mm thick it is actually thinner than many ‘normal’ wrist watches. So, no need to worry about the thickness of it, just whether the footprint (37.9 x 56.4 mm) will look too big on your wrist. In terms of comfort, it is very light at just 59g and you hardly notice you’re wearing it. The strap has come under fire in some reviews because of the two pin fastener system. In reality I have found it to be secure on the wrist and looks very nice too. If you’re worried about it coming undone you can easily swap it for any standard 22mm watch strap although the pictures I’ve seen suggest you need to source a strap that flares out at the point where the spring pin fits otherwise you can see an ugly edge. I am waiting for confirmation from someone that the replacement straps for the Galaxy Gear will fit the Gear Live because there are some really nice ones for sale like these on ebay. Please let me know if you’ve tested one. So, overall, I am happy with the look and feel and in fact, it has only ever elicited two comments (both positive) so it can’t be a very noticeable or intrusive timepiece.
Watch facesWhilst on the subject of the look and feel maybe the most important thing to mention is the watch face. It’s worth remembering that the watch face can be changed, as often as you like with as many different faces as you like. Despite Google having not yet released the SDK for developers to create new designs there are already many third party faces available to download. These are downloaded from the playstore on your mobile phone, just like any other app, and are automatically synced across to the watch. You long-press the watch face to bring up a selection of all the watch faces available to you. To be honest most are not very attractive and there seems to be an abundance of unusual watch faces that don’t really look like watch faces. You’ll appreciate what I mean if you’ve looked through them. The analogue style faces tend to look pretty good when active but quite horrible when dimmed. The black and white, low detail versions of the dimmed analogue faces don’t do anything to promote the look of these smartwatches. A selection of watch faces showing the on mode and dimmed mode
One notable exception to this is the “Wear Face Collection by vuxia” that offers quite a few really nice looking watch faces and the option to choose the level of detail on the dimmed screen. This proves that it is possible to have colours other than white on the dimmed screen and this should save some battery (although only on AMOLED displays like the Samsung Gear Live).
The “Wear Face Collection” shows what can be done with the dimmed screenHowever, the digital faces are totally different and look great even when dimmed. My favourite looking one is the ‘Weather Wear Watchface‘ by Pizza Entertainment but, like most of the available watch faces, it looks a mess when the watch is showing a notification because it is just overlaid on top of the screen info. There needs to be a way for developers to hide the information underneath a notification. This is not a fault of the third party developers because the built-in ones are just the same.
DisplayThe display of the Samsung Gear Live is a 320×320 pixels sAMOLED which, some say, is unreadable in sunlight. I have found that it is always readable as long as the display is set to full brightness. Understandably, you cannot see the dimmed screen in bright sunlight. Actually, for me, it is more of an annoyance that it is too bright in a dark room. In the cinema it can shine out like a beacon if you don’t lower the brightness and/or disable the always-on setting. I would like to see the brightness setting go lower than it currently can, perhaps with green or red pixels. I’m sure that would reduce battery consumption since white graphics illuminate all three RGB pixels. The resolution is perfectly suitable for the size of the screen so jagged edges are just about absent. I have also found that the display has an intermediate stage inbetween on and dimmed. The Samsung Gear Live will turn on if you touch the screen or lift your wrist to your face and this action is usually reliable. The display will then switch back to dimmed mode after about six seconds and there is no way to adjust that time period. The intermediate mode isn’t visible on all watch faces and only lasts for a few seconds (except when plugged in when it seems to remain in that state all the time) but it looks like a greyscale version of the full colour display with anti-aliased characters. You can see the display switch into that mode briefly before it goes fully dimmed i.e. absolutely black and white. Rather perversely, the display looks brighter when in fully dimmed mode than it does in the intermediate mode.
Making calls, sending textsAndroid Wear has come under some criticism for not allowing you to use your watch as a phone. The Samsung Gear Live nor the LG G Watch have a built-in speaker, therefore you cannot use it to hold a conversation like you can with some other smartwatches. The making of phone calls is not part of Google’s plans for Android Wear and that is just fine by me. I do not wish to hold a conversation by talking into my watch. That’s just my opinion – others disagree. However, if you have your phone connected to a bluetooth handsfree kit, like in your car for instance, it does actually make for quite a slick system. If you’re driving you can initiate a call on the smartwatch by saying, “OK, Google – call home” and your phone will place the call and transfer the audio through the handsfree kit. You will need to end the call on the phone or the handsfree kit though as there is no option on the watch for terminating a call. If you receive an incoming call you accept it on the watch thus transferring the audio through the handsfree kit in the same way. You can also reject the call from the watch either absolutely or by sending a canned response text message. Text messages are also super convenient to send, you just need to say, “OK Google, text John, I will be there in five”. Voice recognition is pretty reliable and you have about three seconds to hit ‘cancel’ if it’s got it wrong. You then need to start again because you can’t edit the message although sometimes, “No, I said xxxx” works. Providing your text messaging app supports Android Wear you will be able to reply to text messages by swiping to the right and choosing, ‘reply to’. This is all really convenient and you will soon find it a chore to have to get out your phone to check notifications.
AppsYou could argue that the existence of plentiful, quality apps (or lack thereof) will be the make or break of any new smartwatch platform. On this subject Android Wear is doing very well and will only get better. I’m unclear on whether Google want to encourage developers to create apps that run directly on the smartwatch. Most .apk files simply force close when run. However, Samsung and Google have pre-loaded a number of apps onto the watch, these being – compass, step counter, heart rate monitor, a stopwatch and a timer. Despite Google’s wishes to keep manufacturers from adding their own embellishments to Android Wear devices (in an attempt to prevent the fragmentation that is rife on Android smartphones) Samsung have nevertheless managed to load a few of their own apps onto the Samsung Gear Live. These are their own heart rate monitor and, for some reason, their own stopwatch. Check here for a list of third party apps, currently reported as 250+. The numbers will rise and rise as Android Wear becomes more popular.
ConclusionI have been wearing the Samsung Gear Live as my daily watch for over a month now and I have no intention to change. My Tissot T-Touch titanium is due back any day from having its battery replaced (£85 – ouch!) and it will end up in the drawer for the foreseeable future. Even without the extra functions offered by Android Wear the Gear Live is still a nice timepiece. It still works as a wristwatch when out of range of your phone. I like the information available to me all the time on the always-on display and I like being able to switch watch faces as and when I like – and there are already tons and tons available. I like being able to quickly set a timer by just saying, “set a timer for ten minutes”. I like being given timely information about traffic jams when I am unlikely to have purposefully checked Google Now on my phone. I like seeing emails and texts without having to get out my phone from wherever it is. When something pops into my mind that I must remember to do later it is such a help to simply say, “OK Google, remind me when I get home to ring the bank”. A couple of nights ago I found myself trying to unlock a padlock in the dark. A quick flick of the wrist and the watch provided enough light to show me the keyhole. It’s helpful little things like these that make you realise how convenient it is to have a smartwatch constantly to hand. Sure, there are shortcomings:
- there really should be an ambient light sensor so you don’t have to keep adjusting the brightness
- the battery should last longer
- it could be a bit smaller
- you shouldn’t have to rely solely on voice control