We review Samsung’s Gear Live, its first foray into the wonderful world of Android Wear, although the hardware feels strangely familiar…
If you have even the tiniest interest in smartwatches, you’ll probably notice that the Gear Live looks suspiciously similar to the Gear 2 which emerged earlier this year. Indeed, the Gear 2 wasn’t a massive departure from the original Gear, so it’s pretty clear that Samsung is sticking with a design it feels works.
And to be fair, the Gear Live is one of the better-looking smartwatches around. The metallic frame certainly feels more premium than the likes of Motorola’s Moto 360, which was disappointingly plasticky when we strapped it on. The Gear Live is relatively slender as far as wrist wearables go and it’s not intrusively heavy either – you’d probably forget you had it strapped on if the thing wasn’t buzzing to notify you of stuff. It’s also water and dust resistant, as you’d expect, although I wouldn’t recommend wearing it when you go surfing.
At first, I was a little concerned that the strap wasn’t too secure, with the dual pins popping rather softly into the notches. I honestly thought the Gear Live would fly off my wrist at an extremely opportune moment, such as elbowing my way onto a packed tube or administering a disciplinary slap to the Recombu office intern. But for all of my frantic wrist actions, the watch refused to let go of my arm. Fair play, Samsung.
You can also swap the band for another of your choosing if you want to refresh the overall look.
The 1.63-inch Super AMOLED screen hasn’t changed at all from the Gear 2, and that’s no bother. It’s still perfectly crisp, as well as pleasingly vibrant. The display is also eye-penetratingly bright; you can easily use the watch to light your way when you’re stumbling home late at night, and thankfully you can also adjust the brightness in the watch settings if you want to dim it down a bit.
Android Wear and usability
Thankfully Samsung has ditched the rather iffy Tizen OS and gone with Google’s Android Wear OS, also found on the LG G Watch and Moto 360. Android Wear is still very much in its baby stages, with a few odd quirks here and there, but it’s still more than usable and will only get better. There’s now plenty of app support too, including the likes of Maps, Glympse and Tinder, with more being added every week.
The Gear Live is always-on by default, which means you’ll see the time when you glance at your wrist – always a handy feature for a watch, we find. However, you sadly can’t then wake the watch with a quick ‘OK, Google’ to get straight into voice command – you’ll need to double-wake it with a tap of the side-button first, or by jerking your arm in a certain fashion. Once the watch is fully awake, you can then finally issue voice commands or simply swipe around the interface to see your Google Now cards.
As usual, you can set exactly what notifications you see, with the likes of text messages, calls, instant messages and alarms buzzing through to your wrist. You can archive or even reply to messages by speaking your response, but be careful as the watch seems determined to send whatever it thinks you first said, even if it’s complete gibberish. We tried hitting ‘cancel’ on more than one occasion, only for our nonsensical mutterings to be fired out regardless. Potentially very dangerous indeed.
You can’t answer calls on the Gear Live like you can on the Sony SmartBand Talk, or previous Gears, but you can reject them and even respond with a pre-set message like ‘bugger off and leave me alone’ (or perhaps something a little less rude) with just a quick tap of the screen.
Samsung has ditched the camera entirely from the Gear Live, which we’re not the least bit gutted about – we didn’t manage to come up with a single real use for the Gear 2’s miniature lens, except for snapping randoms on the tube without them realising (something that shouldn’t really be encouraged).
However, there’s also no infra-red blaster on the Gear Live, which is a bit of a shame. We quite enjoyed fiddling with our IR gadgets using our watch, and since infra-red is usually a Samsung staple, it’s a real shame that it’s missing in action.
As is pretty much standard for modern smartwatches, you also get a built-in pedometer and heart rate monitor. And as usual, they’re about as accurate as they need to be for casual fitness bandwagon jumpers, who want a vague idea of how far they wander each day. Of course, if you’re serious about your health and training, you’d be better served by proper fitness trackers such as the Jawbone UP 24.
As always, the main disappointment with smartwatches and wearables in general is the rubbish battery life, which means you’ll be charging up two devices at night rather than just the one. The Gear Live will make it through the day if you’re not constantly fiddling with it, but only with about 20% power remaining, so you’ll definitely want to charge it every time you hit the sack.
And of course, like the Gear 2 before it, you can’t just plug a USB cable straight into the Gear Live watch. No, first you have to find and attach the fiddly little bundled dock to the watch, and then plug the cable into that. Not a massive deal, unless the Gear Live dies at work and your dock is at home, or you forget to pack the bloody thing when you head off on holiday.
Samsung’s Gear Live is one of the better-looking smartwatches out there, with a premium and sleek design, and it’s good to see Samsung embrace Android Wear instead of stubbornly sticking with Tizen.
Of course, you’ll have to endure the usual wearable quirks including poor battery life and an irritating charging dock, and the Gear Live loses the IR blaster found on the Gear 2, so you can no longer control your telly and other infra-red goodies.
All in all, if you’re after a slick-looking wearable that’s well supported by its software, and can live with the irritation of constant charging via a fiddly dock, then the Gear Live does its job. Bear in mind that the Sony SmartWatch 3 and Asus Zenwatch are due to hit UK stores soon, however, which look to be serious Gear rivals…