Unboxing and Review of the Samsung Gear Live Smart Watch

gear_live

We all know I love tech watches. I started with calculator watches, then moved to the Sony SmartWatch, then the Pebble.

too many watches

Now I’ve recently received my pre-order of the Samsung Gear Live. Unboxing and first impressions below…

The Unboxing

The Facts

On first impression, the watch has a nice premium feel. The tapered metal bezel looks great against my wrist. The rubber of the band feels good, though not as supple as the band of my Pebble. I was a little worried about the band’s clasp (or lack thereof), but it feels secure enough, and the band is user-replaceable.

The watch paired easily with my Samsung Galaxy S4. After installing the Android Wear app, I was able to play with the notifications and watch faces and see my normal stack of Google Now cards on my wrist. Here are a couple random shots of the screen (the vivid color doesn’t really come through on these).

watchface

weather

speaknow

With relative ease, I was able to test out the integrated Google Now voice control, the pedometer app, and even the integrated heart rate sensor.

The Verdict

First, the good. Great build quality, easy pairing, vivid screen, and butter-smooth UI. Most of the built-in functionality works as you’d expect it to. The display automagically turns on when you do a “looking at your watch” motion. Covering the device with your palm in order to turn it off is intuitive and easy. The voice recognition seems to work pretty well, especially for short text messages. I also found it fun and useful to use it as a calculator. “OK Google, what’s 1591 times 3047?” to which the watch would reply “4,847,777” and my wife would reply “I’m going to choke you if you keep talking to your damn watch during dinner.”

Next the mediocre. There’s a severe lack of apps at the moment. The built-in functionality comprises about 90% of what the watch can do. Probably the most interesting app integration available right now is IFTTT, which lets you trigger your IFTTT rules with the push of a button on the watch. Also, if you’re asking what it’s like to have Google Now cards on your wrist, the answer is an enthusiastic, “It’s kinda OK!” It seemed more like clutter than useful information. But to be fair, I’ve only used it for a few evening hours, during which there hasn’t been much news of which to notify me. Maybe it’s one of those things that will work better on an everyday basis. The battery life also falls into the mediocre category, with me being able to drain the device from 100% to ~40% in just a couple hours of (admittedly heavy) use. The pedometer seems OK, but does not correlate well with my FitBit.

Finally, while there’s nothing I would categorize as outright awful, there are definitely some usability problems with Android Wear. Several times I’ve pressed a UI element only to have it apparently do nothing. I later found that many of these actions silently open up an app on my phone. Another aggravation is that the Google search from the watch does not always appear to use the Google Knowledge Graph results. For instance, searching for “who won the 1995 World Series?” returns “The Atlanta Braves,” but searching for “who was the 3rd president?” returns a list of webpages about Thomas Jefferson, which must be opened on your phone. Also, the heart rate sensor is total crap – it only seems to get a reading about once out of every three attempts, and even then only if you’re perfectly still.

So the big question – is it a game changer? I’m going to go out on a limb and say… maybe. In its current incarnation, definitely not. But the potential is there. The worst of the issues (minus the heart rate sensor) seem like software problems. The usability and battery life could be improved in future firmware updates. The app ecosystem will likely fill out, and Google Now will only get smarter with time.

I’ll keep wearing mine and hoping. At least until the consumer launch of Google Glass.

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