- Durable build quality
- Display decent in standard light
- Comfortable to wear
- Near impossible to see in bright sun
- No light sensor for automatic display brightness adjustments
- Heart rate sensor near useless
Quick TakeThe Samsung Gear Live is a decent piece of hardware with a significant flaw: it can be impossible to see in bright sunlight.
It’s tempting to pity the wearables makers, tasked with crafting not only serviceable, but also fashionable hardware, in an unproven market. Yes, one could pity the initial batch of Android Wear hardware partners: LG, Samsung, and Motorola. Certainly their Android smartphone experiences suggest they are up to the former, but the latter is undeniably a challenge. Look no further than Samung’s tacky faux-leather Galaxy casing, or Motorola’s garish and severe Droid branding for proof.
Yes, it would be tempting to pity them if their smartwatches didn’t cost a few hundred dollars a pop at launch for what many view as a superfluous class of device. We are talking real money in an immature market that could just as easily be punchline this time next year. At the very least, these wearables have to show potential. Samsung, LG, and Motorola have to make a case for the smartwatch.
The good news for Android Wear hardware is that Google’s software shows considerable potential. As I stated in the Android Wear review, “Android Wear has more promise than those [rival wearable makers’] efforts because Google has a clear vision of what it wants Android Wear to offer: concise and useful information for the user, pushed out to the user, when the user needs to see it, all available at a glance.”
So what about the hardware? Let’s take a look at one high-profile offering, the Samsung Gear Live.
Build and Design
It seems Samsung had a surplus of Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo hardware lying around because the Gear Live is virtually indistinguishable from them. It’s a rectangular watch face with a 1.63-inch display, relatively thick top and bottom bezels, a polished metal frame, and removable rubber straps. Unlike the Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo, the Gear live watch face is buttonless, and unlike the Gear 2, lacks a camera.
The underside of the watch face includes five charging receptacles and a heart-rate sensor. The sides have a small button to launch the settings menu that also serves to dim/wake up the display, a microphone, and notches for securing the charger adapter.
The straps have a metallic clasp with two prongs, which do a decent job of comfortably and snuggly securing the Gear Live to the wrist. At first, pushing the prongs through the strap holes is difficult, but with a bit of practice the Gear Live becomes exceptionally easy to both affix and remove. The watch is also relatively light. The removable watch element measures 0.5 x 1.5 x 2.6 inches and weighs just 2.1 ounces.
Google claims the Gear Live is IP67 water and dust resistant, meaning “you can keep it on when you wash your hands, take a shower, or do the gardening.” However, it’s probably best to take it off when swimming.
In testing, I kept it on while running and biking, and more than once in the rain. The watch resisted the raindrops and sweat accumulation; and as disgusting as the sweaty Gear Live would appear after a multi-mile run in the hot July sun, a quick wipe was sufficiently for cleaning it. The smartwatch still appears as new as it did out of the box.
The Samsung Gear Live will never be confused for a standard watch, but it does have a minimilstic and geeky aesthetic that makes it more visually appealing than other smartwatches on the market. Removable bands are a minor plus, but it’s hard to imagine alternatives providing anything of use beyond splashy new colors, designs, or materials. As of this writing, the Gear Live is available with black or “wine red” straps.
The Samsung Gear Live ships with a pronged charging adapter and a microUSB “travel adapter.”
The 1.63-inch Super AMOLED display is both the figurative and literal center of the Gear Live. It sports a 320×320 resolution for a respectable 278 pixels per inch. The sharp contrast between white and black pixels inherent with AMOLED technology serves the watch well, especially given the limited display real estate. Those used to the 5-inch behemoths that pass for Android smartphones these days will be surprised at how much info can fit on a tiny display.
That is, until they take it outside. Glare absolutely kills the Gear Live. At the brightest settings, dark text on a white background is just barely visible in direct overhead sunlight. Fingerprint smudges make the problem worse, and setting less than max brightness renders the Gear Live unreadable.
This is a near crippling problem because there is no ambient light sensor on the Gear Live. Unlike most every smartphone sold since 2010, the display won’t automatically adjust to the lighting conditions. The display brightness can be manually adjusted a number of ways, and some third-party apps simplify the process, but try doing that on an unreadable display.
Compounding matters, the settings screen is dark with white lettering, making it impossible to read regardless of brightness.
Given that Android Wear is built for voice navigation, one would think Android Wear would support commands for verbally upping the brightness. As of this writing it does not, and that’s really frustrating.
Touch navigation is mostly hit, although I experienced some missed swipes and taps. This happened most frequently after running, caused by a sweaty watch and sweaty fingers. Although other times, the Gear Live ignored swipes and taps in perfectly normal conditions. In fairness, this could be related to the immature Android Wear operating system.
The aforementioned voice navigation is also mostly hit, with limits similar to those that affect smartphone voice features, like noisy rooms and uncommon words or phrases.