Samsung Gear Live smartwatch review

Samsung Gear Live: UK price, value, compatibility

The Samsung Gear Live retails in the UK from £169.99 inc VAT. That makes it a little cheaper than rival smartwatches such as the Moto 360 and the LG G Watch R. But is the Gear Live good value? Read our Samsung Gear Live review to find out.

The Samsung Gear Live is compatible with smartphones running Android 4.3 or later. Note: only phones, and not tablets. Pairing is a simple affair - you install Android Wear on your smartphone and it guides you through the rest of the process. We had some problems but only becuase our test Gear Live was paired with another phone in the vicinity and we had to tell it to forget the previous phone. See also: Best smartwatches and wearable tech of 2014 and 2015.

Samsung Gear Live: design, build, display

The most important aspect of any wearable is just how wearable it is. In our view the Samsung Gear Live is perfectly comfortable enough - although very masculine in look. We wore it for several days without feeling discomfort. It's a chunky device, but very clean and simple to look at. A wide and curvaceous silver bezel wrapped around a square display that is black when not in use. It is solid, and feels robust. But we measured the Gear Live at 59g, and even for a smartwatch that is light.

What would be a watch's bezel is replaced by a discreet power/home button on the righthand side of the display as you look at it. This is neatly tucked away flush with the body of the watch. Easy to find, but not visually- or physically irritating. (And not really required, given that you can wake the watch with a flick of the display.) Next to the power button is the microphone via which you can say 'Okay Google', and be just like the idiots in the adverts. Or like Star Trek. Your choice may well dictate whether or not you will like the Gear Live.

Around the back of the watch face neither the charger nor the heartrate monitor will cause you any physical discomfort. And we like the way that you can easily swap out the thick black plastic watch straps. Southpaws are fine with the Gear Live. Those who wish to replace the relatively dull Samsung watch straps will be disappointed... and then pleased. (See also: Apple Watch vs Motorola Moto 360 comparison review.)

Samsung Gear Live

On the one hand (pun intended) Samsung itself has very little to offer beyond the black plastic/silver clasp combo with which the Gear Live ships. On the other wrist: you can - in principle - use any 22mm watch strap. That may not be a bad option - whenever we went out running with the Gear Live on, we found the clasp would come undone. Beyond annoying. A purple strap is also available.

The Gear Live's square watch face has a 1.63-inch Super AMOLED display at a 320 x 320 resolution. That gives a pixel density of 278 ppi, which is extremely good. It looks it, too. Bright, vivid, detailed. My only issue with the display is what it does to the battery life - of which more later.

Samsung Gear Live: performance and specs

You get 512MB of RAM and 4GB of non-user-replaceable internal storage. And the Gear Live's processor is a Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 running at 1.2GHz. We were pleasantly surprised with how zippy was Android Wear running on this little beast. The Gear Live lacks nothing in terms of performance, if our user tests are anything to go by.

In terms of other specs there is no camera - fine by us - and the afforementioned heart rate monitor tucked around the back. Other sensors include gyro, compass and accelerometer. The Gear Live pairs via Bluetooth 4.0.

One thing we noted: when compared with our Jawbone UP24, we found that the Gear Live measured far fewer steps for the same activity. On occasion as few as half as many. I've tested a lot of activity trackers, and found the UP24 the most accurate when compared to GPS. To an extent it really doesn't matter - activity tracking is about competing with your own scores, so as long as it is consistent all is fine. Bit weird though. (Even weirder when we note that other reviewers have said the Gear Live tracks way *above* the Jawbone. In short: I don't trust its step measurement. At all.) (See also: LG G Watch R vs Moto 360 comparison.)

Samsung Gear Live: software and features

Just what is the Gear Live for, then? Like any smartwatch the principle benefit of the Gear Live is the way it extends your smartphone. It shows alerts from apps installed on your Android smartphone, alerting you to incoming messages, news events, and diary items.

It's also a full-featured activity tracker. Water- and dustproof, the Gear Live tracks your activity and monitors your health, prompting you to do more. It's also a portable Google device: you are encouraged to 'Okay Google' as you go, and once you get over the awkwardness it is kind of fun to be able to ask the big G semantic questions. You can of course 'Okay Google' to do things such as sending messages or taking notes, but in all honesty we never found this more easy than liberating the old smartphone from a jacket pocket and typing on a touchscreen. This is a criticism of the smartwatch concept rather than the Gear Live. And it may also be a sign of age, in your author.

There are Android Wear apps to install, although again the value is really in extending apps on your smartphone. Google Maps is fun and useful on your wrist. The Android Wear software itself is colourful. Similar to Google Now and the Google Glass UI, it is Android made simple. As such it's reasonably intuitive although we found it occasionally irritating to have to think before we swiped upwards or sideways. Through gritted teeth we have to admit that the voice activiation is actually really good.

Samsung Gear Live

Other features are almost great, but consequently occasionally annoying. The contextually aware intelligent personal assistant attempts to understand your movements and relationships in order to volunteer you information as you need it. This is useful in that you always have a weather forecast to hand, and I can't blame the Gear Live for not knowing that I was hiding from the 49ers score so I could watch the game as live. It's pretty impressive that it knew I cared.

I used the Gear Live for only a week or so, and in that time it gleaned an impressive amount of information about me and my movements, and then used it to present me with contextually aware info.

Samsung Gear Live: battery life and charging

It was at this point that we really fell out with the Gear Live. I think everyone understands that the additional benefits of a smartwatch over a dumbwatch will cost you in terms of having to charge it every day or so. In the case of the Gear Live, we needed to charge it every day. Every. Single. Day. Even when we consciously didn't use the watch as much as we might like, we still got to the end of the day requiring a recharge.

The 300mAh battery is simply too small. Smaller than that of the LG G Watch, for a start. We eeked out a little more battery life by dimming the display, but then we found it difficult to read text off of the Gear Live under even strip lighting. Which negates the whole point of a smartwatch.

And charging is in itself a bit of a faff. Not for the Gear Live the acceptable compromise of popping your smartwatch on to a stylish, bedside wireless charging cradle. This device comes with an ugly and clunky, thin plastic claw that wraps around the Gear Live and charges via a spindly USB charger. We didn't like it aesthetically, aside from anything else.

That may not be important, but battery life is. And right now the poor battery life would prevent me shelling our for a Gear Live. (See all Smartwatch reviews.)

Samsung Gear Live: Specs

  • 1.63-inch Super AMOLED display at a 320 x 320 resolution
  • IP67 Certified Dust and Water Resistant
  • Accelerometer, Gyroscope, Heart Rate Sensor
  • 512MB of RAM and 4GB of non-user-replaceable internal storage
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 running at 1.2GHz
  • Bluetooth 4.0 LE
  • requires Android 4.3 or later smartphone
  • 59g
  • Android Wear
  • 300mAh battery
  • 1.63-inch Super AMOLED display at a 320 x 320 resolution
  • IP67 Certified Dust and Water Resistant
  • Accelerometer, Gyroscope, Heart Rate Sensor
  • 512MB of RAM and 4GB of non-user-replaceable internal storage
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 running at 1.2GHz
  • Bluetooth 4.0 LE
  • requires Android 4.3 or later smartphone
  • 59g
  • Android Wear
  • 300mAh battery

OUR VERDICT

I don't want to be hard on the Gear Live because it is a decent smartwatch at a reasonable price. It's well built and most comfortable, albeit I could live with a better watch strap. But, ultimately, I wouldn't buy the Gear Live, principally because I wouldn't want any smartwatch at this stage of their development. I'm just not sure it offers me much over a normal watch, and I can't be bothered nursing the battery life of yet another device for relatively low returns.