The longer you live with a product, the more nuances you notice.
I'm in the midst of living with both the LG G Watch and Samsung Gear Live, the first two Android Wear watches. I've been alternating between the two (and sometimes wearing both at the same time) since getting them at Google's I/O developers' conference last week.
When I first strapped the watches on, I noted that the Samsung model's display looked a bit better to my eyes. And in active use, it does -- but it turns out there's a caveat.
You see, with Android Wear, a watch's display alternates between two states: illuminated, when you've touched the screen or raised your arm to activate the device, and dimmed, which is the default state the display is in whenever it's sitting unused on your wrist. The dimmed mode is a simplified black-and-white version of the watch face designed to save power when the watch isn't actively being used.
Here's what's interesting, though: The G Watch and Gear Live actually handle that dimmed mode quite differently. Take a look for yourself:
That's the Samsung Gear Live at left and G Watch at right. Look closely, and you'll see that the Gear Live's display is noticeably more pared down than the G Watch's. Plain and simple, it has less stuff on it. The G Watch shows light circles around the numbers in the center, dots representing each number on the clock, and lines making up a circular path for the hands to follow. The Gear Live doesn't show any of that; its display has only numbers, hands, and the four dashes representing 12, 3, 6, and 9.
The G Watch actually shows the same thing you see when the display is fully illuminated -- only dimmer and without the colors:
The Gear Live, in contrast, eliminates pixels and cuts out most of the fine detail.
You can see the same effect in some of the other face designs the two devices share:
It's a bit tough to pick up on in these photos, but the elements on the Gear Live's dimmed display -- the numbers, the watch hands, and so forth -- also look more jagged than they do on the G Watch's screen. To be fair, it's not something you always notice from normal viewing distances, but it is easy to spot when you look closely at the displays.
You can get a better idea of how the transition from illuminated to dimmed works in this video (though you may need to take it full-screen in order to pick up on the fine detail):
As you can see, the Gear Live starts out with the full set of visual elements when it first goes dim. A second later, those elements vanish as it moves into its pared-down version of the watch face. The elements on the Gear Live's display also sometimes shift a bit as they're transitioning between illuminated and dimmed, creating a visible jump instead of a seamless fade effect.
The G Watch, meanwhile, smoothly fades between the two states and leaves all of the primary visual elements intact.
So in short, while the display on Samsung's watch looks a bit better when illuminated, it looks noticeably worse when dimmed -- a view you'll see anytime the watch is sitting idly on your wrist.
This race is shaping up to be a lot closer than it initially appeared. I'll be continuing to live with both watches for the next several days as I develop my impressions of both the hardware and Android Wear itself; stay tuned for my full real-world reviews.
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