In depth: Getting to know the LG G Watch and Samsung Gear Live

All right, so we've talked about the Android Wear software experience -- now let's tackle the hardware.

LG G Watch, Samsung Gear Live

You've got two options for Android Wear watches right now: the LG G Watch, priced at $229, and the Samsung Gear Live, available for $199. (The Moto 360 will be launching later this summer, so hands-on time with it has been very limited so far.)

I've been wearing both the G Watch and Gear Live all day (often literally -- see the photo) to get to know the hardware and learn what each is actually like to use. I'll be doing more detailed reviews after I've spent more time with the devices, but for now, some initial impressions:

In terms of form, the G Watch and Gear Live are honestly pretty similar. Neither's exactly what you'd call sleek-looking: They're both a bit on the clunky side, with large rectangular displays that -- I'm not gonna lie -- are a little reminiscent of the Casio calculator watches all the cool kids wore back in the 80s.

Within that framework, though, Samsung's Gear Live strikes me as the nicer-looking watch of the two. It has a silver metallic border surrounding its display and leading up to its band that gives it a little extra pizazz. LG's G Watch, in comparison, is as muted and understated as a watch could be, with no real striking or even distinguishing visual elements in sight -- just a black rectangular screen on a nondescript black base.

LG G Watch vs Samsung Gear Live

(For anyone wondering, by the way, yes: The Gear Live is basically the same hardware as Samsung's Gear 2 watch, only simplified down a bit without the front-facing physical button or the camera.)

The band on the Samsung Gear Live is a black rubbery material that looks like what you'd see on a typical sports watch. Rather than having a standard buckle, though, it has two little nubs that press into holes in order to secure the watch on your wrist. It's not my favorite setup, personally -- I constantly find myself worrying that it's going to pop loose when I'm walking on the street -- but the good news is that you can swap it out for another style if you want.

The LG G Watch's band, which is also interchangeable, has a slightly softer rubbery feel and a more traditional buckle-based setup. It also feels more sporty than elegant, with gray coloring and plastic hardware on the buckle mechanism.

In terms of feel, the two watches are very much in the same league. Somewhat surprisingly, despite their big faces, I don't find either to be particularly uncomfortable to wear (except for when I'm wearing them both on the same wrist -- for obvious reasons). The watches haven't felt at all awkward or burdensome to me, even if they do look a little goofy.

LG G Watch, Samsung Gear Live - Android Wear

At first glance, I'm finding I prefer the display of the Samsung model over the LG. They're almost identical in size -- 1.63-in. on the Samsung vs. 1.65-in. on the LG -- but the Samsung Gear Live utilizes a 320-x-320 Super AMOLED screen while the LG G Watch packs a 280-x-280 LCD display. I'm honestly not sure that the resolution itself makes an enormous difference in a screen of this size, but what I can tell you is that with all factors combined, the Samsung watch tends to look a bit better to my eyes.

[UPDATE: An interesting difference between the LG G Watch and Samsung Gear Live]

Both displays, incidentally, range from difficult to near-impossible to see in bright sunlight. So that's a definite downside to wearing this sort of watch.

Basic stuff aside, I've noticed a significant difference in the watches' sensitivity to gestures. Remember how in my in-depth look at the software side of the experience, I talked about how Android Wear allows you to activate a watch's display simply by raising your wrist? On the Samsung Gear Live, that action takes very little effort and works quite consistently. On the LG G Watch, I've found I often have to do a more exaggerated motion to get the watch to illuminate and it sometimes takes a few tries to get it to work.

A few other random differences worth noting:

• The Samsung Gear Live has a heart rate monitor; the LG G Watch does not. That said, I'm somewhat skeptical about how accurate the Gear Live's monitor will actually be based on what we've seen with heart rate monitors on other Samsung devices, so its presence may or may not end up being terribly meaningful.

• The Gear Live has a small button on the bottom of its right side that allows you to turn the watch on; the G Watch has no such button and can be turned on only via its charging cradle. Considering that once the watch is on, it'll probably stay on -- even while it's charging -- this probably isn't too big of a deal. (UPDATE: It turns out the G Watch does have a button as well; it's just unlabeled and somewhat hidden on the bottom of the device and can only be pressed with the aid of something like a safety pin or paper clip.)  

• The G Watch has a bigger battery -- a 400mAh unit compared to the Gear Live's 300mAh -- so we'll have to see how much of a difference that makes in stamina, particularly combined with the G Watch's lower-res (and thus also presumably lower-power-consuming) screen.

Battery life is just one example of why it'll take some time to reach any final verdicts on these watches. From comfort to overall usefulness and all the little nuances you notice with long-term use, there's so much you can't conclude after only a single day. So consider all of this a first impression.

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I'll be wearing and using both watches (though not necessarily always at the same time) over the coming days. Stay tuned for my full reviews.


Android Wear deep-dive review: A smart start to smartwatch software

Samsung Gear Live vs. LG G Watch review: A real-world evaluation

Moto 360 hands on: A closer look at the Wear watch worth waiting for

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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