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

The first Android Wear watches to hit the market may look similar, but after two weeks of living with the devices, I noticed some meaningful differences.

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Stamina and performance

We'll make this part easy: Both the LG G Watch and the Samsung Gear Live should get you through a full day without worry. But regardless of which watch you choose, you'll almost certainly need to charge it every single night.

Some folks seem disappointed by the need for a nightly charge, but it really hasn't been an issue for me. I charge my phone every night -- so now, I just drop the watch on its charger next to my phone at the same time. Honestly, it'd be harder for me to remember if it were a once-every-three-days sort of affair.

The G Watch has the bigger battery of the two -- 400mAh compared to 300mAh on the Gear Live -- but all things considered, the differences in stamina between the devices aren't terribly significant. Both watches have consistently been able to get me from morning to night, even with extensive use, and both are always low enough by the end of the day that they would need a recharge in order to last another 24 hours.

As a point of interest (given the issue of Samsung's lower quality dimmed-mode display), I left each watch sitting in its dimmed state for a full 12 hours, starting with a fully charged battery. Without any active use or illumination, the Gear Live lost about 24% of its charge over that time while the G Watch lost about 22%. So Samsung's pixel-reducing approach may have been implemented out of necessity since, even with it in place, the Gear Live appears to lag behind the G Watch in overall efficiency.

(Several people have asked whether using Wear impacts the battery life of the connected phone, by the way. I tested both watches with a Moto X and an HTC One (M8), and I haven't noticed any measurable difference in the phones' battery life as a result of the smartwatch pairing.)

Stamina aside, there's not a heck of a lot to say about performance for these two watches: The G Watch and Gear Live share the same internals, and both devices run smoothly. Apps sometimes take a few seconds to open, and there's an occasional delay for voice commands to be recognized, but neither system feels sluggish and I haven't seen any jitteriness in animations.

The only seemingly performance-related difference you'll notice in using the two watches is that the Gear Live is far more sensitive to gestures. Android Wear automatically wakes a watch and illuminates its display when you move your wrist in an upward motion. On the Gear Live, even the slightest movement will cause the display to light up. The G Watch, on the other hand, requires a more pronounced motion in order for the gesture to work.

I found the G Watch's lower sensitivity to be frustrating at first but got used to it pretty quickly. You basically just have to twist your wrist as you raise it to get the gesture to work with that device -- and once you figure that out, everything's fine. The motion is a little less natural, but that also means you get less accidental activations when you're just moving your arm in a regular way.

Other points of differentiation

A few other noteworthy differences to mention before we wrap things up:

• Samsung's Gear Live has a heart rate sensor on its back; LG's G Watch does not. Does that actually matter? For most people, probably not.

The Gear Live's heart rate sensor takes measurements on demand only, not continuously or at regular intervals throughout the day. It's also somewhat tricky to use: If the watch isn't positioned just right against your wrist or if your skin is slightly damp (like, you know, from sweating), you won't be able to get a reading. And its measurements vary enough to make them unreliable for anyone who really needs that sort of information.

• The Gear Live's charger is, in a word, awful. It's a cheap plastic wedge that's difficult to snap onto the device's back and feels like it's going to break every time you remove it. (In fact, I've already seen a few reports on social media of chargers or even the connecting mechanisms on the watch breaking after only days of use.) This may seem inconsequential, but remember that you'll be removing the watch from the charger every morning and reattaching it every night.

The G Watch's charger, in contrast, is a small rectangular cradle that works as it should: The watch fits naturally into its perimeter and is held in place by a gentle magnet. It feels sturdy and well made, and allows the watch to sit flat on a surface when connected.

Two Android Wear watches
The two devices' chargers (the Samsung Gear Live is on the left, the LG G Watch on the right).

• Speaking of power, the Gear Live has a small button on the lower end of its right side that allows you to turn it on, while the G Watch has only a pin-sized button on its bottom and is more easily turned on via its charger. Given that these devices will usually remain on indefinitely after you power them up for the first time, though, it's really not a big deal either way.

• The G Watch comes with 24 face designs that you can choose from; the Gear Live comes with 13. Eight of the faces on each watch are standard Google-made designs, while the rest are custom options added by each manufacturer. The LG device obviously has more variety, but both devices have a decent mix of simple, creative and flashy choices in both analog and digital themes.

Google initially told me it wouldn't be possible for users to add additional face designs beyond what each manufacturer provided, but a few third-party options have already popped up in the Play Store -- so it appears there's more flexibility on that front than we were initially led to believe.

• Aside from face designs, the only difference in software between the two watches is in the standalone apps each manufacturer has preinstalled. (Manufacturers can't customize the core user interface with Android Wear, but they can add their own applications into the operating system.)

LG has added only one app to its G Watch: A world clock that lets you keep tabs on the time in multiple cities of your choice.

Two Android Wear watches
The Samsung Gear Live has a Stopwatch app which duplicates an existing function.

Samsung, meanwhile, has added two apps to the Gear Live: Heart Rate, which allows you to take a heart rate measurement (a function you can also perform within the Fit app that's part of the Wear OS) and Stopwatch, which just duplicates the functionality of Wear's native stopwatch function and adds confusion to the user experience as a result.

Reps from Samsung have also indicated plans to bring more of the company's own apps and services into the watch in the future -- which, for anyone bothered by bloatware, is something to keep in mind.

Bottom line

Comparing the LG G Watch to the Samsung Gear Live is kind of like comparing Burger King to McDonald's: Either one will get the job done, but neither is what you would call a first-class experience. And neither is really that much better than the other.

With the classy and beautifully crafted Moto 360 on the horizon, it's hard to recommend either the G Watch or the Gear Live as an ideal Android Wear purchasing option. Each device has its own set of pros and cons, but both watches are very much in the same league -- and next to the Moto 360, both look pretty lackluster.

If you asked me to make a choice after I'd spent just a few days with the watches, I probably would have picked the Gear Live. On the surface, it stands out a bit more since its design is more distinctive and its display looks a little better when illuminated.

Now that I've used the watches for a couple of weeks, though, I'd actually go with the G Watch. The Gear Live's advantages in those aforementioned areas are pretty narrow, and I just can't get past certain other elements of the device -- like the low quality of its dimmed-mode display, which is what you see the majority of the time when you glance at its face. I've found I prefer the lower motion sensitivity of the G Watch, too, as the watch isn't constantly flashing on every time I move my arm.

I'm also uncomfortable with Samsung's tendency to bake redundant bloat into its devices, especially with reps going on the record as saying more such material is on the way. Factor in the Gear Live's junky charger and awkward band, and LG's G Watch ends up being the more desirable overall option for me.

But again, we're comparing two okay but unexceptional devices. The best advice I could give would be to hold off a month or two to see how much the Moto 360 ends up costing in comparison.

A fine dining option is on the way -- and you might be disappointed if you settle for fast food now just because you're hungry.

This article, Samsung Gear Live vs. LG G Watch: A real-world evaluation, was originally published at Computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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