Samsung Gear Live review

£169
Price when reviewed

Phone manufacturers have long been fighting for a place in your pocket, but now there’s a new battleground – your wrist. Samsung kicked off the recent smartwatch frenzy, and the Gear Live sees the Korean giant shift its attention from its open-source operating system, Tizen, to Google’s much-touted Android Wear.

Samsung Gear Live review: design

The Samsung Gear Live is a far more attractive poster model for Android Wear than the damp, lumpen squib that was LG’s G Watch – it’s a handsome, carefully crafted device that makes you want to grab your credit card immediately and throw caution to the wind. Unlike LG, Samsung hasn’t been taking its style cues from Casio’s digital watches of the 1980s.

Samsung Gear Live review

Instead, the Gear Live’s square watchface is surrounded by an attractively contoured frame of silver metal that arcs smoothly into the rubbery wrist strap, and the rear of the watch is slightly curved to sit more comfortably – and more snugly – around the wrist. Clearly, every aspect of the Gear Live has been meticulously considered: even the user-replaceable wrist strap looks good, since Samsung has done away with the traditional buckle in favour of a minimalist dual-prong latch that clips into place.

Up front, there’s a vivacious, 1.63in Super AMOLED touchscreen, and Samsung has squeezed in an optical heart-rate monitor at the rear; evidently, health monitoring remains high up Samsung’s list of priorities. The only disappointment is that the heart-rate monitor can only take one-off measurements; you can’t, for instance, track your heart rate over the course of a day or during a workout, or use it in conjunction with fitness apps such as RunKeeper or Strava.

That said, it’s built to survive the toughest workouts. The Gear Live has an IP67 rating, and we subjected it to everything from torrential rain to accidental trips into the shower without it missing a beat. Our initial concerns that the novel wrist strap might pop loose at an inopportune moment also proved unfounded: it held firm throughout several 20km cycle commutes and a handful of runs around the local park.

It’s a minor point, but we’re pleased to see a power button on the right-hand edge; this was notably absent from the G Watch. The Samsung’s micro-USB charging attachment is also marginally superior to that of the LG. It’s still a touch too easy to lose or forget about due to its size, but we like the way it clips firmly to the watch’s underside – unlike the LG’s magnetic charging plate, it’s impossible to dislodge the watch from the charger with an accidental knock.

Samsung Gear Live review: display and hardware

Samsung Gear Live review

Power it up for the first time and the Gear Live’s display makes a cracking first impression – the 320 x 320 Super AMOLED display is gorgeous. Text is perhaps only a touch crisper-looking than on the G Watch’s 280 x 280 pixel IPS display, but Samsung’s screen technology serves up far punchier, more colourful-looking images.

Maximum brightness is similar to that of its IPS-screened rival, though, and the Samsung’s display doesn’t fare any better under bright, direct sunlight. We tested both smartwatches side by side, and the display technology made no difference to sunlight readability – it’s often necessary to shield the screen with your hand on the brightest days.

Beavering away behind the display is a single-core 1.2GHz Qualcomm Snapdragon 400 CPU, 512MB of RAM and 4GB of flash storage – in other words, a near-identical roster of hardware to the G Watch. It’s nippy enough to deal with the basic demands of Android Wear, and we didn’t experience any lag or stuttering as we flicked through menus or scanned onscreen notifications.

Samsung Gear Live review

The Gear Live’s 300mAh battery is a touch smaller than the 400mAh cell of its LG rival, however. In our testing, the Samsung’s smaller battery didn’t leave it lagging too far behind the LG, but it’s definitely off the pace. With the screen set to stay on permanently, we routinely squeezed out less than a day and a half of usage before needing to recharge the battery; the LG, by comparison, easily lasted a day and a half.

It’s also possible to set the screen to time-out; just like the LG, the Samsung lasts about a day longer if you allow the screen to power down completely. Crucially, though, the Samsung is far easier to wake from sleep: rather than the pronounced, violent shake of the arm it took to wake the G Watch, a gentle flick of the wrist is all it takes to coax the Gear Live’s display into life.

Samsung Gear Live review: Android Wear

We’ve already taken an in-depth look at Android Wear in our G Watch review, so we won’t retread ground here, but we remain impressed – Android Wear is a genuinely useful companion to an Android smartphone. There are no killer apps yet, but being able to quickly view emails, texts and notifications without fumbling for a smartphone is a boon.

The voice-control functions come in incredibly handy at times, too. For instance, it’s useful to be able to dictate quick emails or texts while on a (stationary) bicycle or walking around town without having to rummage in a bag or a pocket for a phone. There are still niggles here and there, but the experience is overwhelmingly positive, and we found ourselves clutching our phone far less often as a result. This must be a good thing.

Samsung Gear Live: verdict

Samsung Gear Live review

So, should you rush out and buy the Gear Live? That’s a tricky question. With a flood of new smartwatches due to hit the shelves any time now, we can’t wholeheartedly recommend that you dash out and buy any Android Wear smartwatch. Of the two we’ve seen so far, however, the Samsung Gear Live gets our vote. It looks more expensive than its £160 price tag might suggest; it feels comfy enough to wear day-in, day-out; and Android Wear is a convincing companion to an Android smartphone. If you can’t fight the urge to purchase a smartwatch right this instant, the Samsung Gear Live is the one to have.

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