The following is a guest blog post by Lauren Still.
For those hoping the new Android Wear devices coupled with Google Fit would be some sort of mashup of a Basis-type fitness tracker and Google Now notifications, well, you’re going to have to wait some more. Last week at I/O, Google previewed the three new smartwatches running their new wearable device OS: Samsung Gear Live, LG G Watch and Motorola’s Moto360. Both the Samsung and LG will be available for order after the first week of July, and the Moto360 is planned for late summer.
Between the LG and Samsung, the devices are near identical with the major differences being in stylistic hardware design. Both devices have the same processor (1.2GHz), storage and memory (4GB, 512MB respectively), have your standard Bluetooth 4.0 LE, accelerometer, gyro and compass as well as being water resistant for up to 30 min in a meter of water. Neither device has a speaker, or the ability to send audio navigation directions or information to bluetooth headphones, and any “Ok Google” searches return with cards, where information can then be pushed to the user’s mobile device.
The major technical differences show up in the display: the LG has a 280 x 280 IPS LCD, while the Samsung sports a 320 x 320 SuperAMOLED display. The resolution isn’t a major difference, but the Samsung does come off a with a bit more umph. Regardless, don’t expect to be able to see either display in bright sunlight.
Both device batteries are expected to last at least a full day on a single charge, but with the LG’s larger 400mAh capacity and lower-level screen, users may end up pulling more time from the device, even though the AMOLED has an overall lower power consumption during long displays of black pixels. Current battery life usage tests for both show about a 60% drop over 12 hours of fairly active use. Charging back to full strength from there takes about an hour for the Samsung and around 90-minutes on the LG model. The LG model has a magnetic charging base which is incredibly convenient and streamlined, while the Samsung design is clumsy and awkward to click in, and does not lay flat.
The Samsung also includes a heart rate monitor, and while that may seem valuable to the healthcare crowd, it’s only implemented as an on-demand feature so don’t expect any continuous data tracking for now. Additionally, Samsung has a pretty bad track record when it comes to heart rate monitor accuracy, so actual applicability in any use is TBD. Even with the HR monitor and better display, the Samsung is the less expensive option at $199, with LG being an additional $30.
The dimensions are nearly the same, as are the weights, with the LG being a bit heavier and with a slightly smaller footprint. Both devices are on the clunkier side with large square displays. Stylistically, the LG takes on a more “sport look” and is straight black with a replaceable soft matted rubber strap, traditional buckle and very squared off face. The Samsung’s casing is far more refined being a near match to their older Gear 2, with beveled edges and a silver boarder finish, but the clasping mechanism on the fixed sportband is a nub-button style making it feel less secure.
Side by side, it will probably come down to fit and comfort for most users. The LG, being very flat, tends to irritate the wrist bones on those users with smaller or bonier wrists, even at looser strap settings. The Samsung’s back has a slight taper, and will be more comfortable. There’s also a physical on/off button hidden on the bottom of the Samsung, but given the use model of the devices it seems a little unnecessary and just one more thing to break.
Both devices are quite responsive to gesture control, and there’s been no noticeable lag in screen activation through this feature.
As far as the OS goes, Android Wear works mostly the same regardless of which device it’s on. This includes standard settings like screen dimming and activation, notifications through Google Now, Google Fit functionality and voice command. Visually, the major difference is the “clock” face with several Google OEM options available, and then each device having a few more choices. Notifications pop up on the bottom of both devices, and swipe directions to control actions are consistent across both models, typically giving users the option to mute, view, reply or push information to the user’s phone.
Voice commands start with the classic “Ok Google…” just as with mobile devices, but includes a few wearable specific commands such as take a note, reminders, steps, send a text/email, etc. Google has no plans to segregate Android Wear apps from the rest of the Play Store, so functionally any application downloaded to a user’s phone that has a Wear component will be synced to the device as well.
So, aside from seeing what the final OS looks like upon public release, and what apps will be available in the near future, the remaining major question is how the Moto360 stacks up against the other two devices. The specs aren’t fully released, but given how close the other two compare on a technical level, expect it to at least make par. What is known about the Moto360 is that it has a much more classical look and feel, with round face, stainless steel accents, leather straps, a physical button and will likely be dust and water resistant.
The watch is still on the bulky side, with the face about as large around as a silver dollar, and the casing is about as thick as the others. The round design appeals to both genders, and will fit smaller wrists better aesthetically and bonier wrists more comfortably (n=1 in this very scientific study). The display also flips, unlike the other two, for users who prefer devices on the right arm. As for charging, the backside is port-fee, and appears to be an induction based design, and that also points to some possible contact based bio-sensor functionality. Motorola states that battery life was “made a priority” based on lessons learned from developing their first smartwatch. Again, if much of this current design is a pivot from the first attempt, there’s a reasonable expectation that there will be more fitness tracking functionality in the Moto360 than in the Samsung or LG watches, but Motorola is being rather coy on those points.
Unfortunately, for fitness tracker users looking for an Android integrated option, none of these devices are there yet, but there is the potential once apps come into the marketplace for Android Wear and especially once the GoogleFit SDK is released. For previous Pebble owners looking for a notification device replacement with a little more flexibility, all three are good options, and it really just comes down to aesthetic preferences. In either case, it’s probably worth waiting a couple months for the Moto360, as it really seems the most promising of the three.
And on a more depressing note, this really signals the end for cross-platform smart watches like the Pebble as both Apple and Google work their way into developing truly connected, fluidly integrated platform-specific devices.