G tch review: A boring showcase for Android ar’s clever talents

BY GreenBot Staff

Published 15 Jul 2014

can’t like its smartwatch story arch.

Two months ago, was the presumptive leader of the Android ar pack. Most tech pundits (myself included) expected to tap , its long-time Nexus smartphone partner, to introduce Android ar to the world. expected to give away free G tch models at I/O, making an agenda setter in the larger Android ar conversation.

But then Samsung crow-barred its way into the spotlight.

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The G watch is black. It’s square. It has a screen. Did we mention it’s black?

As it turned out, both Samsung distributed Android ar watches at I/O, both the  G tch Samsung Gear ve are available for purchase today. The two watches are remarkably similar—a function of requiring a consistent Android ar experience across all devices—but the Gear ve is $30 cheaper, bests the G tch in the all-important style department.

Samsung’s hardware story is just enough to nudge the G tch into the number-two spot in what is currently a two-watch race. And that’s a really bad position for to occupy when consumers still aren’t sold on the basic smartwatch concept, Android ar hasn’t yet become a household name.

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Using the lthecooks Android ar app, you can follow recipe directions right on your wrist—a nice solution that saves your tablet or notebook from getting all gunked up with marinara sauce.

Giving a voice to smartwatches

Android ar accounts for the sum total of the G tch feature set, that’s not a bad thing considering what has done for smartwatch software design. The wee OS eschews the traditional home screen layout entirely. Instead you summon apps with voice comms—a simple approach that really only causes problems when you want to keep your software habits quiet.

The voice comms will be familiar to anyone who already uses Now on an Android phone. For example: Utter “OK … show me my steps,” the G tch will whisk you away to one of Android ar’s famous context cards, revealing the step data recorded by the watch’s accelerometer. It’s a UI that respects the sheer teeny-tinyness of smartwatch displays, makes these gadgets more managable than ever.

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The Android ar version of Maps will send navigation directions directly to your watch. Inexplicably, however, they can’t currently default to walking directions. 

You can also use voice comms to solve math problems; record personal memos; spawn weather reports; call up driving directions; receive sports scores; enjoy many more Googly treats. But by far the best voice control trick is finger-free texting. Conducting entire Hangouts conversations by speaking into the G tch has been revelation— it’s the Android ar feature that makes me think about ditching analog timepieces the most.

Of course, ’s platform also sends a steady stream of Now alerts smartphone notifications to the Android ar home screen. These are useful too, you can read more about them in my Android ar walkthrough review of the Samsung Gear ve. For now, let’s focus just on the G tch, how well it interprets the Android ar promise.

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Voice-control texting is my favorite Android ar feature so far.

Industrial non-design

The G tch is so bl-looking—so featureless devoid of visual interest—it looks like a not-for-retail-sale development kit. This is a problem for a $230 gadget that straps to a very public body part. It’s a watch, for rice cakes. should expect it to make some kind of statement.

Are soft rounded edges a “design feature”? I don’t think so. And spec’ing the watch in “white gold” instead of “black titan” only gives you a white b half a white case; the G tch’s top bezel remains jet black regardless of which color scheme you choose. Mind you, Samsung’s smartwatch vision is almost as stylistically bankrupt, but the Gear ve’s brushed metal finish vaguely oblong shape are concessions, however small, to a world that cares about aesthetics.

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‘s buckle is dead-easy to attach, but the strap looks like a rubbery piece of sporting equipment.

’s watch strap is as unremarkable as the G tch itself. It’s just a dull, blank, squishy rubber b that looks more like sporting equipment than wrist fashion. Still, against all odds, I prefer ’s strap to Samsung’s slightly more classy b: It uses a traditional buckle instead of the vexing metal stud system that Samsung prefers, it’s much easier to put on correctly, with just the right circumference, every single time.

Oh, well. At least both companies’ stock straps can be replaced with any 22mm watch b you desire.

The mobile display for vampires

Based on specs specs alone, ’s 1.65-inch, 280×280 D display should look less sharp less brilliant than Samsung’s 1.63-inch, 320×320 Super AMOD display. Both screens are essentially the same size, so Samsung’s finer pixel pitch might conceivably pay dividends. kewise, Samsung’s Super AMOD screen tech always looks brighter more saturated than pedestrian D displays, at least on Galaxy smartphones.

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Not even a pretty traffic map can gussy up ‘s boring industrial design.

But when writ small on a smartwatch, Samsung’s spec advantages are all but imperceptible. Sure, the G tch looks a little less bright colorful compared to the Gear ve, but who really cares? On displays so tiny, I’d be happy with only black–white visuals to save on battery life (more about that later). No, the bigger problem with the G tch— this goes for both devices—is atrocious legibility outdoors. It’s difficult to read these displays under cloudy skies, near impossible when the sun is shining.

The G tch Gear ve basically share the exact same power train: 1.2GHz processors, 512MB of RAM, 4GB of storage. This silicon keeps ’s context cards moving with speed alacrity as you swipe through the interface. Throughout more than two weeks of testing, I never felt one watch was “faster” than the other.

More juice, but still not enough

The G tch has a larger capacity 400 mAh battery—Samsung’s is just 300 mAh—but I never sensed offered better battery performance, here’s why: During normal use at their default always-on display settings, neither watch can guarantee a full two days of battery life. As a result, I always place the watches in their charging hardware before going to bed each night. It’s a hassle sure, but having a watch completely die on me after 36 hours would be even worse.

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The G tch battery is best recharged every night before slumber. But at least its charging cradle is easy to use.

The battery life dilemma is compounded by the watches’ proprietary charging hardware: You can’t simply plug an off-the-shelf B cable into these things for a recharge. That said, offers the lesser of two evils. Samsung’s system is defined by a loose, lightweight adapter that requires a jarring physical snap onto the back of the Gear ve. But uses a flat, somewhat heavy, magnetic charging cradle. It sits confidently on a night st, all you need to do is lay the G tch on top of it for a recharge.

One of Android ar’s hallmarks is the always-on display, which guarantees that your gadget will always be a functional timepiece, even when it’s not showing ’s contextual information. But this approach costs precious battery life, it’s an issue that the hardware manufacturers really need to fix.

ice. This is about price

There are only two Android ar watches available today. Both make snoozy fashion statements, but ’s design message is downright catatonic. Both have displays that are impossible to read in sunlight, but Samsung’s screen is just a bit more brilliant than ’s screen under indoor lighting or the night’s sky. The G tch strap is much less frustrating that Samsung’s awful two-pronged b, but because it’s so unremarkable in its own right, I advise you to replace it with something a bit more classy.

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And of course both watches run nearly identical versions of Android ar. Samsung’s OS build supports the Gear ve’s built-in ( practically useless) spectroscopic heart rate monitor, ’s build includes more digital watchfaces than what Samsung offers. But neither of these “wins” are germane to the final decision concerning which watch to buy. The bottom line is that the two watches are so similar, we have to look to pricing aesthetics to make the final call. And at this point in time, Samsung wins on both counts.

’s plight need not be permanent. If the G tch dropped to $180 tomorrow, my buy recommendation would flip to . And if released an Android ar app that showed heart rate data from its own Heart Rate Earphones directly on the watch, that too would sway my opinion. But will need to move fast, because the Motorola Moto 360, complete with its stunning circular display, is poised to join the Android ar family. And even if the Moto 360 costs considerably more than $230, it will be a difficult watch to beat.