We're only a few months into 2014, but we've already seen quite a few new smartwatch releases. Two of the highest-profile are the Samsung Gear 2 and Pebble Steel. How do you decide between these two very different watches? Read on, as Gizmag compares their features and specs.
UPGRADE TO NEW ATLAS PLUS
More than 1,200 New Atlas Plus subscribers directly support our journalism, and get access to our premium ad-free site and email newsletter. Join them for just US$19 a year.UPGRADE
Sizes are pretty close, though the Gear's extended (and curved) front bezel technically makes it a bit longer.
Notifications are one of the biggest reasons to buy any smartwatch. Both the Gear 2 and Pebble Steel will vibrate your wrist when a new alert comes in. Both display notifications from third-party apps, let you choose which of those apps you receive notifications from, and have a notification center where you can read any alerts you might have missed.
Neither watch will do you much good without a paired smartphone. And you could argue that phone compatibility is Pebble's killer feature. It will play nicely with any recent iPhone or Android handset.
The Gear 2, meanwhile, only works with Samsung Galaxy phones that run Android 4.3 or higher. That list is growing, though, and includes high-profile releases like the Galaxy S5, Galaxy S4, Galaxy Note 3, and Galaxy Note 2 (assuming your carrier has pushed the update to Android 4.3).
Both watches' main bodies are made of stainless steel. Pebble Steel looks more like something you'd find in a jewelry store, while the Gear 2 looks more like a sleek and futuristic tech product.
Unless it's ridiculously heavy, weight probably isn't a spec worth paying much attention to on a smartwatch. With that said, the Gear 2 is listed as 31 percent lighter than the Pebble Steel.
Pebble Steel includes two bands: a steel one that matches the watch's chassis, and a black leather one. You can also swap it with any standard 22 mm strap. Ditto for the Gear 2.
Pebble did just announce a slightly-cheaper version of Steel that will only include the leather band.
Three color options for the Gear 2 (though two of them have identical bodies) and two for Pebble Steel.
The Gear 2 has a more smartphone-like display, with its multi-touch color Super AMOLED. The Pebble Steel has the same non-touch, monochrome "e-Paper" display as the original (plastic) Pebble. I've seen many people mistakenly describe the Pebble's screen as e-ink – and though the effect is similar, this one is actually a Sharp LCD.
Display (size and resolution)
The Pebble Steel only gives you 59 percent as much screen real estate as the Gear 2. Its display also has much lower resolution. You could argue that bigger does not equal better when it comes to wearable computing. But for two devices that are very close in size, the Gear gives you a much bigger window into your notifications and other content.
One potential advantage with the Pebble's screen is that it stays on all the time. No matter where your watch is or what you're doing with your arm, a quick glance is all it takes to see whatever is displayed on its screen.
The Gear's screen stays off when you aren't looking at it. Lift your arm (in a classic "looking at your watch" gesture) and it will automatically turn on. Of course it also turns on when you receive a notification. After a few moments of inactivity (customizable in the watch's settings) its screen will turn off.
Both watches give you some solid water resistance. You can actually swim, though, with Pebble on. The Gear 2 is rated for 1 meter of submersion for 30 minutes, which is better for rain or the occasional dunk than for swimming.
Heart rate sensor
One of the biggest new additions in the Gear 2 is its heart rate sensor. Wearable computers hold a lot of potential for health and fitness tracking, and, along with the Gear Fit, it looks Samsung is trying to take the early lead there.
Both devices let you track a walk or run.
If you're into wearable tech that tracks your sleep patterns, both of these watches run apps that claim to do just that.
The Gear 2, like the original Galaxy Gear, has an outward-facing built-in camera. Unlike the OG Gear, though, it's now on the watch's main body (instead of its band). Samsung also makes a variant of the Gear 2, called the Gear 2 Neo, that doesn't have a camera.
Pebble Steel has no camera, though there is at least one third-party Pebble app that will turn the watch into a remote shutter for your smartphone's camera.
As many a Samsung commercial has been quick to point out, you can use Gear watches as phones. Technically the call is still taking place on your phone, but you can dial, answer, reject, and actually talk through the watch.
Pebble lets you answer or reject calls from the watch, but since it lacks a microphone or speaker, you have to pick up your phone for the call.
It definitely isn't Siri or Google Now, but a scaled-down version of Samsung's S Voice lives inside the Gear 2. It lets you do things like dictate text messages, initiate calls, check the weather, and set alarms or reminders. The Gear's S Voice doesn't do a lot besides that, though, and it doesn't do anything like search the web, give sports scores, or answer random questions like "how old is Ben Affleck?"
Standalone music player
Both watches let you control your smartphone's play/pause/skip music functions. The Gear 2 takes that a step further by letting you store songs on the watch itself, and listen to them through either a Bluetooth headset or the watch's speaker.
These are the manufacturers' estimates for each watch's uptimes (with "typical" use). It looks like the Gear 2 is going to last a bit longer than the Galaxy Gear, and I never had a problem getting it through a full day.
Why would you want infrared in a watch? To control your TV, that's why. I can see a watch making for a very handy remote control.
Lots of the headlines covering the Gear 2 announcement zeroed in on Samsung's shift from Android to its own Tizen OS. There was so little third-party development for the original Gear, though, that this probably means very little on the user end. Plus owners of the OG Galaxy Gear will be eventually updated to Tizen as well.
Both watches provide software development kits for third-party app makers. This is a big shift for the new Gear, as Samsung only opened up the original Galaxy Gear to hand-picked developers. And Samsung's hands apparently weren't picking very many.
Pebble has a pretty active development community, but the watch's hardware severely limits how many of those apps you can use on a regular basis. It only lets you store eight downloaded apps or watch faces at a time.
Pebble Steel isn't pretending to run anything more than simple text-based apps, so we wouldn't worry too much about its rudimentary processor. With that said, the Gear's dual core chip gives it a much higher ceiling for eventually running much more smartphone-esque apps.
Pebble Steel started shipping last month, but it looks like orders from Pebble's website (currently the only place to get one) are pretty backed up. In other words, if you haven't yet placed an order, don't expect to get one within the next month.
The Gear 2 launches in April, alongside the Galaxy S5, Gear 2 Neo, and Gear Fit.
We expected the Gear 2 to go for US$300, and it turns out that was right on the money. The camera-less Gear 2 Neo will shave $100 off of that, to undercut the Pebble Steel.
The original Pebble's $150 price made it easy to live with the watch's simple hardware, but with the Pebble Steel's fancier design, it's creeping closer to the tax bracket of higher-end rivals like the Gear 2. You can save $20 on it, though, by skipping the stainless steel band.
Technology or classic style?Again, it's debatable whether wearables should even be looked at through the lenses of tech specs and hardware features. If you want a watch that, first and foremost, looks like a piece of jewelry, and, secondly, functions as a tech product, then Pebble Steel is right up your alley. If extensive features are more your cup of tea, then the Gear 2 might be the better choice. Both approaches are valid, and only you can know what you want out of a smartwatch. But with that said, if app developers take advantage of the Gear's higher-end hardware, then it will eventually do much more than Pebble Steel does.
Just remember that unless you own a Samsung Galaxy phone, or are thinking about buying one sometime soon, this comparison isn't going to mean a lot to you. As many cool features as the Gear 2 has, you have to pair it with a Galaxy phone or look elsewhere.View gallery - 27 images