As soon as Google teased Android Wear back in March, it looked like smartwatches were about to take a big leap forward. Let's try to see how big of a leap, as we compare the features and specs of two Samsung smartwatches: the Android Wear-running Gear Live and the Tizen-running Gear 2.
We're putting this category first, because it's probably going to trump all other differences between these two watches. The Gear Live is one of the first two watches to run Android Wear, Google's new wearable-focused OS.
I've been testing the Gear Live (see our full Gear Live review for more), and think Android Wear is (far and away) the best smartwatch software to date. It takes Google Now, the company's service that combines voice search with contextual notifications, and puts it on your wrist. This is just the beginning for Android Wear, but it already looks like it's going to be the first serious wearable platform.
As for the Tizen software running on the Gear 2, well, it's hard to get too excited about anything there. It includes a lot of basic apps, and with this second Gear, Samsung finally released an SDK for developers (which has more third-party apps popping up). But Android Wear's direct integration with the apps that are already running on Android phones – along with Google Now's perks – gives it the massive advantage.
The watches have a similar design language, and there aren't any dramatic differences in the sizes of their main bodies. The biggest news here is that the Gear Live is 11 percent thinner.
We're looking at slightly different looks and textures here, but each watch's face is framed by a stainless steel body. Neither can really pass for a piece of jewelry, and they come off more like gadgets than designer watches. But at least they're pretty slick-looking, as far as tech products go.
We're looking at two color options for the Gear Live and three for the Gear 2.
If you want to personalize things a bit more, both watches let you swap their default bands for any standard 22 mm strap.
Each watch has a clean and minimal aesthetic, with a lone physical button. The Gear 2's front-facing button is a home button and power button combined, while the Gear Live's is just for powering up or dimming the display.
Unless a watch is ridiculously heavy (neither of these are), then its weight isn't going to be as important as it would be in a tablet or phone. But the Gear Live does come in at 13 percent lighter than the Gear 2.
Both watches require a Bluetooth-paired smartphone. But things veer off quickly from there, with the Gear Live coming out ahead. The Android Wear watch will work with any Android phone running 4.3 Jelly Bean or higher. The Gear 2 only plays nicely with select Samsung Galaxy handsets (also running Android 4.3 or higher).
One thing that neither phone can do is pair with an iPhone. If you're an iPhone owner that's interested in a smartwatch, then you might want to look at Pebble Steel ... or simply wait for Apple's rumored iWatch.
Both watches have 1.63-in screens.
In fact, it looks like both watches use the exact same display. Each has a Super AMOLED display, delivering deep colors and high contrast.
Yep, still the same. Moving right along ...
Ah, finally we have a display difference – even if it is more about function than hardware. The Gear Live, along with Android Wear watches as a whole, is designed to keep its display on at all times. When it's inactive, you'll see a black & white (dimmed) version of your chosen watch face.
When you're ready to use the Gear Live, lifting your wrist will bring the display to life (out of dimmed mode) and ready for use. With the Gear 2, the display stays off until you lift your wrist (or press its button).
This is no contest. The Gear 2's S Voice is a pretty underwhelming (and slow) Siri knockoff with extremely limited capabilities. The Gear Live's Google Now voice control is very fast and has a much wider feature set. In fact, it's so good that voice is the primary way of controlling Android Wear watches.
Like most smartwatches, both of these specialize in notifications. But, much like with voice control, the Gear Live's Android Wear is far ahead in this game. Not only can Wear's Google Now cards respond to circumstances like time, location, upcoming events and your recent interests, but its Android integration also lets you do more with those notifications.
For example, on the Gear 2, you can read incoming emails, but can't do anything about them on the watch. They might also get cut off after several lines. On the Gear Live, you can read full Gmail messages, and then reply to or archive them right from the watch.
Both watches have the same IP67 water and dust resistance. That means they can sit in 1 m (3.3 ft) of water for 30 minutes, and keep on ticking.
Each watch also has a pulse monitor. This is also one of the biggest ways that the Gear Live differentiates itself from its Android Wear rival, the LG G Watch.
Both watches can track your steps in the background, throughout the entire day. You can also set daily step goals (the default is 10,000) and your watch will notify you when you hit that mark.
If you want a camera in your watch, then that's one thing that the Gear 2 has on the Live. Its 2 MP shooter sits on the top of its main body, facing outwards (rather than towards the wearer).
If you want to make phone calls on your watch (handy in private, kinda awkward in public), then the Gear 2 has that base covered. The Gear Live will let you answer, reject or reply by text – but you'll need to pick up your phone to take the call.
Another perk for the Gear 2 is that its battery lasts longer. Based on my early testing, I think the Gear Live will easily last a full day – but you'll still need to charge it every night. The Gear 2 can last two or three days per charge. That's partly due to its power-friendly Tizen software, but also because its display turns off when you aren't actively using it.
Samsung made the Gear 2 into a sort-of wrist iPod. You can load up some songs ahead of time, and listen to music, even while offline, straight from your watch.
You can use the Gear 2 to change channels on your TV. This could potentially be a cool trick, but I wasn't extremely impressed: Samsung's barebones remote app lacks the ability to scroll through menus or guides on your cable or satellite box.
Smartwatches don't need much storage, so the 4 GB we see in each of these should be more than enough.
The Gear Live has a faster processor, to handle its much more advanced software. Having spent time with both watches, I'd say they're both plenty fast for everything they're designed for.
Today's smartwatches have RAM totals that are roughly what you'd get out of a 2010-11 era smartphone.
Samsung has been, by far, the most aggressive company in this budding smartwatch space. The Gear Live marks the company's third-generation Gear watch already (and fifth total), and it comes only nine months after the original Galaxy Gear hit store shelves.
The Gear Live is available for pre-order now, and is set to start shipping by July 8.
In case the Gear Live hadn't already cinched its status as the better buy here, maybe this will convince you. It rings up for US$100 cheaper than the Gear 2.
If this comparison was based on hardware features alone, you could argue that the Gear 2 – with its camera, longer battery life and IR blaster – wins out. But, again, this is all about software. I've been impressed with Android Wear so far, and that's without any third-party app integration. Once app developers start updating their Android apps with Wear integration, this platform could become the first thing in wearables to get really excited about.
Want to know more about what we're talking about? Okay then, you can hit up our Gear Live review, as well as our Android Wear review. And if you insist on considering the older Tizen-based watch, you can hit up our Gear 2 review.
Updated 7/2: We had originally stated that the Gear Live has a speaker, but it doesn't.
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