Android Wear is on its way, with watches running Google's new wearable-focused OS landing in a couple of weeks. But how does Wear compare to a smartwatch that keeps a simpler focus, but looks really good while doing it? Let's compare the features and specs of the Android Wear-running Samsung Gear Live to the Pebble Steel.
When we're comparing things like smartphones, laptops and tablets, bigger can sometimes mean better. But when it comes to wearables, you could easily argue that less is more.
If that's the case, then we're looking at a mixed bag here. The Gear Live (which has a bezel that curves around your wrist) is 22 percent taller and 12 percent wider than Pebble Steel. But, on the other hand, the Gear Live is 15 percent thinner.
Pebble probably has the advantage here, though, as a thicker watch is easier to pull off than one that stretches out farther across your wrist.
Both watches' main bodies are made of stainless steel, but that's where the design similarities end. Pebble Steel draws inspiration from luxury watches, coming off more like a piece of jewelry than a tech product. If you use an analog watch face, Pebble Steel can almost pass for something like a Movado.
The Gear Live, meanwhile, has the same design language as Samsung's older (non-Android Wear running) Gear watches, and looks more like a miniature smartphone strapped to your wrist than something you'd find on a jeweler's shelf.
As we look at other categories, design language will be a good thing to keep in the back of your mind. We're going to be seeing some more advanced tech in the Gear Live, but just remember that, in order to get those fun new features, you'll be losing some of the Pebble Steel's elegant style.
Neither of these watches is like LG's G Watch, which is completely buttonless. But the Gear's touchscreen lets it get away with having just one power button. The Pebble relies entirely on buttons for all navigation, coming in with four total.
The original Pebble was compatible with any standard 22 mm band, but that center prong sticking out of Pebble Steel limits it to Pebble's own bands. Right now that includes steel and leather options.
Not a huge difference here, with Pebble Steel coming in at 5 percent lighter.
We're looking at two color options for each watch, though it doesn't look like the wine red (purple-ish) Gear Live is available just yet.
If you're okay with the Gear Live's more gadget-like design, then you'll get a bigger screen. The Pebble Steel only gives you 59 percent as much display real estate as the Gear Live does.
Here's yet another area where the Gear Live is the more smartphone-like of the two. Its Super AMOLED screen is like a shrunken-down version of what you'd see on a Galaxy phone – including touch and deep colors. Pebble Steel uses the same "e-paper" (power-sipping Sharp LCD) display as the original Pebble, and has no touch or color.
The Gear Live also gives you a much sharper display, with a 58 percent higher pixel density.
Samsung's pre-Android Wear Gear watches only lit up their displays when you lifted your wrist (or pressed a button). But Android Wear, like Pebble, is designed for always-on displays. So you can pick a watch face that tickles your fancy, and see it staring back at you every time you glance at your watch.
Pebble Steel's big advantage is that it can pass for a luxurious piece of jewelry, but this is the Gear Live's biggest plus. It runs the new Android Wear platform, which essentially puts Google Now on your wrist. You get quick and accurate voice control, along with context-sensitive "cards" based on things like your location, recent searches and interests.
It's almost creepy how much Google Now can learn about you (if you're a big privacy advocate, this isn't the platform for you), but it can also be extremely useful. And it's likely to be even more useful on your wrist. Imagine being able to call a cab, get directions to an upcoming meeting or view your flight's boarding pass – all on your wrist. That's an abbreviated description of Android Wear's capabilities, but you can hit up our coverage of Google's announcement for more on Wear.
Pebble's software, meanwhile, is much more barebones. If the Gear Live is like a Galaxy S5 on your wrist, then Pebble is a bit more like having an old-school e-reader on your wrist. Pebble developers have come up with some very cool stuff, and the platform is nothing to sneeze at. But its capabilities are also going to look pretty primitive next to Android Wear.
Neither of these watches will do much of anything without a paired Bluetooth phone. For Android Wear watches like the Gear Live, you'll need an Android handset running at least 4.3 Jelly Bean (you can visit this page from your phone to see if it's compatible).
Pebble Steel is a bit friendlier with older phones, as you'll only need Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich or higher to run the Pebble companion app.
As cool as many of the Gear's features look, this category is going to rule it out for lots of customers. iPhone owners can use the Pebble – or perhaps wait for Apple's rumored iWatch.
Both watches' capabilities center around notifications. Again, though, those are going to be more advanced on the Gear. Those context-aware Google Now cards are designed to give you more relevant-in-the-moment information. The Pebble's notifications are limited to things like phone calls, SMS, email and alerts from other smartphone apps (the Gear can do all of those as well).
Android Wear is designed around two kinds of input: tapping on the touch screen and speaking voice commands. And unlike the primitive voice control on older Samsung Gear watches, Android Wear's speech recognition is going to happen almost instantly.
Both platforms have apps that let you track your steps and workouts, but there's a huge difference here. Pebble's fitness apps require you to constantly run the app in the foreground, or it won't track you. On Android Wear, you can track your steps in the background while you have other watch faces or "cards" on your screen.
Heart rate sensor
One of the biggest ways that the Gear Live stands out from its early Android Wear rival, the LG G Watch, is its built-in pulse monitor.
Samsung's older Gears each had a built-in camera, either in the band or the top of the watch's main body. But, so far, cameras don't look like they're a part of Android Wear.
Another big limit for Pebble is that you can only store eight third-party apps or watch faces at a time on the watch. I'm not sure what Pebble's creators were thinking here – for many customers, this baffling constraint could be a deal-breaker.
We've put Pebble Steel through the ringer, and think the 5 to 7 day estimate is sound. We're going off of Samsung's word for the 1-day estimate on the Gear Live. If you buy a Gear Live, be prepared to charge it every night, like you would a smartphone.
Both watches can handle some water. The Gear's IP67 rating, though, makes it better for handling splashes, rain and an accidental drop in the sink or toilet. You can go for a swim while wearing Pebble (as long as you aren't using it with the leather band).
Of course the Pebble's simpler software isn't going to require a blazing-fast processor, so this one is extremely lopsided. We confirmed with Samsung that the Gear Live runs the quad core Qualcomm APQ8026, which is believed to be a member of the Snapdragon 400 family.
Pebble Steel was announced at CES, and started shipping in February. The Gear Live is available for pre-order now, and is scheduled to ship on July 8.
Considering its feature set, the Gear Live is looking like a solid – if not very good – value, at US$200. With Pebble Steel, you're paying more for the jewelry aspect. You can pick one up at a Best Buy for $230, including only a leather band. If you want a steel band (along with a leather band) then you can order it for $250 from Pebble's website.
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