NEW YORK — New Android wristwatches from Samsung and LG make a few evolutionary advances, though I won’t be rushing out to buy either. Samsung’s Gear Live and LG’s G Watch are good products and will appeal to those who like to be among the first to own new gadgets.
The watches serve as pedometers and let you catch up on email, texts and Facebook notifications while your phone is in your pocket or charging in the bedroom. Even with the phone in your hand, you can check messages on the watch and keep playing video on the phone.
Both smartwatches try to keep things simple through voice commands rather than touch. They use Google’s Android Wear system.
Android Wear has a lot of potential but still lacks the functionality of even last year’s smartwatches. Your ability to reply is limited, and there’s not much you can do yet without a companion phone nearby.
The companion phone must run Android 4.3 or later, which covers about a quarter of the Android devices in use. It doesn’t have to be a Samsung or LG phone. Visit http://g.co/WearCheck from your phone to check compatibility. Don’t even bother if you have an iPhone.
Even with its release of the Gear Live, Samsung will continue to sell the Gear 2 line of smartwatches.
Samsung’s Gear 2 ($299):
I find the Gear 2 most useful for its fitness features. Shots from the watch’s 2-megapixel camera are mediocre, but that beats missing the shot entirely because your better camera is in your pocket or handbag. If you don’t need the camera, you can save $100 with the Gear 2 Neo, which has similar features otherwise. Both have speakerphones for making phone calls.
The Gear 2 line doesn’t use Android Wear, but a fledging system called Tizen. Unlike the Android Wear watches, the Gear 2 and the Gear 2 Neo both require a Samsung phone.
Samsung’s Gear Live ($199):
Out of the box, the Gear Live looks much like the Gear 2. But once you turn it on, it stays on. The watch face doesn’t go dark as the one on the Gear 2 does after inactivity.
Unfortunately, the promised battery life is back down to a single day; the best I got was a day and a half on a full charge. The Gear Live doesn’t have as many fitness features. In addition, there’s no camera or speakerphone. To make calls, you need a Bluetooth headset paired to your phone.
Because the Gear Live and the G Watch both use Android Wear, they have similar functionality. You control both mostly by voice. There aren’t many icons or buttons on the screen, as you’d find on previous smartwatches.
LG’s G Watch ($229):
LG is hoping to make its watch easier to use by making it without a physical button. It’s not really needed when voice control is so prominent. The LG watch has about a third more battery capacity than Samsung’s.The G Watch can count steps but doesn’t have a heart rate sensor – the biggest way it differs from the Gear Live. The G Watch doesn’t have a camera or speakerphone either.