An­droid Wear ver­sus Sam­sung Gear

RYAN WHITWAM’s prac­ti­cal guide will help you de­cide which An­droid-friendly smart­watch plat­form is right for you

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If your phone runs An­droid, and you are in­ter­ested in buy­ing a smart­watch, your jour­ney be­gins with an­swer­ing a sin­gle fun­da­men­tal ques­tion: Sam­sung Gear or An­droid Wear? Sure, there are other smart­watch plat­forms that work with An­droid phones, but Gear (per­haps best rep­re­sented by the

Gear S3) and An­droid Wear (rep­re­sented by watches too nu­mer­ous to men­tion) have the most ma­ture ecosys­tems and re­fined hard­ware.

Google’s An­droid Wear plat­form has strong third­party app sup­port, and if you opt for a Wear watch, you can choose from a wide va­ri­ety of models in all shapes, sizes and styles. Sam­sung, mean­while, has gone its own way with its Gear smart­watch line-up. These watches run Sam­sung soft­ware, and ad­here strictly to the Sam­sung ecosys­tem, but also of­fer some ben­e­fits that Wear watches do not.

Smart­watches can be al­most as com­plex and var­ied as smart­phones, so you’ll want to con­sider the fol­low­ing cri­te­ria be­fore you de­cide which plat­form is the right one for you.

No­ti­fi­ca­tions

A quick glance at a reg­u­lar watch tells you the time, but a smart­watch can tell you ev­ery­thing that’s go­ing on in your dig­i­tal world with no­ti­fi­ca­tion sync. Both Sam­sung Gear and An­droid Wear can show no­ti­fi­ca­tions from your phone, but the way they do it is very dif­fer­ent.

An­droid Wear’s in­ter­face is based al­most en­tirely on no­ti­fi­ca­tions. You swipe up and down to page through them, and you get ev­ery­thing, in­clud­ing emails, im­age mes­sages, and me­dia play­back no­ti­fi­ca­tions. An­droid Wear, how­ever, also un­bun­dles all the bun­dled no­ti­fi­ca­tions from your phone. The up­shot is each email no­ti­fi­ca­tion you get on the Wear watch has its own sep­a­rate page, and that can be te­dious to nav­i­gate if you get a lot of email.

It’s also worth not­ing that the ro­tat­ing crown for scrolling through no­ti­fi­ca­tion lists is only avail­able on a few Wear watches – no­tably the LG Watch Style (£229 from fave.co/2rMfEWS). This means you better get used to swip­ing.

Sam­sung Gear keeps no­ti­fi­ca­tions bun­dled and places them to the left of the watch face. On most Sam­sung watches, you can flip through them with a swipe or with Sam­sung’s ro­tat­ing bezel.

Each no­ti­fi­ca­tion stack can be ex­panded, and the ro­tat­ing bezel quickly scrolls through them. Me­dia no­ti­fi­ca­tions aren’t shown na­tively on Gear watches, but you do have a play­back wid­get that can be placed off to the right of the watch face (wid­get lo­ca­tion for all apps is cus­tom­iz­a­ble). This ap­proach is more con­ve­nient than, say, search­ing through a stack of An­droid Wear email no­ti­fi­ca­tions to find a play but­ton.

Both plat­forms sup­port two-way sync. This al­lows you to deal with no­ti­fi­ca­tions on your watch, and not see them again the next time you pick up the phone. Nei­ther no­ti­fi­ca­tion en­gine is in­her­ently better, but Sam­sung’s ap­proach makes deal­ing with large vol­umes of email eas­ier.

Fit­ness fea­tures

As you might ex­pect, Sam­sung’s watches run Sam­sung Health while An­droid Wear is tied into Google Fit. How­ever, An­droid Wear de­vice mak­ers can also in­clude their own ex­tra fit­ness apps. So, for ex­am­ple, if you’re al­ready using a Huawei fit­ness app on your Huawei phone, a Huawei smart­watch might make sense.

Google Fit is good for step count­ing and heart rate track­ing, but its ex­er­cise fea­tures are rudi­men­tary, and Google has yet to crack the code on au­to­matic track­ing for work­outs. Also, some An­droid Wear de­vices – even very ex­pen­sive ones – don’t have heart-rate sen­sors at all.

Fit­ness track­ing is one of the Gear watches’ killer fea­tures. They track steps and sam­ple your heart rate, and Sam­sung’s ex­er­cise track­ing is border­line mag­i­cal. Within a few se­conds of start­ing an ex­er­cise, watches like the Gear S3 (£349 from fave.co/2nnC77Z) and Gear Sport (£299 from fave.co/2nmhxFa) can fig­ure out what you’re do­ing – whether that be run­ning, walk­ing, el­lip­ti­cal, cy­cling or more – and be­gin log­ging the ac­tiv­ity. No ad­di­tional setup is needed and all your data is saved to Sam­sung Health. The Gear Sport can also do more ad­vanced things like swim track­ing.

This one is a blowout. Sam­sung Gear de­vices are worlds better than An­droid Wear at fit­ness track­ing. None of the third-party fit­ness apps on An­droid Wear can match the power of Sam­sung’s built-in fea­tures.

App ecosys­tem

Google wisely tied An­droid Wear apps into the Play Store ecosys­tem by en­cour­ag­ing de­vel­op­ers to add An­droid Wear sup­port to ex­ist­ing apps. In Wear 2.0 and later, you can even browse the Play Store on your watch. The app ecosys­tem isn’t as deep as it is for phones, but many of the top de­vel­op­ers have added sup­port. There are apps from Nest, IFTTT, Play Mu­sic , Face­book Mes­sen­ger, and more.

Over in Sam­sung land, poor app se­lec­tion is one of the big­gest draw­backs for Gear watches. The pre­in­stalled apps are the best ones on the plat­form

be­cause de­vel­op­ers haven’t got­ten se­ri­ous about sup­port­ing Sam­sung’s Tizen soft­ware on any de­vice, nei­ther phones nor watches. The only apps worth down­load­ing are the hand­ful that were de­vel­oped in part­ner­ship with Sam­sung, like Flip­board and Spo­tify.

All that said, nav­i­gat­ing your app list on Sam­sung Gear is re­ally cool: You can use the ro­tat­ing bezel to high­light apps, and then tap in the mid­dle to launch. This is much eas­ier than tap­ping the tiny icons on An­droid Wear. But this doesn’t save Sam­sung in this cat­e­gory. App sup­port is a clear win for An­droid Wear.

Voice and dig­i­tal as­sis­tants

Phones have gen­er­ally be­come eas­ier to use as their screens have got­ten big­ger, but watches can’t play that game – they need to fit on our wrists, after all. Luck­ily, voice in­ter­ac­tion gives us an al­ter­na­tive to touch con­trol for re­ply­ing to mes­sages and get­ting things done, and it’s a cor­ner­stone of the An­droid Wear ex­pe­ri­ence thanks to fan­tas­tic in­te­gra­tion with Google As­sis­tant.

An­droid Wear’s voice in­put is of­ten sur­pris­ingly ac­cu­rate, and a long-press of the crown but­ton launches Google As­sis­tant from any screen. As­sis­tant on a Wear watch of­fers most of the same ca­pa­bil­i­ties as As­sis­tant on your phone or a Google Home smart speaker – you can per­form searches, set re­minders, and con­trol smart home de­vices, among other tricks.

Sam­sung is in a tran­si­tional pe­riod with voice con­trol on its phones. It now has its own Bixby dig­i­tal as­sis­tant, but Bixby doesn’t of­fer very strong sup­port for apps and ser­vices. What’s more, there’s

no Bixby on Gear watches yet, so the voice con­trol plat­form re­mains S Voice, and it’s def­i­nitely show­ing its age. It’s ser­vice­able for in­putting text or cre­at­ing a re­minder, but Google As­sis­tant on An­droid Wear is more ac­cu­rate. What’s more, S Voice is ter­ri­ble when it comes to search queries, and there’s no smart home in­te­gra­tion.

Google As­sis­tant is a much better ex­pe­ri­ence, so that’s a big win for An­droid Wear.

Watch faces

The story here is very sim­i­lar to the one for apps. An­droid Wear has many more op­tions thanks to higher de­vel­oper adop­tion. Wear watch faces are dis­trib­uted through the Play Store, some­times along with apps.

These watch faces can also dis­play data pulled from other apps, giv­ing you ‘com­pli­ca­tions’ like you’d find on a fancy ana­logue watch.

On Sam­sung Gear, watch face se­lec­tion is much weaker. It’s better than the app sit­u­a­tion, but few of the Gear faces are as cus­tom­iz­a­ble or pow­er­ful as what you find on Wear. The one bright spot: Cus­tom watch face de­sign apps like Facer and Watch­maker work on both plat­forms.

Voice calls

Using your watch as a phone for voice calls is han­dled in a sim­i­lar fashion on both plat­forms, but the ca­pa­bil­i­ties vary based on the spe­cific watch you have. Calls that come in to your con­nected phone show up as no­ti­fi­ca­tions on both An­droid Wear and Sam­sung Gear. Most An­droid Wear de­vices have speak­ers and mi­cro­phones so you can ac­tu­ally take the call with­out touch­ing your phone. Some Wear watches even have LTE con­nec­tions so you can take calls with­out your phone present. And, of course, you can dis­miss a phone call en­tirely from your watch. That’s ta­ble stakes.

Gear de­vices can also an­swer calls from your phone, but sup­port varies across the model range. The newer Gear Sport, for one, lacks a speaker, so you can an­swer and place calls from that watch, but you need a con­nected phone or Blue­tooth head­set in or­der to ac­tu­ally hear any­thing.

Also, there’s only one LTE watch on the Gear side right now, the Gear S3 Fron­tier (£349 from

fave.co/2nkYY4a). Sam­sung’s watches do have a

more ro­bust di­aler, though. The An­droid Wear dial pad is cramped, mak­ing it an­noy­ing to place calls to num­bers you don’t have saved.

Model va­ri­ety

There are cur­rently sev­eral dozen smart­watches run­ning An­droid Wear, giv­ing the plat­form healthy va­ri­ety in terms of sizes and styles. There are cheaper op­tions that cost around £150 (like the TicWatch S, £144 from fave.co/2nmEet0) and ob­nox­iously ex­pen­sive watches, like the £1,900 Tag Heuer Con­nected Mod­u­lar 45 (avail­able from fave.

co/2rTCRGy). You also have smaller, sim­ple watches like the LG Watch Style and more ro­bust watches like the Asus ZenWatch 3 (£249 from fave.co/2nnHTGI).

Sam­sung’s Gear line only comes in a hand­ful of flavours, all of which are on the ex­pen­sive side. There’s

the Gear S3, the slightly smaller Gear Sport, and the fit­ness tracker-in­flu­enced Gear Fit2/Fit2 Pro. There are also some older Gear S2 de­vices still float­ing around. They all have sim­i­lar styles and fea­ture sets.

The bot­tom line is that if you want va­ri­ety, An­droid Wear has it.

Mo­bile Pay­ments

Some An­droid Wear de­vices sup­port Google’s mo­bile pay­ment plat­form, An­droid Pay. But sup­port is still far from a sure thing, as many watches still ship with­out the re­quired NFC hard­ware.

Watches like the Huawei Watch 2 do have NFC, al­low­ing you to make pay­ments from the watch at stores that ac­cept An­droid Pay. But, un­for­tu­nately, that’s still far from all stores. On the Sam­sung Gear de­vices, you have Sam­sung Pay, and that can be

much more use­ful if you get the Gear S3. That watch has the full Sam­sung Pay ex­pe­ri­ence, mean­ing it can do both NFC (like An­droid pay) and Mag­netic Se­cure Trans­mis­sion (MST). With MST, you can make pay­ments at al­most any store that has a credit card reader. How­ever, MST hard­ware isn’t avail­able in the Gear Sport, and the Gear Fit2 Pro doesn’t have NFC or MST. So, mo­bile pay­ments are much better on Sam­sung, as long as you get the Gear S3. Other­wise, it’s a draw.

Which plat­form is right for you?

If you’re torn on which way to go, start by check­ing out the style of Sam­sung’s Gear de­vices. There are only a few, so if they don’t ap­peal to you, An­droid Wear’s larger watch ecosys­tem will prob­a­bly be more to your lik­ing. An­droid Wear is also strong when it comes to apps and watch faces, and the Google As­sis­tant in­te­gra­tion is excellent.

Sam­sung Gear ex­cels in fit­ness track­ing – it’s un­canny how quickly and ac­cu­rately it can de­tect work­outs. Sam­sung’s Gear soft­ware is also better for man­ag­ing large num­bers of no­ti­fi­ca­tions, and the in­ter­face is easy to nav­i­gate with the ro­tat­ing bezel. An­droid Wear’s ro­tat­ing crown is nice, but is only avail­able on a few de­vices.

The Gear S3 can make pay­ments in al­most any store

The TAG Heuer Con­nected Mod­u­lar 45 is not only the pin­na­cle of smart­watch de­sign. It also comes in a wide va­ri­ety of styles

When it comes to watch faces, An­droid Wear has much more va­ri­ety and cus­tomiza­tion

An­droid Wear has many thou­sands of apps via the Play store, but Gear only has a hand­ful

Gear has ex­tremely re­li­able au­to­matic work­out track­ing

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