An Interaction Designer’s Perspective: Samsung Gear vs. Samsung Gear Live

Editor’s note: In January of 2014, our team held a wearables summit of sorts, test-driving five popular watches, fitness bands and head-mounted displays to collect experiential evidence of each form factor, initial experience, device software and ecosystem and development capabilities.

Julia drew the original Samsung Galaxy Gear smartwatch, and she’s been using it ever since. A few months ago, she began using the new Android Wear hotness, the Samsung Gear Live, which several of us have.

What follows are Julia’s impressions and opinions of the two watches. Enjoy.

Original Galaxy Gear versus Gear Live

When I had to keep track of time, I used to wear my Skagen watch, and I loved my little Skagen. Last year it ran out of battery. Coincidently, it happened when Thao (@thaobnguyen) ordered then just released Samsung Galaxy Gear for me to “test.”

Life is busy, and it took me some ten months to get new battery for my Skagen.

In the meantime, I wore Gear. When I got my Skagen back, I had a “Lucy of Prince Caspian” moment. I felt my watch was bewitched – I couldn’t talk to it (I tried), and it couldn’t talk back to me. Mute and dumb. That’s how I realized I am hooked on smart watches.

Back to Narnia, Lucy Pevensie tries to wake up a lethargic tree that forgot how to speak. Skagen watch doesn’t speak to me either.

Back to Narnia, Lucy Pevensie tries to wake up a lethargic tree that forgot how to speak. Skagen watch doesn’t speak to me either.

This is just a preface, the write up is about original Gear versus Gear Live, which I’ve been testing for few months. In a nutshell, I have mixed feelings about Gear Live. Though there are some improvements over the original watch, I find many setbacks.

Typography

On the left, original Gear, on the right, Gear Live.

Left, original Gear, right, Gear Live, note the minimalistic typography of original Gear versus decorative typography of Android Wear.

Original Samsung Galaxy Gear featured clean bold typography. I could read a notification at a glance even when driving. In Gear Live, the minimalistic typography of Samsung Gear was replaced by smaller fonts and decorative backgrounds of Android Wear. Not only those decorations are useless, they make the watch unusable in the situations when it could’ve been most helpful. (And yes, I understand Samsung had to showcase the impressive display).

Speaker

On the left: original Gear On the right: Gear Live I can take a call AND talk on the original Gear. With Gear Live I can take the call, but then (unless I am connected to car speakers) I need to pick up the phone to talk.

Left, original Gear, right Gear Live, 
I can take a call AND talk on the original Gear. With Gear Live I can take the call, but then, unless I am connected to car speakers, I need to pick up the phone to talk.

Getting calls on a Gear in awkward situations was my main usage of it. As clunky as placement of the speaker and mic was on the original Gear, I still was able to get the calls safely while driving, or while walking with my hands full. Gear Live has no speaker. It can initiate the call hands-free, but what is the use if I still need to get to my phone to speak?

Camera

On the left: original Gear On the right: Gear Live Gear Live has no camera

Left, original Gear, right, Gear Live, which has no camera.

Location, voice-to-text, AND image-to-text are three most logical input methods for the watch. I got very used to taking image notes with the original Gear. Did you know that Evernote can search for text in images? For me, the flagman demo application of the original Gear was Vivino. With Vivino, one can take a picture of a wine label at a store with a watch camera, and get the rating/pricing back on the watch. This application was a great demonstration of smart watch retail potential. Gear Live has no camera, dismissing all such use cases.

Vivino application on original Gear (no longer supported) Point a watch camera to a label, take a picture and submit to Vivino server, receive wine rating on the watch.

Vivino application on original Gear, no longer supported.
Point a watch camera to a label, take a picture and submit to Vivino server, receive wine rating on the watch.

Google Speech Recognition

five

Google Speech Recognition is superbly usable technology, way beyond S-Voice or Siri. Big Data in real action! Voice Search, Voice Commands, and dictation work fabulously. The only issue I found is with recognizing email contacts from speech.

Smart Watch

Google Voice Search makes Smart Watch smart. It brings the knowledgebase of the world – Internet – to the tip of your tongue, and it is MAGIC!

six

seven

eight

Google Now

I must confess I am annoyed by Google Now cards. I know it tries really hard, but the recommendations are wrong about 50% of the time. The other 49% they are irrelevant. Given that, I feel that Now shall stick to the back rows. Instead, it is putting itself on a central stage. Lesson learned – for smart watch, precision/recall balance needs to be skewed heavily toward precision.

Google Now on Gear Live Ah? I am at home, silly!

Google Now on Gear Live Ah? I am at home, silly!

Conclusions

These opinions are my own. At least half of my day is spent on the go – driving kids around, in classrooms or lessons, and doing family errands. I rarely have idle hands or idle time.

You’ll be the judge if I am an atypical user. In addition, I do not subscribe to the school of thought that a smart watch is a phone satellite, and a fetish. I believe it can be useful gadget way beyond that.

Yes, it is given that no one will use the watch to write or read a novel, not even a long email. Afar from that, I don’t see why a good smart watch cannot do all a person on a go needs to do, replacing the phones, and giving us back our other hand.

Therefore, I feel that a good smart watch shall aspire to:

  • work at a glance
  • be precise
  • hands free
  • self-contained

ten

If that is your typical day, then this is your gadget.

eleven

Last Thought: Smart Watch and IoT

Last but not the least, I believe that a smart watch naturally lends itself to become a universal remote control for all IoT “smart things” – it can be your ID, it can sense “smart things,” it can output small chunks of information as voice or text, and it can take commands. As you walk next to (your) refrigerator, refrigerator can remind you via your watch to buy more milk, and you can adjust refrigerator’s temperature via the watch. This assumes that a “smart thing” can beam a description of all the knobs and buttons you need to control it.

twelve

I am surprised there is not much written on that, but here is a very good paper (pdf) “User Interfaces for Smart Things A Generative Approach with Semantic Interaction Descriptions” Simon Mayer, Andreas Tschofen, Anind K. Dey, and Friedemann Mattern, Institute for Pervasive Computing, ETH Zurich, HCI Institute, Carnegie Mellon University, April 4, 2014.

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