Samsung Gear 2 vs Pebble Steel – which watch to wear?

by , MWC 26/02/2014
Gear 2 vs Pebble Steel

Samsung unveiled its revision of the Galaxy Gear smartwatch at Mobile World Congress 2014. The Gear 2 joins a growing number of second generation wearables led by the Pebble Steel.

Both watches can display notifications, open apps and, yes, even tell you the time. But does the longer battery life of the Pebble Steel, or the extended functionality of the Gear 2 win out? Let battle commence as we pit the Samsung Gear 2 against the Pebble Steel.

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Samsung Gear 2 vs Pebble Steel – design

Samsung’s Gear 2 retains its predecessor’s brushed metal finish that so divided critics, and is roughly the same size and weight. That means it’s a fairly chunky and unsubtle device – certainly not a watch you’ll put on and forget about.

However, the formerly strap-mounted camera has been relocated to the watch’s face itself, as too has the watch’s mic The change has allowed Samsung to make the strap detachable so that you can swap and change the less than attractive plastic watchstrap as you see fit. On the whole though, the Gear 2′s design remains a little bit ‘marmite’ and one that is hard to see having mass appeal.

By comparison, Pebble’s watches are famously stripped-down, so don’t expect a camera, mic or even a touchscreen on the Steel. What you will get however is a lighter and smaller device that makes a more comfortable fit on your wrist. The Steel’s design mimics that of a regular watch – metal strap and all – so while it might not be as much of a conversation starter as the Gear 2, it’s a more viable choice for the fashion conscious.

Samsung Gear 2 vs Pebble Steel – three key features

Compatibility – one of the main complaints of the Galaxy Gear was that it only worked on a small number of Samsung’s own devices. That’s still the case with the Gear 2, and though the number of devices has been upped to 17, you’ll still require a Samsung smartphone.

By contrast the Pebble is friendly indeed and can be tethered to a whole range of Android and Apple handsets. Such mass compatibility does mean that updates to the watch’s firmware can be slow to come along, but if you want a smartwatch and don’t have a Samsung phone, it’s most definitely your best bet.

Battery life – Samsung went as far to admit that the Galaxy Gear had poor battery life during its MWC 2014 press event. It claims that the Gear 2 has triple the battery life of its predecessor at a claimed three days. That’s better, if still not ideal, and something we’ll be testing in our labs.

The Pebble Steel wins the battle of battery life by lasting for as many as seven days between charges. If you head out without packing your charger, then at least with the Steel you’ll have more chance of returning home without it running out of juice.

Interface – the Gear 2 now includes a home button, much like your smartphone, which makes it much easier to return to the homescreen if you want to quickly check the time. Its touchscreen should also make it intuitive to use for anybody who has ever owned a smartphone.

The Steel doesn’t actually have a touchscreen at all, and is navigated by side-mounted buttons. While it’s easy enough to navigate it can feel somewhat clunky at times, especially now that the Gear 2 has that home button. Ultimately the decision will come down to personal preference.

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2 comments

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Paul Fishwick

I have ‘ebayed’ my Pebble ready to buy the Gear 2 and have absolutely no regrets!

It is fair to make the above comparisons but, as you mentioned, if you already have a Samsung device, like I do, then it is a very different conversation. Compatibility is the biggest drawback of the Gear to everyone else, and I understand that, but if you’re one of the hundreds of millions of people that Samsung announced already have a Galaxy then there really is no competition. At the end of the day, one is a Samsung accessory designed to compliment only Samsung devices, irrespective of whether this is or isn’t a great commercial choice from Samsung, and the other is a generic solution targeting everyone. Both suffer different kinds of compromise as a result.

Design wise, the Pebble Steel looks a lot better dressed than the plastic version but, personally, I think the Gear styling is more modern. I think both of them look like something more than just a watch, which I want! I normally wear a nice Swiss watch and a smart watch SHOULD look different because you are going to interact differently with it than you would a ‘regular’ watch (constantly checking it during meetings, etc) and it should be clear as to why to avoid looking a little rude/odd.

For me, the problem with the Pebble was that it worked so well in creating a new, and welcome, means of indirect interaction with my phone and, as a result, made me want it to do more! I got my notifications but I wanted to be able to further interact with them while leaving my phone in my pocket and, despite some excellent apps, the absence of touch interactivity made it difficult. The one feature which frustrated me the most was, ironically, a reason I dismissed the original Gear and that was the ability to answer the calls on my watch. I thought it would be daft but being able to see who was calling on my Pebble, when my phone might be in the other room or still at my desk, made me crave the ability to be able to answer the call without having to search for the phone, which was invariably in silent mode. Will I feel daft in practice? Probably, but I will probably only use this feature in relative privacy anyway.

Whichever people choose, wearing a smart watch has become something I value a great deal more than I expected to and I can’t wait to see how the category progresses. I like wearing a watch and it is far more appealing than, say, Google Glass as I don’t want to wear glasses when I don’t have to.

Incidentally, as it is an important point, I did not get more than 3-4 days from my Pebble at any point before it died. The battery argument is not as big a deal in practice as suggested – you charge your phone every night and most people take their watch off at night so what is the big deal about having your watch charging next to your phone? As long as it doesn’t die mid afternoon, it’s no inconvenience!

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Colin English

I bought one of the original Pebble watches. The company behind it has improved the software considerably over the past year. Now I can check in with Foursquare on my watch, get a BBC news summary on it, and a host of other things that were not possible a year ago. The support for third party developers is immense. Best thing I’ve bought.

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