galaxy-gear-pebble

Samsung jumped into the wearable accessory bandwagon with Galaxy Gear smartwatch, priced at $299. We went hands-on with the device at IFA 2013 in Berlin last week.

The smartwatch space is heating up with the likes of Pebble, Kreyos and Sony trying to make an impact. With someone like Samsung entering the fray, the possibility of smartwatches going mainstream gets bigger. Sony has been in this space longer than anyone else, but hasn’t really cracked the recipe for success. It’s interesting to note that Qualcomm too is trying its luck in this space with their Toq smartwatch. But it’s Pebble who seems to have got a decent head-start ever since they garnered over $10 million crowdfunding via Kickstarter last year. Hence, we thought of pitching Pebble against the Galaxy Gear and see how they fare.

Samsung Galaxy Gear vs Pebble

Things which work for Galaxy Gear

  • Display: Galaxy Gear comes with a 1.63 inch Super AMOLED screen with 320×320 resolution, good enough for a screen of that size. It has a capacitive touchscreen which makes it really easy to navigate through different screens. The texts looks really crisp and sharp. In comparison, Pebble has a 1.26-inch 144 × 168 pixel black and white ultra low power ePaper display made by Sharp. That’s a clear downside in comparison to Galaxy Gear.
  • Watch OS & Apps: Galaxy Gear is built on top of Android, and hence, building apps for Gear should be relatively easy. In fact, Samsung has almost 70 apps at launch, including those from third party developers made exclusively for Galaxy Gear. The apps include Runkeeper, Evernote, Tripit, eBay, Path, and Samsung’s own apps like S Health, ChatOn and others. Pebble, on the other hand, is based on FreeRTOS which is a real-time OS for embedded devices. They have made the SDK available for developers, and have a decent backing from the community, but most apps are basic. Pebble does integrate well with Runkeeper and has a lot more watchfaces to play with. But we expect Samsung to get much more developer love in coming days.
  • Camera: Not many were envisioning a camera on a watch. Yes, we did have some creepy spy gadgets over the years doing that, but Samsung has actually gone ahead and put a decent 1.9MP camera on a watch, which is capable of recording video in HD (720p). The actual need and usage is debatable, but it’s clear Pebble can’t ever do something close to what Galaxy Gear can do in this space.
  • Hardware Specs: The specs on paper for Galaxy Gear beats Pebble on most counts. Galaxy Gear is powered by an 800MHz Exynos processor with 512MB of RAM, and comes with 4GB of internal storage. In comparison, Pebble is powered by an ARM Cortex-M3 processor with a miniscule 96kb of RAM and 2MB of internal storage.
  • WiFi & NFC: Galaxy Gear comes with WiFi connectivity & NFC support. So it doesn’t need a smartphone to interact with the web for stuff like weather updates. Pebble needs constant phone connectivity to talk to the web.
  • Voice Control & Phone calls: Galaxy Gear comes with a microphone and a speaker. This means it responds to voice commands via S Voice app. People can even receive and make calls via Galaxy Gear. I’m not sure how many would like to receive calls through their watch, but it’s true that Pebble lacks these features.

Things which work for Pebble

  • Battery: This is the biggest factor for people like me. Though Pebble has a smaller battery in comparison to Samsung Galaxy Gear (140 mAh as against 315 mAh), the actual battery performance is much better. Pebble promises 7 days of battery life while Galaxy Gear has just 25 hours. This is a deal-breaker for me. I don’t want yet another gadget which I need to charge everyday. Pebble wins hands down here.
  • Compatibility: Pebble works with both iOS and Android devices, though not ALL of them. It needs phones with Bluetooth 4.0 for full functionality, much like Galaxy Gear, but has no other restrictions (can work with Bluetooth 2.1 as well). Galaxy Gear though, works only with Samsung smartphones, and that too only the ones running Android 4.3. As of today, it’s compatible with yet-to-be-released Galaxy Note 3 phablet and the new Galaxy Note 10.1 tablet.
  • Price: As mentioned earlier, Pebble comes with much inferior hardware, and hence costs much lesser than Galaxy Gear. In fact, Pebble costs half as much as Galaxy Gear ($150 as against $299).
  • Weight: Pebble is made of plastic and weighs just around 36 grams with stock strap. On ther other hand, Galaxy gear weighs a whopping 73.8 grams, that’s more than double the Pebble’s weight. I’ve been using Pebble for a while now and really love it’s lightweightedness. Galaxy Gear though felt pretty heavy even without the security add-on you see in the video above.
  • Sunlight visibility: Though it looks a small factor, it’s really important for a watch. Pebble’s ePaper monochrome display works really well under bright sunlight, unlike the Super AMOLED screen on Galaxy Gear which tends to get reflective.
  • Water resistance: The Pebble has a waterproof rating of 5 atm, which means it can be submerged up to 50m and has been tested in both fresh and salt water, allowing one to shower or swim with the watch. Galaxy Gear has protection against moderate jets of water, but does not protect against submersion in liquid with pressure significantly above 1 atm.

It’s important to note that both Pebble and Samsung are taking different approaches towards the smartwatch concept. Pebble is keeping things simple. Though it works well as a standalone watch, it’s meant to be a companion for your smartphone. Samsung, on the other hand, is throwing in all the features like high resolution screen, camera, speakers and microphone, resulting in pathetic battery life.

In our hands on with the Galaxy gear smartwatch, it was extremely irritating when the watch display kept turning off after few seconds on standby, possibly to save the battery. I expect the accelerometer to know when you move your hands to have a look at the time, but it just didn’t work that well. For now, Pebble’s pros won over its cons for me personally.


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Raju is the founder-editor of Technology Personalized. A proud geek and an Internet freak, who is also a social networking enthusiast. You can follow him on Facebook and on Twitter. Mail Raju PP. Follow rajupp