Wearable computing has been standing in the wings for a while now, waiting for its moment in the spotlight. And this holiday season looks like it's finally time for smartwatches' first big entrance. Watches like Pebble and Sony's original Smartwatch have been around for a while now, but Samsung's Galaxy Gear and the Sony Smartwatch 2 are about to heat things up. Let's compare the specs and features of the two big touchscreen watches, and see how they stack up.
This is a little different from comparing smartphones, tablets, or laptops, because you won't be using either of these watches in the disembodied states you see above. But for what it's worth, the Samsung Galaxy Gear's face is 39 percent taller, and 23 percent thicker. The Sony Smartwatch 2 is 14 percent wider.
You don't want your smartwatch to be too heavy on your wrist. You can replace the Smartwatch 2's strap, so Sony gave us a couple of different specs here. With its metal band, though, it's 66 percent heavier than the Galaxy Gear.
No cheap plastic here. The Gear is made of stainless steel, and the Smartwatch 2 rocks an aluminum body.
The Smartwatch 2 gives you 96 percent as much screen area as the Galaxy Gear does. The Gear also has a much sharper screen, with a pixel density much closer to what you'd see on modern smartphones.
The Galaxy Gear has a Super AMOLED display, while Sony's watch has a Transreflective LCD, which should keep it plenty readable in direct sunlight. Samsung says the Gear will look good in the sun too, but we'll have to test drive both phones before we take that at face value.
The current generation of smartwatches have a secret: they really aren't all that smart on their own. In fact, their main job is to leech brainpower from your much smarter smartphone. So it's essential that you buy a watch that's compatible with your phone of choice.
This is a big advantage for the Sony Smartwatch. It's compatible with any Android phone, as long as it's running Android 4.0 (which was released in late 2011) or higher.
At launch, the Galaxy Gear is compatible with – drumroll please – one phone, Samsung's new Galaxy Note 3. Within the next month or two, software updates will make it compatible with the Galaxy S4, Galaxy S3, and Galaxy Note 2 as well. But this is an extremely limited list, compared to the countless phones the Sony Smartwatch will pair with.
Neither phone, though, will sync with an iPhone. If that's what you're looking for, your best bet right now might be the Pebble smartwatch. If you wait a while though (a month? a year?), Apple is rumored to be working on its own iWatch.
Speaking of pairing with your phone, both watches are going to do that via Bluetooth. Here the Galaxy Gear uses newer technology, the battery-conserving Bluetooth LE (Low Energy).
The biggest gift that smartwatches give you is instant notifications right on your wrist. As with Pebble, and every other recent smartwatch, both of these deliver.
The Galaxy Gear also has an eye-catching feature called Smart Relay that automatically opens the corresponding app on your phone when you pick it up. If that doesn't make sense, just picture receiving an email on your watch, picking up your Galaxy Note 3 to read it in its entirety, and having your email app waiting for you when you pick it up.
According to Samsung's and Sony's estimates, the Smartwatch 2 has the advantage in battery life. It supposedly lasts three to four days with typical use. Samsung says the Galaxy Gear will get over 24 hours with heavier use, but you'll definitely want to plug it in before you hit your pillow at night.
The Galaxy Gear has a speaker and microphone, to let you make phone calls through the watch. Well, technically, the call is being placed by your phone, but on the user end it should seem like it's happening entirely on the watch.
The Smartwatch 2 doesn't have this kind of calling feature. Sony is pitching its ability to help you make a call via a Bluetooth headset, but that sounds more like a half-hearted attempt to cover up a weakness than a real marquee feature.
Our future smartwatches will probably all feature some sort of voice control. It makes sense, right? The screen is too small for any meaningful text entry, so talking to your phone is the next best way to dictate a message or look something up.
Here Samsung has the advantage, as a pared-down version of its S Voice (Samsung's Siri rival) is on board. We're anxious to put the Gear's version of S Voice through the paces, to see just what it can and can't do.
The Galaxy Gear also sports a camera on its strap. Activation is easy: swipe from the top of the screen to the bottom, and tap on the screen to shoot. It might be a little creepy just how discreetly you'll be able to snap photos, but at least your victims can rest easy, knowing that they'll only be about the same quality as your phone's front-facing camera.
Both watches have some water resistance in tow, which is pretty much essential for a wearable device. Sony's water resistance is much better though, as you can go swimming in your Smartwatch 2. The Galaxy Gear is limited to some rain and maybe a shower.
We aren't going to dwell too much on components like processors here in these early smartwatches, but the Galaxy Gear's single core CPU is faster.
You can swap the Smartwatch 2's default band with any standard 24 mm strap. The Galaxy Gear's band, camera and all, is a permanent part of the package.
Sony is playing up the Smartwatch 2's near-field communication, but we don't think that should be a deciding factor. It supposedly makes pairing with your phone easier (just bump and it pairs), but the actual pairing still happens over Bluetooth. NFC just (allegedly) makes an already easy process even easier.
What would a mobile device be without apps? Both watches will run apps, but at launch this is an overwhelming advantage for Samsung. The company lined up deals with some popular developers, and will run wrist-based versions of popular apps like Path, Evernote, Pocket, and Glympse.
Wrap-upWe're still at the beginning of the story of wearable computing. But these two early entries each offer something a little different.
The Galaxy Gear shows all signs of being the more advanced device. It has more smarts in its own head, and borrows even more from its connected phone.
But that singular "phone" also looks to be the Galaxy Gear's biggest weakness at launch. On day one, you'll need a Galaxy Note 3 if you want it to be anything other than a US$300 time keeper. Like we already mentioned, support for other Galaxy devices is on its way, but even that makes for a pretty narrow list.
So, by default, the Smartwatch 2's killer feature is its compatibility. As long as your Android phone runs Ice Cream Sandwich or beyond (any recent mid- to high-end Android phone should), then you're in the clear.
We'll be getting our hands on Sony's watch soon, but you can already check out our full review of the Galaxy Gear.