New Android wristwatches from Samsung and LG make a few evolutionary advances, though I won't be rushing out to buy either.
Samsung's Gear Live and LG's G Watch are good products and will appeal to those who like to be among the first to own new gadgets.
The watches serve as pedometers and let you catch up on email, texts and Facebook notifications while your phone is in your pocket or charging in the bedroom. Even with the phone in your hand, you can check messages on the watch and keep playing video on the phone.
Both smartwatches try to keep things simple through voice commands rather than touch. They use Google's Android Wear system, which I reviewed earlier.
Android Wear has a lot of potential but still lacks the functionality of even last year's smartwatches. Your ability to reply is limited, and there's not much you can do yet without a companion phone nearby.
The companion phone must run Android 4.3 or later, which covers about a quarter of the Android devices in use. It doesn't have to be a Samsung or LG phone. Visit http://g.co/WearCheck from your phone to check compatibility. Don't even bother if you have an iPhone.
Even with its release of the Gear Live, Samsung will continue to sell the Gear 2 line of smartwatches, so I'll start there.
Samsung's Gear 2 ($299, released in April):
I find the Gear 2 most useful for its fitness features. The watch counts the steps you take each day. It estimates distance and calories burned and measures heart rate on your runs, hikes and bike rides. The features are rather basic, so active users might prefer a gadget dedicated to a specific task, such as measuring distance and pace using GPS. But the Gear 2 does offer a good introduction to newcomers.
Shots from the watch's 2-megapixel camera are mediocre, but that beats missing the shot entirely because your better camera is in your pocket or handbag. If you don't need the camera, you can save $100 with the Gear 2 Neo, which has similar features otherwise. Both have speakerphones for making phone calls.
The Gear 2 line doesn't use Android Wear, but a fledging system called Tizen. Samsung says that helps extend battery life to two or three days, instead of the single day on the original, Android-based Galaxy Gear. Unlike the Android Wear watches, the Gear 2 and the Gear 2 Neo both require a Samsung phone. (continued...)
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