The late release of Google Assistant for the Galaxy Watch 4 was very much anticipated, so we got to work hands-on to see if it was a huge step forward.
We’ve been waiting nearly a year for the best voice assistant to come to what’s still the best Wear OS smartwatch. Since the launch of the Galaxy Watch 4 and Watch 4 Classic, Samsung’s Bixby has been the only hands-free voice control system you’ve been able to use from your wrist.
For those firmly rooted in Google’s smart home ecosystem, this wasn’t ideal but now you can enjoy a full-fat Google Assistant on your wrist. Was it worth the wait? We’ve worked practically to find out the answer.
Video – Google Assistant Hands-on for Galaxy Watch 4
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Setup process and pitfalls
Unfortunately, you can’t go and toggle the assistant on the Galaxy Watch 4 or Watch 4 Classic. There is an element of business that needs to get into it to get things working and running properly. You will need to go and download the Google Assistant from the Play Store on the Galaxy Watch 4.
Somewhat strangely, you may see that the store listing is asking you to “update” rather than install. This hints that Wear OS 3.0 already includes a number of prerequisites and that only activates the feature but, unfortunately, we don’t really know for sure. It’s around 11MB in size, which is relatively small and should not affect storage on the device.
Open the newly installed Assistant app and it will guide you to your smartphone where you will need to go through the setup process to enable the feature on your wrist. If you enable Voice Match on your Google account, you can go through the process quickly and easily. If you’re happy with the “Hey Google” or “Okay, Google” wake commands, you don’t need to do anything else.
You can enable Google Assistant quick activation using the Watch 4’s side buttons by heading to Settings > Advanced Features > Key Assignment > Long Press. This section now includes a new “assistant” option that you can enable with a long press of the top side button on your smartwatch if you prefer it to the traditional wake-up command.
If you have used Bixby previously, we suggest disabling the Sound Alert feature if you intend to use it on your smartwatch. It’s not entirely clear to us, but recording some voice commands can be slow if Bixby voice activation is active and disabling the alternative voice assistant appears to have helped with speech recognition and speed.
Google Assistant for Galaxy Watch 4: What can you do?
Here’s the good news: anything you normally do with a device connected to the Google Assistant can be done from your wrist. This includes controlling smart home technology, setting reminders, sending messages, starting a call, asking general inquiries, and much more.
Unlike older Wear OS watches, the Galaxy Watch 4 has more information and is more impressive than ever. It’s definitely an extension of the Assistant experience you’ll get on smartphones and tablets but on a much smaller scale.
Ask for directions in the maps and you’ll get a thumbnail of the directions or ask how old your favorite Hollywood actor is and you’ll get additional details and possibly a picture attached. It’s nothing groundbreaking yet in terms of the assistant but this extension creates a device-to-device cohesion experience.
How does it compare to the Google Assistant on Wear OS 2.0?
Google has made a bold claim that the Assistant on the Galaxy Watch 4 offers “faster response times than ever before”. In our experience this is not actually true. Sure, the assistant results are definitely more information-dense and the rich responses are more visually impressive. However, the speeds are more or less the same on the TicWatch Pro 3 running Wear OS 2.34 – but without the added visuals.
We tested using a number of common commands such as asking for current weather conditions, setting an alarm, getting answers to a number of basic search queries, some driving directions, and even sending an SMS to a contact.
In most cases, the older TicWatch Pro kept its pace and in more than a few instances was able to respond to common queries faster than the Galaxy Watch 4. This is disappointing, to say the least but in our short test, it appears that when the Galaxy Watch 4 handles voice commands And there is a comment on the latest smartwatch reminiscent of the Nest Hub series.
With every word or phrase appearing on the screen, it seems that the time it takes to start Google Assistant on the Galaxy Watch 4 is taking longer during our process. Of course, in the older version of Wear OS, you can’t always move from one command to another without interacting with the screen. This gives the Watch 4 a secondary advantage as you can remain completely hands-free when making commands.
Annoyingly, if you do a repetitive command like trying to set an alarm at the same time as the one that was previously set, you won’t get any visual or audio feedback. We were often confused as the watch seemed to fail to record what the assistant was asked for. In fact, he simply prevented the repetition of the procedure.
Disabling Bixby’s “Sound Alert” setting initially made a difference in voice recognition speeds but not so much that the Galaxy Watch 4 is significantly faster than previous Wear OS generations. Hopefully, both Samsung and Google can improve with updates, as these initial speed improvement claims simply don’t hold up.
However, a few seconds here and there are of no interest to most people. While Google Assistant comes to the best Wear OS watch on the market it’s a much bigger deal. Bixby is a good alternative but it lacks the ability to answer questions and inquiries that require powerful Google search. Now at least, you have another option at your disposal.
Let’s hope we get faster on-device processing with the upcoming Pixel Watch. For now, this is the only way to experience the much-anticipated full-fat Google Assistant on a wearable and summing it up in two words: It’s okay.
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