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Google Assistant on Galaxy Watch 4 is great except for one thing

Google Assistant on Galaxy Watch 4 is great except for one thing

When Google and Samsung announced Wear OS 3 last year, I had a lot of questions about how well Google services would run on Samsung hardware. Of Google's wide range of apps, I was most curious about Google Assistant. The only catch was that it wasn't available when the Galaxy Watch 4 lineup was launched - and there were only vague promises as to when it would actually be available. But yesterday, Google Assistant finally arrived on the Galaxy Watch 4, and after a few hours of playing with it, I'm cautiously optimistic.

Google Assistant was already a feature on older Wear OS 2 watches. It was not very good. Since Wear OS 2 watches struggled with weak hardware, the Google Assistant was often sluggish and never lived up to its potential. Asking more than the most basic questions was a crapshoot. Meanwhile, Samsung's Tizen watches had a fast performance but only offered Bixby. And Bixby... is Bixby. Despite Samsung's efforts, it's not as useful as other digital assistants. All this to say: Once Google Assistant was available for the Galaxy Watch 4, I set it up as quickly as humanly possible.

It's not difficult to set up Google Assistant on the Galaxy Watch 4. All you have to do is make sure that your phone and watch are running the latest software. Once that is done, launch the Google Play Store app on your wrist. You can then either search for "Google Assistant" or scroll down to My Apps. Either way, you should see a button with "Assistant Update" appear. After that, follow the instructions to activate Google Assistant on your phone.

At this point you can opt in or out of Voice Match, which allows the Assistant to create a personalized voice model on your device. You'll also see a message alerting you that if you choose to listen to the watch for the active phrase "Hey Google," it will affect battery life. (More on this in a bit.)

You can take the extra step of restarting the watch's Home key (with the red trim in the upper right) to launch Google Assistant instead of Bixby. To do this:

Open the Galaxy Wearable app.
Select Watch Settings.
Tap Advanced Features.

Under the Home key menu, you can program the Assistant to launch via double press or hold down.
After that, you can take a page from Marie Kondo's book, thank Bixby for their service, and wish them all the best for their future endeavours. (However, you can't completely uninstall Bixby. I tried.)

good performance, great battery

Broadly speaking, the Google Assistant on the Galaxy Watch 4 is by far the best on the Wear OS Watch. However, it's a low bar, and it's not all rainbows and butterflies.

The special thing is that Google Assistant on Galaxy Watch 4 is very fast. It should come as no surprise that this watch has a more powerful processor than every other Wear OS watch you can currently buy. The Assistant understands my commands, whether it's texting my husband, setting the timer, or telling me if it's going to rain today. I didn't even have to wait breathlessly for Google Assistant to process things. Even though it failed in one command—which all digital assistants sometimes do—it did so quickly. That said, the watch has to be awake for any voice commands to be registered.

Between Assistant on the Galaxy Watch 4 and Siri on my Apple Watch Series 7, I'd say performance is pretty much the same. Both get up quickly, understand most of my murmurs, and take almost the same amount of time to answer questions. However, Assistant has a slight edge when it comes to delivering useful search results. For example, I asked both Assistant and Siri to find me the nearest auto repair shop. While Google Assistant was able to recommend nearby shops that were highly rated and easy to reach, Siri found a repair shop and several parking garages with no ratings.

This would be almost perfect if it weren't for the fact that enabling Google Assistant has been a major battery drain in the short time I've been using it. When testing the feature, I had Always On Display enabled and the watch was listening for "Hey Google" triggers in the background. After about two hours it went from full charge to 80 percent. At this rate, I'd consider it lucky that I have time to sleep. With the same settings on the Series 7, for the same duration and use, I'm down to just 92 percent. I can't say it's a shock, but it's disappointing nonetheless.

While Google Assistant took a while to arrive, now that it has, most of Google's services are available as apps on the Galaxy Watch 4. In addition to Assistant, apps like Gboard, Google Pay, Google Maps, and YouTube Music can also do the trick. All can be downloaded directly from play store. Meanwhile, Google Home and Google Wallet are due later this year. Calendar is still missing from the bunch, but by and large, Android users don't have to live with Samsung's preinstalled apps if they don't want to anymore.

Ultimately, with Google Assistant, I can actually see myself using a digital assistant on a Samsung smartwatch. this is the first. It was a much more enjoyable experience than the Assistant on Wear OS 2. So while I can see users opting to stay on Samsung Pay or choose Spotify over YouTube Music, Google Assistant makes more sense to all but the most hardcore Bixby fans. It's hard to say how much this experience will apply to the upcoming Pixel Watch - although I'm optimistic that good performance will translate here. I also hope that Samsung can figure out how to make its next generation of smartwatches more power-efficient. But in the meantime, I wish Galaxy Watch 4 owners didn't have to accept bad battery life in exchange for a good digital assistant.

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