The delayed launch of the Google Assistant for Galaxy Watch 4 has been highly anticipated so we’ve gone hands-on to find out if it’s a massive step up.
We’ve waited almost a year for the best voice assistant to come to what is still the best Wear OS smartwatch. Since the launch of the Galaxy Watch 4 and Watch 4 Classic, Samsung’s Bixby has been the sole hands-free voice control system that you’ve been able to utilize from your wrist.
For those entrenched within Google’s smart home ecosystem, this was not ideal but now you can enjoy the full-fat Google Assistant right there on your wrist. Has it been worth the wait? We’ve gone hands-on to find out.
Video — Google Assistant for Galaxy Watch 4 hands-on
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Setup process and pitfalls
Sadly, you can’t just go and toggle the Assistant on your Galaxy Watch 4 or Watch 4 Classic. There is an element of work that needs to go in to get things up and running correctly. You’ll need to go and download the Google Assistant from the Play Store on your Galaxy Watch 4.
Somewhat strangely, you may see that the store listing asks you to “Update” rather than install. This hints that Wear OS 3.0 includes a number of prerequisites already and this merely activates the feature but, alas, we do not truly know for certain. At around 11MB in size, it’s fairly small and should not impact your on-device storage.
Open the freshly installed Assistant app and it’ll guide you to your smartphone where you’ll need to follow a setup process to enable the feature on your wrist. If you have Voice Match enabled on your Google Account, then you can pass through the process quickly and seamlessly. If you’re happy using the “Hey Google” or “Okay, Google” wake commands then you don’t need to do anything else.
You can enable quick Google Assistant activation using the Watch 4 side buttons by heading to Settings > Advanced features > Customize keys > Press and hold. This section now includes a new “Assistant” option that you can enable with a long-press of the upper side button on your smartwatch if you prefer this over the traditional wake-up command.
If you have previously used Bixby, we would suggest disabling the “Voice wake-up” feature if you are intent on using it on your smartwatch. It’s not entirely clear to us, but some voice commands can be slow to register if Bixby voice activation is active and disabling the alternate voice assistant appears to have helped in speech recognition and speed.
Google Assistant for Galaxy Watch 4: What can you do?
Here’s the good news: Anything that you can ordinarily do with a Google Assistant connected device can be done from your wrist. That includes controlling smart home tech, setting reminders, sending messages, initiating a call, asking general queries, plus much more.
Unlike on older Wear OS watches, the Galaxy Watch 4 includes more information and is visually far more impressive than ever before. It’s certainly an extension of the Assistant experience that you’ll get on smartphones and tablets but at a much smaller scale.
Ask for directions in Maps and you’ll get a micro image of the directions or ask the age of your favorite Hollywood actor and you’ll get extra details and maybe a photo attached. It’s nothing groundbreaking so far as the Assistant is concerned but this extension creates experience cohesion from device to device.
How does it compare to Google Assistant on Wear OS 2.0?
Google has made the bold claim that Assistant on Galaxy Watch 4 offers “faster than ever response times.” In our experience that isn’t actually true. Sure, Assistant results are certainly more information-dense and rich responses are more visually impressive. However, the speeds are fairly similar on the TicWatch Pro 3 running Wear OS 2.34 — but without the added visual elements.
We tested using a number of common commands like asking about the current weather conditions, setting an alarm, getting answers to a number of basic search queries, some driving directions, and even sending an SMS message to a contact.
In most cases, the older TicWatch Pro actually kept pace and in more than a few instances managed to return common queries faster than the Galaxy Watch 4. That’s disappointing, to say the least but in our brief testing, it seems that when the Galaxy Watch 4 is processing voice commands, there is a hang on the newer smartwatch that is reminiscent of the Nest Hub series.
As each word or phrase appears on screen, the time it takes to initiate the Google Assistant on the Galaxy Watch 4 appeared to take longer during our hands-on process. Of course, on the older version of Wear OS, you can’t always move from one command to another without interacting with the display. This does give the Watch 4 a minor advantage as you can stay fully hands-free when making commands.
Annoyingly, if you make a repeat command such as attempting to set an alarm for the same time as a previously set alarm, then you get no visual or audio feedback. Often we were left confused as the Watch appeared to fail in registering just what had been asked of the Assistant. In actual fact, it had simply prevented a repeat action from taking place.
Disabling the “Voice wake-up” setting for Bixby initially made a difference to the voice recognition speeds but not to a point where the Galaxy Watch 4 is exponentially faster than previous Wear OS generations. We’re hoping that Samsung and Google can improve with updates, as those initial speed improvement claims simply do not hold up.
That said, a few seconds here and there do not matter to most people. While the Google Assistant coming to the best Wear OS watch on the market is a far bigger deal. Bixby is a fine alternative but it lacks the ability to answer questions and queries that require Google’s powerful Search. At least now, you have another option at your disposal.
Let’s hope that we get faster on-device processing with the upcoming Pixel Watch. For now, though, this is the only way to experience that long-awaited full-fat Google Assistant on a wearable and to sum it up in two words: it’s fine.
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