When Google and Samsung announced Wear OS 3 last year, I had a lot of questions about how well Google services would work on Samsung hardware. Of Google’s vast array of apps, I was most curious about Google Assistant. The only downside was that it wasn’t available when the Galaxy Watch 4 range launched – and there were only vague promises about 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 just wasn’t great. As Wear OS 2 watches struggled with subpar hardware, Google Assistant was often laggy and never fully lived up to its potential. Asking for more than the most basic of questions was a mess. Meanwhile, Samsung’s Tizen watches had snappy performance, but only offered Bixby. And Bixby…is Bixby. Despite Samsung’s best efforts, it’s just not as useful as other digital assistants. All this to say: once the Google Assistant was available for the Galaxy Watch 4, I installed it as quickly as humanly possible.
Install Google Assistant
Setting up Google Assistant on the Galaxy Watch 4 is not difficult. All you need to do is make sure your phone and watch are running the latest software. Once that’s done, launch the Google Play Store app on your wrist. You can then search for “Google Assistant” or scroll down to My Apps. Either way, you should see a button that says “Assistant Update.” Then follow the prompts 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 warning you that choosing to have the watch listen to the wake-up phrase “Hey Google” will affect battery life. (More on this later.)
You can also take the extra step of reprogramming the watch’s home key (the one with the red border at the top right) to launch Google Assistant instead of Bixby. To do that:
- Open the Galaxy Wearable app.
- Select Watch settings†
- Tap Advanced Features†
- Under the Home Key menu you can program the Assistant to start via a double press or hold†
After that, you can take a page from Marie Kondo’s book, thank Bixby for his service, and wish him the best in his future endeavors. (You can’t completely remove Bixby, though. I tried.)
Good performance, terrible battery
Overall, Google Assistant on the Galaxy Watch 4 is the best it’s ever been on a Wear OS watch. That’s a low bar, though, and it’s not all rainbows and butterflies.
Most importantly, Google Assistant is much faster on the Galaxy Watch 4. That’s not surprising given that this watch has a more powerful processor than any other Wear OS watch you can buy right now. The assistant understood my commands, whether it was to message my husband, set a timer, or tell me if it was going to rain today. I also didn’t have to wait with bated breath for Google Assistant to process things. Even if it screwed up a command — which all digital assistants do occasionally — it did it quickly. That said, the watch must be awake for it to register a voice command.
Between Assistant on the Galaxy Watch 4 and Siri on my Apple Watch Series 7, I’d say the performance is quite similar. Both wake up quickly, understand most of my mumbling and take about the same amount of time to answer questions. However, Assistant has a slight edge when it comes to providing useful search results. For example, I asked both Assistant and Siri to find me the closest auto repair shop. While Google Assistant was able to recommend nearby stores that were highly regarded and easy to reach, Siri found me a repair shop with no ratings and several parking garages.
It would be almost perfect if it weren’t for the fact that turning on the Google Assistant has been a major drain on battery in the short amount of time I’ve been using it. While testing the feature, I had the always-on display turned on and the watch listening for the “Hey Google” trigger in the background. After about two hours, it went from fully charged to 80 percent. At this rate, I’m lucky I’m going to bed. With the same settings enabled on the Series 7, for the same time period and use, I’m only at 92 percent. I can’t say it’s a shock, but it’s disappointing nonetheless.
While it took a while for Google Assistant to arrive, most Google services are now available as apps on the Galaxy Watch 4. In addition to Assistant, apps like Gboard, Google Pay, Google Maps, and YouTube Music can all be downloaded directly from the Play Store. . Meanwhile, Google Home and Google Wallet will be released later this year. Calendar still missing from the bunch, but Android users generally don’t to have to stick with Samsung’s pre-installed 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. That’s a first. It was also a much more enjoyable experience than Assistant on Wear OS 2. So while I can see users choosing to stay on Samsung Pay or pick Spotify over YouTube Music, Google Assistant makes more sense for all but the most diehard Bixby fans. . It’s hard to say how much of this experience will apply to the upcoming Pixel Watch – although I’m optimistic the good performance will translate here. I’m also hopeful that Samsung will figure out how to make its next-gen smartwatches more energy efficient. But in the meantime, I wish Galaxy Watch 4 owners wouldn’t have to accept worse battery life in exchange for a good digital assistant.
Photography by Victoria Song / The Verge