With everybody talking about wearable technology at the minute the smartwatch is certainly the one to watch. What was seen by many as a bit or a gimmick is now starting to be taken seriously and 2014 I think is going to be the year that the smartwatch really takes off. Wearable tech is something which I find really interesting and as such I wanted to put this guide together. I myself was one of the ones who thought the Samsung’s Galaxy Gear was a bit of a gimmick, and only now am I starting to see the potential in the smartwatch. What exactly a smartwatch is is still open to debate. As such I have tried to cover different takes on the smartwatch in this guide and I hope you find this interesting.
The original Pebble which was initially funded through a kickstarter project is a waterproof smartwatch built around an e-paper type display. Compatible with both iOS and Android devices, the concept is that you can access push messages on your wrist. Once connected to you Android or i-device via the Pebble app you can download different clock faces and select exactly which notifications get pushed to the device. The battery should last about 5-7 days off one charge. Although the Pebble is not the most powerful or innovative smartwatch on the market it is possibly one of the most talked about. And, unlike other smartwatches It isn’t trying to be a smartphone on your wrist but rather a means of being able to access basic information from your smartphone.
The Pebble retails at about £89 and comes with a magnetic charging cable.
The newer upgraded and slightly cooler Pebble Steel made an appearance at CES 2014. The original Pebble had received some criticism for being a bit plasticky and lacked that premium feel. The new Pebble Steel incorporates an all metal build with much more premium looks. The Steel retains the specifications of the original but has as vastly improved design.The old Pebble will still be available at $149 with the Steel coming in at $249. The extra hundred dollars brings a much more premium all stainless steel design, a choice of stainless steel or leather strap and much more conventional styling.
Samsung Galaxy Gear range
The Galaxy Gear was Samsung’s answer to the smartwatch. Originally launched in line with the Note 3, the Galaxy Gear is now compatible with other top end Galaxy devices. Unlike the Pebble, the Gear is basically a small computer on your wrist and is only compatible with Android Samsung products. Where the Pebble may be a little plasticky for some, the Gear is made from slick aluminium and incorporates a colour super AMOLED capacitive screen. Although not a stand-alone smartphone it does have a single core 800mhz processor delivering the power and incorporates a 1.9 MP camera and two speakers. The general idea is similar to the Pebble in that it is designed as and extension to your smartphone and manages notifications. The Gear however also has voice recognition and allows you to take calls from the device. Downsides are that the battery only lasts about a day and you will pay in the region on £250 – £300 to own one. It also doesn’t help that at launch a Samsung exec was quoted as saying that the Gear lacks that certain something.
CES 2014 saw the announcement of the Gear 2 in line with the launch of the Samsung Galaxy S5. Samsung have dropped ‘galaxy’ from the title, probably because of the change in OS from Android to Tizen. The Gear 2 builds on the success of the Gear by removing the camera from the wrist strap and incorporating this into the device itself. This makes for a much slicker strap design and and such is much slimmer than the original. The camera also incorporates 720p video. One of the problems with the original was its huge asking price. Well unfortunately at time of writing the Gear 2 will be no better and is expected to retail at about £250. The device retains 512MB RAM like its predecessor but fortunately improves vastly with the inclusion of a 1GHZ dual core processor. The Gear 2 also has a little brother called the Gear 2 Neo. The Neo is specced exactly the same as its big brother but loses the camera. This means the device is smaller and lighter. It also has interchangeable wrist straps. Expect to pay about £165.
Sony SmartWatch 2
The SmartWatch 2 is Sony’s second attempt at a smartwatch. Much improved over the SmartWatch 1, the SmartWatch 2 is more refined and has a larger LCD touch display. Battery life is not bad either and can achieve about 5 days. The device is very similar to the Galaxy Gear in that it is only compatible with android devices but it does have some pretty good native apps including Facebook and Twitter. Like the Gear and Pebble however you will need to manage the SmartWatch 2 from your Android by using Sony’s own app. Build quality is pretty good and incorporates both aluminium and plastic and the only physical button is the power button. The on screen capacitive buttons mimic those found on an Android smartphone and the device is also water resistant (but not fully waterproof). Expect to pay about £130 in the UK.
The SmartWatch company MetaWatch recently announced ‘Meta’, a new brand of ultra cool premium smartwatches. Where is previous MetaWatches have been accused of being ugly, the ex fossil engineers at MetaWatch have designed the Meta range with both functionality and aesthetics in mind.The new Meta range of watches have been designed by Frank Nuovo (formally of Nokia and Vertu) so we can expect a lot of attention to quality and detail. The Meta range will sport high quality e-ink type displays making for good sunlight legibility and see of use.
The Martian is possibly one Samartwatch you haven’t heard of. When compared to the Pebble, SmartWatch 2 and Gear, the Martian is different in that it doesn’t try to look like an obvious SmartWatch. It’s other USP is that it is designed to handle voice commands and links up with Siri for iOS and Google Now for Android. It’s designed to look like a retro analogue watch and has a premium stainless steel build. The Martian, like the Gear, actually enables phone calls from the device and is pretty cool in that it vibrates when you get notifications. The Martians main limitation is that it does not have a full digital display and as such notifications are displayed on a small single line screen at the bottom of the device. This means no app support and limits the amount of information you can actually receive. If however you want a more traditional looking watch which works as a Bluetooth headset then this may be the one for you. The Martian is available in several different designs but the Passport model which is only available in the US at the minute will we you back $299.
The I’m watch is a bold and bulky smartwatch constructed from aluminium and links up with both iOS and Android devices. It sports a colour LCD display with curved glass and has 4GB built in memory should you wish to download music straight into the device. It also has a 3.5 mm jack for charging which also allows for audio output to your headphones etc. The I’m watch runs an optimised version of android but unlike other smartwatches you will need to optimise settings and download apps from the website. Fortunately there are customised apps for Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, weather and more, and these should all look nice on that large screen. The device is powered by an 454mhz processor and has 128GB RAM in tow. Downsides are that the I’m watch has pretty poor battery life and at present Bluetooth connectivity is very temperamental. Furthermore users have complained that the software is not up to scratch and is slightly clunky. Another downside is the price. In the UK this will cost about £299 from the online store. At time of writing however this is on sale for a more respectable £219.
The MotoActv is a different take on the Smartwatch idea. This is not an extension of your smartphone but rather a standalone fitness tracker for hardcore athletes. The MotoActv runs on an optimised version of android and comes in 8 and 16 GB versions. The device is made from high quality metals and has a premium, robust look and feel. It’s also water resistant. The MotoActv has a built in music player and includes a GPS receiver and accelerometer. It also has 40 preset modes for different exercise types and can also be connected to various accessories such as a heart rate monitor. Like other sports trackers you can upload all of your workouts etc to the website portal and track your progress. The MotoActv can be picked up from Amazon for £163.99.
The Toq is an interesting concept as Qualcomm state it is not designed to compete with other products, but rather to show off various technologies. Moreover this will only be available in the US at this time. One of the purposes of the device is to showcase Qualcomm’s Mirasol screen technology. This is basically a power efficient always on e-ink type full colour display and should bring with it greater battery endurance. The device also supports wireless charging and Bluetooth stereo headphones which can also be charged the same way. Like much of the competition the Toq is only compatible with Android and it allows you to access basic information like notifications, reminders, weather and stocks etc. it allow allows the user to send and receive messages. Qualcomm who are typically known for making processors state they want to work with other companies to sell the technology. However, they have hinted and increasing production depending on demand. The current cost is about $349 so you better have deep pockets.
The Neptune Pine is yet another take on the smartwatch concept. The big difference here is that the Pine is being marketed as the smartphone replacement. It is a totally standalone device which gives complete smartphone functionality but without the need to connect it to a smartphone. The Pine sports a 2.4 inch 320 x 240 QVGA screen, VGA front facing camera, 5MP rear camera and is powered by a 1.2 ghz dual-core Snapdragon processor. It aims to do it all; smartphone, sports tracker, telephony and even doubles up as a head camera. Unfortunately it won’t support 4G due to size limits however it will be capable of making video calls via the front facing camera. The developers have acknowledged that many people won’t want to replace their phone completely and as such there is a handy tethering mode so it can be used as an extension to your smartphone. The Pine is currently up for pre order at $215 for the 16 GB and $262 for the 32GB model.
I find the smartwatch revolution very interesting and look forward to seeing what happens over the next couple of years. I think the problem that the smartwatch is facing at the moment is one of identity. I don’t think the smartwatch yet knows who it is and I’m not sure the user knows what they want. Do we want something which replaces our beloved smartphone, or something which enhances it? Whilst the majority of current smartwatches work in unison with the smartphone, as we have seen the Neptune Pine tries to set a new direction. For me the Pine tries to be a bit of a master of all trades. I don’t see this as the right direction. I love my smartphone and wouldn’t want to replace it with a mahoosive smartphone watch. All I want is something which tells me I have an upcoming appointment without having to get my phone out of my pocket. I also find voice control very exciting as such a smartwatch can be used as a hands-free device. Being able to access other basic notifications like breaking news and twitter notifications would also be acceptable. Having a small screen is limiting and as such I only want important and specific information being pushed to my watch. Only time will tell which direction the smartwatch takes but at the minute I think this is very much open to debate.
I’d be really interested to hear of people’s opinions and experiences. Please feel free to comment.