Image 2 "Pebble watch trio group 04" by Pebble Technology - Pebble press pack 1. Licensed under CC BY-SA 1.0 via Wikimedia Commons
Next time: Smart watches reviewed
Next time we will look at reviews of three popular types of smart watches:
Android Wear watch (Sony SmartWatch 3)
Types of Smart Watches
There are basically three types of smart watches based on the operating system and the related ecosystem of apps. Here you can see a summary of the pros and cons of each type.
They all connect to the phone via Bluetooth which means that they reduce the battery life of the phone between 5% and 10%.
The first, simplest and most compatible watch. Available in several versions including the just released Pebble Time which has been getting good reviews. Pebble is hugely popular but there are some questions about its future.
Support from many manufacturers means many designs and price points
Screen always on (in dim mode)
Only 1 day of battery life (2 days maximum with limited features)
Does not work with the iPhone (there are plans for limited iOS support)
3. Apple Watch
The most recent and the most expensive option on the market. Also the one that has gained most attention in the press. It has probably sold more than all the others combined in the first month but it is not clear whether strong sales will continue now that the early adopter fans all got one.
Works with iPhones
High quality design
Growing support from apps
Interchangeable (but proprietary) watch bands
Can take and make calls (when phone is near)
Prices start at very expensive (£299) and go all the way up to insane (£13,500)
Only works with iPhones
Screen only on when you move your hand
More complex interface
More limited customisation of watch faces (but Apple announced that this will change in the next version of the software)
There are also some watches using their own operating systems (including some from Samsung so check if you’re buying one). While they may be fine watches, you may find it hard to find apps for them. They may also not be supported in the long term.
Three Smart Watches Reviewed
I have been using a smart watch for a little over two years now. Starting with the Pebble and recently upgrading to an Android Wear watch. I am not tempted by the Apple Watch but have been following the reviews very closely.
My two smart watches on my wrist.
The Pebble for two years
I bought the Pebble after not wearing a watch on my wrist for over twenty years. I was convinced after hearing about people who thought it made them more productive. I waited until the price came down to a little over £100. While it wasn’t the solution to all my problems, it found a permanent place on my wrist. After about six months, the screen started smudging but Pebble support just asked me to take a picture of it, and sent me a new watch in a week or so.
This is what I have used it for the most:
Control the playback of podcasts and audiobooks as I do other things. I can pause or jump back or forward. This saves me always looking for my phone when I want to listen again to a bit I missed or skip an ad.
Set timers for small tasks to help me not lose focus. I have timers set for different time. Occasionally I also use it to set an alarm when I’m on the train and don’t want to miss my stop. It just gently buzzes on the wrist.
Get notifications of directions when I cycle or walk in a new place.
Measure my laps when I go swimming.
Review and dismiss notifications from my phone. I use this a lot when I’m busy between meetings or on the road but not so much when I’m at home or at my computer.
You can set two of the hardware buttons as shortcuts to commonly launched app. I’ve set them for the timer and music control. This means that most of the time I don’t have to even look at the watch to do this.
What I find the most frustrating about the Pebble is that it’s quite cumbersome to launch any other apps. The old Pebble is limited to six apps at any one time.
I was attracted by the idea of a touchscreen on my watch but when touch screen smart watches were first released, they were far too expensive to justify the purchase. The most popular was the round watch Moto 360 which you can now get for about £160. But it wasn’t until I saw the Sony SmartWatch 3 for just a little over £100, that I decided to buy one. Prices keep going down (although sometimes also up), so it is worth to wait for the right deal.
My first few weeks have been very positive. Here are the things I particularly liked on the new SmartWatch as opposed to the Pebble:
I can set timers by voice
I can tick off items on my to do list on my watch
Notifications are much richer
I can scroll through notifications by twisting my wrist
I can use it to track my sleep patterns with the Sleep as Android app but then I have to charge it again in the morning (luckily it charges in about an hour)
What is not as good as the Pebble:
Battery only lasts about 24 hours – good enough for a full day and part of the morning the following day but not quite two full days.
How does the Sony SmartWatch 3 compare to other Android Wear SmartWatches:
Slightly longer battery life. Most other watches require charging at night.
Charging through a standard micro USB cable. This is both good and bad. Good because you don’t need to carry a separate cable. Bad because it is a bit fiddly to plug in.
Higher water proof rating which means it’s OK in the shower or the swimming pool.
Non-standard watch strap. Most other smart watches will take a standard 22mm watch strap. Sony have a system where the watch pops into and out of the strap. This makes it really easy to change the straps but it is hard to get a variety of straps.
Apple Watch – a brief look
The cheapest Apple Watch costs more than my great OnePlus One Android phone so my only experience with it was at the Apple Store and reading the many reviews.
It comes in two sizes (42 and 38 mm) and even the bigger size is noticeably smaller when set next to one of the other smart watches. The Sony SmartWatch 3 is probably the smallest Android Wear watch and it is noticeably bigger than even the larger Apple Watch.
Reviewers have commented on the build quality of the Apple Watch but I wasn’t particularly struck by it. I didn’t like the design much but that’s a very personal thing. Some of the more expensive Apple watches looked a lot nicer due to their pricey bands but I didn’t have a chance to see one up close.
From all the reviews, it is clear that there is not much that sets the Apple Watch apart. It has some nice features missing on Android Wear or the Pebble – ability to take calls is the biggest - but also missing others such as the simple interface. I found some parts of the Apple Watch interface very confusing and this is what many of the reviewers point out too.
If money is no object, then getting a smart watch is great. But if your spending limit on a watch is under £100 pounds, you will have to wait for more models to come out. But don’t expect to hand any one of the smart watches you buy today down to your kids. They will be obsolete in a few years.
Is a smart watch useful as assistive technology? In short, yes. It’s helped me be more productive, better organised and look after my health better. But is it worth the money? If I wasn’t a person who appreciates exploring new technology, I’d probably regret my purchase. But as it is I think I’ve gotten my money’s worth.
What should we cover next?
If you’d like to suggest what else this blog can cover, you can add your voice to the roadmap document.