What’s a SmartWatch? Do I Need One? Which One?

What is a SmartWatch?

A smartwatch is obviously a watch, but it usually pairs with your SmartPhone to at the very least display notifications.  The idea is that you don’t have to grab your phone every time it beeps to see what message just came in.

Some SmartWatches like the Samsung Gear S & S2 are complete Cell Watches, meaning that they can be used independently and connect to a 3G cellular network all on their own.  Yes, you can make phone calls on your watch, without having to drag a cell phone around with you.  What is 3G you ask?  Before LTE there was 4G, before 4G was 3G.  In Canada we just phased out 2G, so it probably is about 5 years before we phase out 3G, but that’s just Canada, eh?

So, some SmartWatches can do as much as a SmartPhone, with the obvious limitation of a much smaller screen.  However, because of this much smaller screen they usually want you to use the voice recognition, and therefore the voice recognition is much better on some devices.

Do I need One?

If you are tired of reaching for your cell phone everytime it beeps, then you probably want a SmartWatch.  Even more so, if you are tired of dragging a cell phone around with you, then you probably want a 3G SmartWatch.

Also, my wife is prone to falling down, so I got her a SmartWatch to make emergency calls, if her phone is not close by.  While we did get the Samsung Gear S on clearance for around $299, and it is capable of making calls without a cellphone.  We currently opted out of getting the 3G SIM card installed to save the monthly fees, so it does need the cellphone in bluetooth range, but it usually is in the next room or somewhere central in the house.  Also, we can add the SIM card later if we feel we need it.

Which One?

I started out getting my wife and I the Pebble Classic SmartWatches for about $99 each.  My friend has one, and he loves it.  In addition to notifications it has apps that you can install for fitness tracking, watch faces, etc.  It’s input is limited to 3 buttons on the side, which allowed you to scroll through the options nicely.  It charged with a magnetic connector on the side, so it plugged / unplugged easily.  It is a nice inexpensive entry level SmartWatch.  However, for me I found that its bluetooth range in our house wasn’t very good, and it kept disconnecting.  Even worse, when I came back into range, it didn’t give me the notifications that I missed.  For me this was unacceptable, but for my friend he didn’t seem to go out of range, and he loves it.

So I exchanged them and got myself the Samsung Gear 2 (shown in the image above) for around $299.  It could do all that the Pebble watch did, but instead of having buttons on the side for controls, it had a colour touch screen, and voice recognition.  The voice recognition is built in to the watch itself, and is better than any voice recognition I have used anywhere to date!  It also could be used as a bluetooth speaker phone, and could save some of your favourite music and be used as a music player.  It also had all the fitness apps, and watch faces.

In addition, this is the only SmartWatch that I have found to have sleep monitoring.  I found out using this watch that the reason that I needed 10 hours of sleep was that I was only getting 8 hours motionless sleep.  This information really helped me.

In general, I believe that this watch is designed by people who actually use it.  It is easy to learn, and things work the way you would expect them to.  Samsung has been leading the market, releasing 3 or 4 models before Apple and Android jumped on the watch band wagon.

The main problem with the Samsungs is that they only pair with Samsung Galaxy phones.  Also, my charging connector worn itself out.  After trying unsuccessfully to get it repaired, because I got it from Amazon and got an International model and the local repair depot only fixes Canadian models, I was able to locate the parts I needed online (as well as the tools needed), and fixed it myself.  I still think that this is the best watch ever invented!

Before I got my wife the Gear S, I heard a lot of good reviews on the Moto 360 SmartWatch, so I got her one of those, also for around $299.  It runs Android Wear, which has it’s pro’s and con’s.  Because it is Android, there is a lot of apps you can get, because it is easy to add the extra code to existing android apps to synchronize with them.  I like that my bank has an app that I have installed on my phone, and I didn’t even have to do anything extra, it just installed automatically on my watch.  Now I can check my bank balance on my watch, without pulling out my phone.  Google maps brings up navigation on your watch, however, because the screen is so small you shouldn’t look at it while you are driving, and it doesn’t show you much anyway. It vibrate to notify you when your turn is coming up, which does help.

On the down side, I still get annoyed when I want to see the time and the screen saver doesn’t turn off when I bring my wrist up at the usual angle.  The voice recognition is not on the watch, it relays your voice to the phone which relays to the Google servers….  It takes a long time, and is not as accurate as the Samsung.  It doesn’t have speakerphone capabilities, in fact it doesn’t have a speaker at all.

I currently am using this one, as when I fixed my Samsung, I lost a screw and it wasn’t water proof anymore.  This wasn’t a problem until I went swimming…..  :-O

Android Wear is not my favorite.  It does give me the time (if the screen saver turns off), and my notifications, but it seems like they are playing catchup with the Samsungs.  It’s awkward to use, and it just seems like the people who designed it didn’t think about how people use it.  For example, I use the timer when barbecuing.  On my Samsung watch, I can stop and reset the timer in the app.  On Android Wear the only way to stop it is to exit the app, and then I have to find the app, restart it, and pick the duration again.  Also, Android Wear doesn’t seem to relay my calendar events and alarms as the Samsung does.  I can turn off my alarms from my Gear watch, but I have to go looking for my phone if I want to silence it when I am using Android Wear.

Conclusion:

Most people would be happy with a Pebble SmartWatch.  It is compatible with almost every SmartPhone out there (even Apple), and it is not expensive.  Hopefully you won’t have the range problem that I did.

Android Wear is compatible with any Android phone and many of your existing apps.  However, they are still playing catchup with Samsung.  But if you Don’t have an Samsung Galaxy phone, it is an option.

Samsung is my favorite, but only if you have a Samsung Galaxy phone to pair with it, or go 3G.  I think Samsung would corner the market if they made it compatible with all phones as the Pebble did.

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