In September, Apple announced their newest wearable product, the Apple Watch. The Watch functions as a wireless peripheral of an iPhone that allows you to make calls directly from your wrist, see incoming messages, check out maps…a whole slew of crazy new features.
This looked super badass with your candy-apple red Walkman headphones and your Reeboks, didn’t it?
Though the Apple Watch is certainly high-profile, it’s not the first smartwatch. You could arguably award that honor to Casio’s Databank watch series, which debuted in 1983; it provided the wearer a calculator, an alarm and a “databank” where you could store phone numbers and the like.
But the current wave of real smartwatches — watches that connect to your smartphone or tablet and serve as more than glorified calculators — really began in 2012 with the Pebble, which was initially produced via a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter that raised over $10 million. The Pebble linked to your smartphone using Bluetooth, and could display your current email, SMS and calendar notifications, as well as running custom apps that could use the watch’s built-in sensors to track your movement or display a compass.
The Android Wear operating system followed in early 2014, providing a platform for manufacturers such as Motorola, Samsung and HTC to create their own smartwatches. And, with the debut of Apple Watch in early 2015, it seems the smartwatch is on the rise.
Smartwatches are definitely cool, but do you really need one? And if so, which one is going to be the best fit for your personal style?
Pebble ($99 for basic model, $199 for Pebble Steel, www.pebble.com)
: With a black and white e-ink display and a
limited set of styles and colors, the Pebble definitely looks like the Apple Watch’s plain older sibling. But for basic functionality — like vibrating and showing you your phone’s notifications without having to pull it out of your pocket — the Pebble is excellent. I’ve had one since they were first available through retail stores back in July of 2013, and it’s served me well. It’s compatible with the iPhone, but where it really shines is when it’s paired with an Android device, which gives it much more freedom to do cool stuff. With a bit of tweaking, you can make your Pebble vibrate if you walk too far away from your phone, or send an emergency SMS with just a couple of taps of the buttons.The lack of a color touchscreen is a minus, though, and both the original Pebble and the Pebble Steel take their design cues from the low end of the horological spectrum. On the other hand, thanks to the e-ink display, the battery on the Pebble lasts a lot longer than with its contemporaries.
Samsung Gear Live ($199, Google Play Store)
: Out of all of the current Android Wear smartwatches, the Samsung Gear is definitely in the running for the best of the bunch. Featuring a high-resolution color touchscreen, a microphone for voice commands and a heart rate monitor, the Gear is miles ahead of the Pebble in terms of functionality. It already does Google Maps and integrates with a growing list of existing Android apps. Plus it’s definitely nicer looking than the Pebble.Unfortunately, it appears to suffer from limited battery life: you’re going to be charging your watch every night. And as it’s an Android Wear device, it’s incompatible with iPhones.
Motorola Moto 360 ($249, moto360.motorola.com)
: The Moto 360 is a round smartwatch, which is deeply strange — we’re used to our digital screens being square or rectangular. It’s definitely prettier than any of the other smartwatches banging around right now, with replaceable bezels and a classic look. But while its battery life is better than the Samsung Gear, you’ll still want to stick it on its inductive charging base every night.
Apple Watch ($349 when available in “early 2015”, www.apple.com/watch/)
: The Apple Watch isn’t even available yet, and it’s already the new gold standard for wearables. Available in a variety of styles (including steel/aluminum alloy and gold bodies) and colors, as well as two sizes, there’s probably an Apple Watch for everyone. And in terms of functionality — Siri integration, customizable “touch” patterns that let you virtually draw on someone else’s wrist, the usual heart rate monitor) it’s on par or ahead of every other option out there.Drawbacks? Without having gotten our hands on one, the only thing we can think of is that it’s only compatible with the iPhone. And at $349, it’s more than three times the price of the Pebble. But it seems likely that the Apple Watch will be the
fashion accessory of 2015.
…Or Not To Smartwatch
Of course, a smartwatch may simply not be for you, if you’re the sort of person who doesn’t need instant notifications on your wrist, or if you’re more concerned with looking good than the functionality a smartwatch might provide. As nice as the Apple Watch may look, it’s still no match for a Patek Philippe or a good Rolex.
Also, speaking as a Pebble owner, I’ve discovered one interesting wrinkle that arises from wearing one: whenever you get a vibrating notification, it’s very hard not to glance at your watch. Unfortunately, this can lead other people who don’t know you’re wearing a smartwatch to think you keep looking at your watch, as if you’re bored. This can be awkward in social situations…particularly on first dates. (Trust me on this one.)
But if you’re okay with explaining to people that no, you’re not an inconsiderate jackass who’d rather be anywhere than talking to them, a smartwatch might be a great way to keep up with what’s going on in your life without having to go through all that tedious business of actually pulling your phone out of your pocket and looking at it. Though who knows? Maybe pocket smartwatches are the next Next Big Thing. Then you’ll actually have a use for those little pockets on your suit vests again.