smartwatches

What Do You Think of Smartwatches?

As a tech geek, I have been using wearable devices for the past four or five years. Here’s what I’ve found and how I have approached smart devices since then – including my thoughts on pricing, usability, and value.

My first wearable was a Xiaomi smart bracelet with a fitness tracker. Its battery life was splendid, anywhere between 7 and 10 days. The smart device had a single button switching between notifications and daily steps. On top of that, it was rated as IP67 waterproof.

I kept using it for a year and a half. Notifications didn’t appear properly from all apps. Longer messages had some natural limitations.

No.1 S2 Smart Watch

My next smart toy was a No.1 S2 Smart Watch. The nameless Chinese brands had already flooded the market with numerous, low-cost alternatives. S2 was also appealing, visually speaking, and equipped with a number of handy features (heart rate monitor, pedometer, audio speakers).

I was extremely happy with this one, despite being a random device from an unknown brand. Sadly, a year in, its custom connectivity app grew less and less reliable.

  • Bluetooth is known to cause problems at times.
  • Recent Android releases became smarter in terms of memory management. Suspending apps on-the-fly and setting different priorities was hard to track at times.
  • S2 ran a custom firmware which happened to be compatible with Android – but nowhere near as much as Wear OS.

Betting on unknown brands is a gamble. I had owned a number of non-flagship devices over the years – Sagem and Oppo phones, Chinese notebooks, some Arabic tablet I bought from KSA. Regressions, limitations, and side effects are fairly common.

LG G Watch

In 2017, I bought a second-hand LG G Watch. Buying new overpriced electronic equipment which is about to fail within 6–18 months seems like a poor investment, hence browsing the local market upfront.

I landed a great deal buying it for $65 or so – about 40% of its current market price and 70% off its initial price – and 8–10 times cheaper than a new Apple Watch or its Samsung counterpart.

LG G Watch was compatible with Google Wear. Bluetooth support was drastically improved. Custom watch faces and other visual goodies were available.

Welcome, Google Assistant support! Handling replies on Slack straight from the watch, custom emojis (for quick replies, including drawings), voice-controlled answers, Google Maps navigation while driving – some perks that were thrilling.

However, it lacked stereo speakers. I used my S2 for phone calls while driving, picking up a call without looking for my smartphone at all. Moreover, playing other audio tracks from video or a music player wasn’t transferable to the watch, either.

It sure felt more native than the S2 – given the full Wear support. But it’s dated, doesn’t support the latest Wear OS, lacks some extra bandwidth, and has no buttons whatsoever. Shutting it down is an interesting exercise when you can’t turn it on without connecting a charger.

My latest upgrade was the Huawei Watch 2 4G. The market price was $400 – $450, a second-hand deal again for $200.

I wanted to get the best of both worlds (my S2 and G Watch combined) with a new update. Sadly, the Huawei was my #2 choice. I wanted to grab an LG Watch Sport instead but couldn’t find it locally. Reviews were slightly better, Huawei was featured as a “sports model” even more than LG’s (despite its name), and LG’s navigation presents a rotating “crown” for browsing throughout menus.

So far, I have mixed feelings. Battery life is generally disappointing – a colleague is using a Samsung watch that lasts longer.

Calibrating notifications seems a bit weird. Huawei has its own app as well, working atop the Wear OS one. This may require some fine-tuning, but some pop-ups stay stuck on the screen (intended behavior) while others don’t. The LG watch had a neat bottom bar suggesting that notifications were available, and that was really handy.

Managing replies felt easier with the LG. Swipe right – mark as read. Swipe left – reply or archive. Huawei’s depends on a slow click and another action, less intuitive overall.

Feels like the buttons can be mounted to combinations – doesn’t seem to work that well. The screen is also smaller (same height but width is trimmed on top and bottom as LG has a rectangular screen).

On the bright side, this is the 4G model. I can plug a SIM card in my watch and forgo the phone while going outside for an hour or so. My carrier doesn’t support multiple SIMs with the same number which is a shame.

Edit: some limitations came from Android Wear itself so these apply to most models. Some improvements have been made although certain reports have been marked as a UX “improvement” despite numerous complaints on forums.


Summary

I’m still a fan of smartwatches.

However, battery life can be really disappointing. I realize it’s a small yet powerful device, but it’s still a freaking watch. It barely lasts a day – even my phone can beat that at times.

The smart bracelet’s uptime of 10 days was freaking awesome. I’ll recommend that (or a fitbit, Garmin, etc.) to people who care about sports tracking or generic notifications – SMS, call, pop-up with less interactivity.

The recent Android watches aren’t extremely usable yet. I spent a couple of days looking for handy apps and tricks. Wear OS support is still limited, I can’t even open Gmail and scroll through past emails. Assistant is getting smarter, but slowly.

First-time watch users, I’d suggest a cheaper option – second-hand or an older generation watch for testing purposes. No need to pay for a feature-limited watch which dies daily and costs as much as a phone.

Top “features” I use on the watch are:

  • Taking phone calls
  • Quickly responding to messages while I’m outside or in a meeting
  • Monitor notifications while driving or chilling in the evening
  • Basic step tracking and fitness goals
  • Weather forecast
  • Recording audio messages on the go (notes)
  • Keeping track of my shopping list with Google Keep notes and checklists
  • Google Calendar events
  • Finding my phone via “Find my phone” (seriously, that’s gold)

What about you? Can you share your smartwatch experience?