Contributor Jennifer Jolly takes a look at the latest crop of smartwatches. Her advice? They need a little more time to be more than accessories.
They're like dinner and drinks with an attractive professional who can't quite hold up the other end of the conversation — while smartwatches are getting tons of buzz, are they actually smart enough to hold your interest beyond the first date?
The important thing to know about smartwatches is that they're not stand-alone devices; they're accessories tied to your existing smartphone. A smartwatch is designed to deliver notifications, e-mails, messages and other details right to your wrist, so that you don't have to waste a precious second actually removing your smartphone from your pocket or purse to look at it. Maybe you can even sneak a peek at your watch in a boring meeting, and not get caught, while glancing at a smartphone would label you rude, rude, rude. And is a little bit of convenience and early-adopter cachet really worth it?
Maybe the real question is this: Should smartwatches aim to augment your smartphone, or should they be capable of actually replacing it? The answer may lie somewhere in between. Smartwatch makers are struggling to understand what these trendy doodads are best suited to offer and what people like you and me actually want from them.
The Pebble smartwatch(Photo: Pebble)
I've been wearing the Pebble crowd-funded smartwatch for several months now, and it's my favorite of the pack at this point. I like the look of it, like it for quickie notifications, geek street cred, and for tracking runs. At $150, it's a nice add-on to my existing iPhone. But more days than not, I don't wear it. I forget to charge it or can't find the charger. I don't like the way long sleeves look with it on my wrist. And sometimes, I just don't want to get dinged every few seconds of my day when a new e-mail or text comes in. Bottom line, I don't want to be that wired all the time. And it's not that simple to customize which notifications I do or don't want, depending on my mood.
I've also reviewed:
The Martian Passport Watch(Photo: Martian Watches)
The early entry
Martian Passport Watch, which is fairly stylish looking, but not at all easy to use.
The Cookoo watch(Photo: Cookoo Watch)
The Cuckoo, which is fine with a colored strap, but not very helpful as a smartphone add-on once you get past it just being kind of cool.
The Samsung Galaxy Gear smartwatch(Photo: Samsung)
The high-end, loaded with bells and whistles Samsung Galaxy Gear, which is an awesome James Bond gadget. It can do all of the notifications and take photos and video, but it only works with Android, and I like brand-agnostic devices. Also, with the Gear, it's great for the tech-savvy who have the money to spend, but for $300, I would rather buy a tablet with a nimble range of apps instead.
It seems I'm not alone in this assessment. Despite this healthy crop of prospects, a recent report from research firm Gartner notes that the smartwatch is still not ready for prime time.
Here are a few reasons why:
— Smartwatches are still too pricey.
— Smartwatches are bulky and unstylish. You might be able to overlook the clunky design if the batteries held up, but they don't. Perhaps manufacturers will have to make smartwatch benefits so attractive that their gawky, geeky looks and usability are more important than their lack of staying power.
— Speaking of smartwatch benefits, what are they? In comparison with a similar devices such as the Fitbit fitness band, which focuses on one thing and does it really well, you might be left scratching your head over why you should even care about smartwatches.
— The apps aren't there, yet. Development is inevitable, but you won't find much to do with your smartwatch if you buy one right now.
So if smartwatches don't do a whole lot of anything just yet, what should they eventually be able to do? Let's not set expectations too high — in fact, anyone who'd like to see smartwatches pull off a lot of new tricks is probably barking up the wrong tree. It's not what new things a smartwatch can do for you; it's how it can make what your smartphone already does more seamless than ever. You don't want a new set of distractions buzzing and blinking on your wrist. What you want is a way to get certain information in a less intrusive, more natural way than constantly fishing for your smartphone.
With a little more time and development, smartwatches may be the solution to just the right amount of notifications and updates. You'll be able to choose exactly what information you need at a glance — a real plus if you're in a business meeting, public event or social situation where you can't keep checking your phone. But, today's smartest watch just doesn't deliver enough to be a true mainstream must-have.
So how will you know when smartwatches are ready to step up and play a major role in your life? Wait for a good design you won't be embarrassed to wear. Look for battery life that holds up to your typical, hard-working day. And demand easy compatibility with the devices and a full range of the apps that are important to you — social media, e-mail, IM, whatever you rely on the most. Until then, don't settle for less. Just like that first date with someone you really want to like, but don't quite feel the spark — the right fit will come along, maybe sooner than you think.