• Smartwatches: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

    Three years ago this month I road-tested my first smartwatch, the first Android Wear wearable from LG. I bought it on a whim, sight unseen, immediately after watching the webcast of the live keynote for the launch of Android Wear. On a similar whim some six months later I bought an original Pebble on clearance at my local Best Buy. I stuck with that through the launch of the Pebble Time in mid-2015, gave up for a while, came back to the superior Pebble Time Steel and remained a loyal Pebbler until the sale of assets to Fitbit last December. Then I returned to Android Wear, but only devices made by traditional watchmakers. And now, thanks to Gadgetbridge, I find myself reunited with my collection of Pebbles.

    I've never owned an Apple Watch or a Fitbit, but thanks to Howard I did get to spend a weekend with an original Galaxy Gear way back in the winter of 2013. All this is only to say that I know a thing or two about the device category. So here's what I think of it, three years on.


    This is the smartwatch's core function, to send notifications from your phone to your wrist. And it's handier than you might think. Whether I'm driving or out with friends I find it incredibly useful to discreetly—and safely—glance at my wrist to see an incoming notification. Whether or not I act on that notification is entirely up to me. I personally only ever use text-to-speech for replies when I'm at home alone; the world doesn't need any more idiots yelling at their technology in public.

    If you don't already wear a watch and are not sold on the idea of wrist-based notifications then maybe a smartwatch isn't for you.


    When it comes to the smartwatch's "killer feature" I do believe one exists, it's just maybe not as earth-shattering as you might think: for me it's the ability to change your watchface. No other smartwatch OS has capitalized on this as much as Pebble, but what constitutes a good-looking watchface is, of course, fairly subjective.

    I feel pretty strongly that you should also be able to change your strap to compliment your watchface; this feature obviously isn't unique to smartwatches, and yet some Android Wear OEMs have yet to support quick-release straps or even standard band widths.


    Until I tried it for myself on Android Wear 2.0 I would have been resolute that touchscreens on smartwatches make no sense. But swiping out a short message to my girlfriend stuck at the opposite end of a crowded train wasn't actually so bad—though selecting from a list of canned responses would have been much faster.

    I do think that some supplementary means of navigation is necessary, though. Pebble has buttons, Apple has their digital crown and now the Android Wear-powered LG Watch Sport has it too. Some of us do live in places where gloves are sometimes required, after all.

    Battery & Screen

    The day-and-a-half of battery life of your typical Android Wear or Apple Watch isn't as terrible in practice as it sounds; unless you wear your watch in bed for sleep tracking it's about as easy to put it in a charging cradle as it is to leave it overnight anywhere else. Where battery life becomes an issue is if you're travelling. If you're en route to some far-away place you'll probably want to power down your timepiece between layovers—unless, of course, you're wearing a Pebble.

    Where battery life fails hard on both Android Wear and watchOS is the display. It is flat-out unacceptable to spend $500-plus on a smartwatch and not have its screen fully-lit 100% of the time.

    Hybrid smartwatches solve this by regulating the time-keeping functions to traditional watch technology, but in the vast majority of cases that removes the smartwatch's core function; the display of notifications from your phone is replaced with a generic buzz on your wrist.

    So far only Pebble has been able to figure this out with their e-ink displays, though an honourable mention should go to Casio for it's dual-layer watchface option.

    To sum up, every smartwatch OS has its own limitations, but for me the one that makes the fewest compromises is Pebble. And they've gone completely out of business, which shows you how messed up the world of smartwatches remains. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

    This article was originally published in forum thread: Smartwatches: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly started by acurrie View original post
    Comments 4 Comments
    1. gotg6's Avatar
      gotg6 -
      LG Urbane owner here and Ballroom Dance teacher. I use it to control music during group classes. The students appreciate how I can start and stop music from across the room. It makes the classes run more efficiently. Smartwatches are not for everybody, but there are folks like me who find them useful for specialized situations.
    1. oberkc's Avatar
      oberkc -
      It always amazes me how infrequently Garmin devices are mentioned in articles like this. As far as I am concerned, none are better, with a nice selection of different types and features. I must admit to being a little jealous of a couple of apple watch features, however, but apple lacks a key capability: ability to work with non-apple smart phones.

      My garmin watches' display is always on, BTW.
    1. manofstill2012's Avatar
      manofstill2012 -
      I have the gear s3 and love it and will get the new s4

      Sent from my Galaxy S8 Plus
    1. Treatz's Avatar
      Treatz -
      Excellent write up.

      A few points I'd like to share as well.

      I have the Moto 360 2nd generation (after my 1st gen back plate literally fell off)
      I've seen this watch get 2 major OS updates. 1.5 and then 2.0
      in each update I thought there was no way it would get better and would just start bogging my watch down to the point where I would be forced to buy a new one.

      Since my 2.0 update the watch has actually gotten better. Some how dictation works a lot better. It's actually usable.

      I can easily reply via the new keyboard and swiping, or I can use canned responses.
      More to the point, i'm not sure what you meant by canned responses would be better because they are there to chose from.

      In terms of navagation the newer watches like the LG watch Sport and LG Watch style have the rotating crown which you can spin to move up and down the OS to select responses or action notifications. The older watches upgraded to 2.0 like my Moto 360 won't have this, of course.

      In terms of battery life I leave my 360 V2 screen to always on and I even have tilt to wake enabled because since 1.5 and now in 2.0 when you tilt the watch BACK to your normal resting position the screen will dim again entering it's standby state vs prior when it used to stay lit for 5 seconds no matter what.
      In this mode (watch screen always on with tilt to wake) I can easily get home with 50% battery remaining from my work day. The 360 V2 is also a LCD screen so in theory it would be better if it were OLED.

      I do agree though. I'd like to start seeing a full week of use out of these watches.