Smart watches are changing the tides of horology and while much of the world is accepting them as the latest and greatest technological and horological feats, critics like myself and true watch lovers are on the opposite end of the spectrum – for the most part.
A smart watch is basically a computerized wristwatch that offers functions we would normally refer to as complications that far surpass basic timekeeping. I have difficulty writing on this topic as I have long been an opponent of the smart watch craze and find them to be vulgar expressions attempting to imitate the watch which, by itself is a feat in engineering.
However, with the latest release of the Apple Watch from the company that initially helped to convince the world it didn’t need a watch on their wrist, I felt compelled to at least write one article on what I strongly consider a fad that is sure to go out of style.
I attempted to look at these watches with an open mind. Here are my findings…
What Exactly is a Smart Watch
First, let’s examine what we, today, consider to be a smart watch. This isn’t the Pulsar watch first introduced to us by Hamilton, followed by the electronic watches of Seiko and other brands. These are computer interfaces that can perform tasks beyond the basic calculator and stopwatch functions. The modern smart watch is an interface for your smart phone that is designed to work in conjunction with apps and software installed on your Android or Apple device. They operate as media players, GPS navigators, calendars and more.
For the last few weeks the team at the Gentleman’s Gazette has been wearing Moto 360 smart watches sent to us by Motorola. According to reviews, it currently is the most advanced smart watch on the market next to the soon-to-be-released Apple watch. As such we tested the watch under real life conditions.
Smart Watch PROs & Cons
Over the course of several weeks, we found a number of pros and cons of using a smart watch.
- Calendar Reminder Works Well
- Good for runners & cyclists
- Wireless charging on any QI charger
- Voice control only works as it should 30% of the time
- It’s a distraction
- Difficult to read the display when it is bright outside
- Too Big for Proper Dress Shirt Cuffs
- Aesthetically, not pleasing
- Battery lasts 1 Day Max
- Apps are limited
- Compatible Smart Phone required to use the watch
- Bluetooth connection drains phone battery more quickly
While driving, I asked it to call my parents and it dialed 9-1-1. Twice. Smart? Not according to the operator who called me back after I quickly hung up. On average the voice function works about 30% of the time. The other 70% it is either entirely wrong or flawed by mistakes making it a rather frustrating experience.
However, the watch has also proven to efficiently remind me of appointments. As I sat feverishly writing an article, I forgot I had a chiropractor appointment until my watch buzzed with a bright reminder on it’s aggressively large 46mm screen. It also told me what the traffic was like and that I had to leave at exactly 3:40pm to make it on time. It was right.
Where I live there’s a law against using your cellphone while driving. The police aggressively pursue those who do. Whether it’s a cash-grab or of actual importance, the fact is that drivers who are distracted by their device are more likely to get into a collision than those who aren’t. While one might assume that wearing a smart watch would be less distracting, the fact is that it’s not. However, it is legal to use. For how long? Who knows.
The Moto 360 comes preloaded with standard Android Apps like gmail, hangouts, maps etc. and you also have the option to add on more. Out of the box, the notification service for incoming emails and text messages works. You are reminded by a vibrating watch every time something is happening. You can reply by voice only because there is no keyboard available.
Generally, most apps on your watch will be more limited than on your phone but the biggest problem is that the watch has no internet connection without the phone! While some functions like step counter will work without a phone connection, it is overall not a standalone device and requires your phone to be connected via bluethooth. As a side note, this also means your phone battery will drain faster than it usually does.
Not only is the phone a distraction with its constant vibration and flashes of alerts that pop up on the screen, but it serves as a constant reminder of how rude people are capable of being while in public. For those, like me, who make a habit of turning off my phone at restaurants, movie theaters and live shows, the watch is one device that continues to bother those around you. Granted, it does have a theater option which silences the alerts, if you forget to activate it, you can be assured that it’s going to distract both you and those in the immediate area.
While dining with friends the other night, one commented on how, even when my watch wasn’t alerting me of text messages, emails and voicemails, it was still distracting as every time I moved my wrist, the screen lit up. That’s another issue of mine. I understand it’s intended to save battery, but my other watches don’t turn off after a few seconds, requiring me to shake my wrist or turn it to see the time.
While the Moto 360 offers a sunlight option, many of the smart watches on the market don’t and that’s another issue. Unless you happen to be a vampire, chances are you’re going to want to tell the time or see alerts at some point during the day. Like a computer screen, it can be difficult to read with the glare of the sun.
Does Not Work with Long Sleeved Shirts
If you have your shirts custom made, chances are you have a little extra room on the cuff where you usually wear your wristwatch. The Moto 360 is so big, that you cannot button your shirt cuff anymore. Now you can either stop wearing long sleeve shirts or simply not wear the watch. Sven Raphael Schneider could only wear his long sleeve shirt cuffs unbuttoned, which works when you are on a casual night out when it is warm outside, but is is completely unacceptable with any kind of office wear etc.
When checking in for flights, using a smart phone has become the method of choice for Sven Raphael Schneider: It’s quicker than printing the boarding pass, convenient, saves trees and it works well on domestic flights. Delta allows you to pull the boarding pass up on to your watch but frankly with the size of the displays and the orientation of most scanners, you have to twist your arm in a very uncomfortable way to scan the boarding pass, and then the display is so small that it may not scan properly. That way you delay the boarding process and you might get stressed out by the whole experience. As such, do yourself and fellow passengers a favor and either use your phone or a printed boarding pass.
Smart watches can be a great tool for those who love to work out. They offer many built-in fitness apps like Fit or third party apps. Heck, my watch even tells me just how few steps I walk each day and what my heart rate is. For someone like me who’s only form of exercise is carrying my eight month old son up the stairs to bed, the fitness app is just a constant reminder of just how out of shape I’m in. Last time I checked, I had a wife for that sort of daily reminder. However, a decade ago I was in great shape. When my wife and I met, I didn’t have a keg in my stomach but a six pack and I exercised on a daily basis. I should probably start doing that again, but a smart watch isn’t the inspiration I’m going to need to become fit for bathing suit season. What about you?
Sven Raphael Schneider tested the fitness functions more extensively, and they certainly work for runners and cyclists. If you want, you can pull a lot of stats about your training progress, distance covered, calories burned… However, it does not work as well if you are into sports like squash, racquetball, tennis or basketball. The step counter is simply off and not accurate and trying to add your workout time manually to get accurate stats is way too inconvenient.
So if you are a runner or cyclist, the smart watch can be interesting just for those purposes, but otherwise it provides inaccurate data.
Look & Feel
Aesthetically, smart watches at present are not an eye catcher. The Moto 360 looks like an ugly, black, fat disk on your wrist and even Apple’s iWatch is not my cup of tea. However, that’s a very personal subjective and if you like it, great! What’s more objective is the feel of the watch. If you use it extensively for tasks such as navigation, the watch heats up and gets uncomfortably hot making you sweat. Otherwise, it feels like a regular, big watch on your wrist.
One neat thing that I really liked however was that unlike other smart watches, the Moto 360 offers wireless charging. You simply sit it on the charging dock and it turns into a dim desk clock. What’s even better is that it works with all charging stations that follow the QI standard. So if you charge your smart phone wirelessly, you can also use the same charger for your watch.
Battery Life – 1 Day Max
As far as smart watches go, the battery is another aspect one needs to consider. Of course, mechanical watches do require winding, but you can usually leave them be for more than a day. If you utilize it heavily it will die on you in the afternoon. If you don’t, the Moto 360 requires an hour of charging in the evening. It’s a good thing I don’t usually stay up past 10pm. If you do or if you use it a lot, you will have a problem unless you have charging opportunities throughout the day. Also bear in mind that battery performance usually deteriorates over time, and if it doesn’t fullfil your needs from the get go, there might be a problem.
You could very well walk out of the bar with a watch as useless as a paper weight. It’s about the size of one too.
The new Apple watch is expected and advertised to be the most incredible device that Apple has produced in recent years. It’s been called “revolutionary” and people are going to line up to get one. Of course, there is a range of watches at different price points, but one of them is $10,000. I don’t mean to sound like a curmudgeon – wait, yes I do – but for $10,000 you can buy a really fantastic and beautiful watch from Switzerland or Germany that won’t require updates and need to be replaced in a year when the next version comes out. In fact, I find it difficult to believe that any smart watch produced over the next few years will be able to be handed down a generation, yet there are many less expensive watches out there that I guarantee will work on the wrist of your grandchildren after you pass away.
Like the computers of yesteryear, the modern smart watches are sizable. The Moto 360 which is one of the only smart watches with a round, and not square or rectangular face is a whopping 46mm. On my girly wrists it looks like I’m wearing a brick. I might as well just have a shoe phone like Maxwell Smart. One of the aesthetic selling features is that it features a Horween leather strap. I appreciate this, but let’s face it, Shinola also sells Horween leather straps and it doesn’t mean I’m going to shell out $700 on a Shinola watch anytime soon.
Keith Blanchard of the Wall Street Journal recently wrote an article about why a just-smart-enough watch is a better investment than an Apple watch. I completely agree. Read it here.
The fact remains that Apple has hyped up its new smart watch and like the first generation iPad, it will likely sell out. However, I expect that like that iPad it will also be nothing other than a useless brick by the time they release a second version a year or so later.
Smart Watches Currently Available
You can find many smart watches on the market right now. We have not tested them all, but if you are in the market for one, you will find this list helpful
Samsung Gear S
LG G Watch
LG G Watch R
Tizen – only works with Samsung
Works with iOS & Android
Should You Buy A Smart Watch
So the question begs to be asked – should you invest in a smart watch and if so, should you do it now when they’re new and trendy or wait for a new generation of them to be released?
In my opinion, it’s as good an investment as investing with Jordan Belfort. For those unfamiliar with him or wondering where you recognize that name from; Belfort was the inspiration behind the Wolf of Wall Street and a former trader who was convicted and is now barred from ever working in the financial industry again.
Does that answer your question?
Now, as far as buying one now or later, one could argue that the next generations of smart watches will, like computers, be more advanced. However, you also run the risk that the trend will run its course.
If you’re a hipster, a digital-junkie or a device enthusiast, go out, buy a smart watch today and enjoy it. I promise you will. It’s a really cool and neat gadget and you will derive lots of pleasure from it.
However, if you’re a watch enthusiast or a lover of horology, avoid them like the plague. You might as well just light your money on fire. If you plan on doing that, I recommend the Xikar Executive II lighter. It never fails.
One final note on smart watches: It’s important to remember that these are not devices. They’re interfaces. It’s basically like having a second monitor for your computer, except that it’s for your smartphone. Don’t expect it to work independently and if you do, you’re probably in for a disappointment. However, if you don’t want to reach into your pocket to retrieve your phone when it vibrates, then a smart watch might be a good bet.
Final rating for the Moto 360: 7/10 for digital-junkies | 1/10 for watch enthusiasts.
As for other smart watches, I can’t really comment as I’ve never tested them and don’t plan on it anytime soon. However, if you trust online reviews your best bets are the Moto 360 for Android or the highly anticipated Apple watch for your iPhone.
What do you think of smart watches? Do you own one?