Wearables – what’s hot?

Fitness tracking, reading your emails at the flick of your finger – or just feeling like a marvel from the future. Wearable technology is taking the market by a storm. But what’s best?

I have done a lot of research in to this subject, as I mentioned previously my Sony Smartwatch 3 was delivered into my lap courtesy of Amazon’s carrier pigeons and so far 48 hours later, I am very happy with my decision. But picking the Sony SW3 wasn’t easy– there are so many options for wearables on the market, all offering various gimmicks and useful features, with a wide array of visual differences. I wanted to narrow down what I learnt about wearable technology, impart it with you, and briefly review my first thoughts on the Sony SW3.

What do you want from a wearable?

Are you tracking fitness? Do you need to check out your steps? Do you want a heart rate monitor built in? Or are you looking for something to take on your entire digital life through your wrist? There are a whole host of options available.

For just fitness tracking, there are multiple bands out there that will provide you an overview of your activity through the use of multiple sensors and geeky gadgetry I don’t quite understand. There are pedometers that will just log your steps as you attach a funky fob to your laces. Lastly there are “smart”watches… that promise to manage your mobile life, track your health AND tell you the time! For the purpose of this post, based just on my findings alone, I will concentrate on the two most common wearables:

  1. Fitness Trackers
  2. Smart Watches

Fitness Trackers

From what I understand there are 2 big boys in the world of fitness tracking – Fitbit and Jawbone, although there are other players in the field from the likes of Garmin, Misfit, Microsoft, Sony and even Swarovski!

They all have multiple features and varying ranges – from the basic activity tracking to the Smartwatch style notifications. But you have to decide what you want from a tracker to decide which is best. The things these bands can do are beyond the realms of clip on pedometers and heart rate straps across your chest.

Jawbone – I haven’t had any personal experience with this, other than the one we tried on in Tesco that tightly clamped around my wrist – much like the name suggests, I think it may have even left teeth marks! Note here: They do come in varying sizes, and so the one I tried on was obviously too small.

There are a multitude to choose across the Jawbone range. The most popular being the Jawbone ‘up’ and its successor ‘up24’. They too track you steps, heart rate and sleep – apparently the sleep tracking is one of the best around. They are quite innovative in the way they are designed. A simple bracelet type band – with no display. The lack of display is made up by the app, which is full to the brim of features designed to look at your health and activity, including food tracking and exercise logging. From reviews I have read, it seems as though the build quality could be an issue. With the small metal ends frequently falling off, although these are easily replaced from Amazon.

Overall the Jawbone wasn’t for me, the lack of display makes me think I would be wasting some wrist real estate if I wanted to add a watch. Additionally I want to be able motivate myself throughout the day by instantly seeing my stats. This brings me to Fitbit.

Fitbit also have a huge range of wearables, the most common being the Charge and Charge HR. The latter monitors your heartrate. Having been looking at trackers for some time, The Charge is what Chantal brought me for my birthday – I was eager to get it on and get active, not that I particularly partake in much exercise, but I was intrigued to find out just how much I was walking and the Sleep Tracking really piqued my interest.

All of the Fitbit range sync to an app, which is intuitive and allows you to get an overview of your activity throughout the day, as well as keeping a food diary. The Charge and the Surge have displays with a clock and alerts from your mobile – although the Charge would viciously vibrate on my wrist when my phone rang, I couldn’t answer the call – in fact I couldn’t do anything, I am not sure I quite understand that feature.

Whilst all looked promising – it was not what I had hoped. It was light and fitted well. However the well fitted strap, wasn’t secure – this was a problem when I nearly lost my shiny new Fitbit down the loo, multiple times!

It seemed to be tracking my steps fine, as I walked around, but my calories burnt seemed somewhat extreme given that I hadn’t done any strenuous exercise. And overall it’s inaccuracy really put me off, especially after it had told me that I had slept 15 hours, when in reality we were up a large part of the night with the little lady. And I was shocked that I had walked 1,000s of steps and climbed 24 floors – whilst driving?! For me that was enough to want to return it and seek out an alternative.

I must add a caveat here, this is my experience. I don’t want to claim that the Fitbit is inaccurate and rubbish – however my experience with it, was that it fundamentally couldn’t manage its main function.

So this is where my research started into Smartwatches.

Once upon a time the wristwatch was created – a simple device that used a cog system and hands, it took portable time telling to a new level. Add a battery, a LCD screen, squared off numbers and you are in the realm of the digital age. There was of course no going back then, Casio added a calculator for super cool multitasking and before long TV remotes were a thing of the past as the watch took on the role (especially good fun for winding up less technically aware relatives during the Queen’s speech at Christmas!)

This is of course a flippant attitude to the history of the watch, but truth is there have been manufacturers striving to make our watches do more than just tell the time since the 70s. However last year watch technology really boomed – and is only set to get bigger this year! As with fitness trackers there are many brands battling to take the top spot in the Smartwatch field. And many people have done it well… and not so well.

For my research I wanted to find something that would track my fitness, allow me to receive and respond to notifications and fundamentally tell the time. This means that I won’t be talking about ‘the pebble’ – a Kickstarter project that really took off and one of the first Smartwatches out there. But if it is a Smartwatch you want, that looks simple, manages notifications and ultimately does what it says on the tin do check it out – the experts in the Smartwatch field are crazy for it – but it wasn’t for me. Right back to business, as I said above it really is about what you want from your Smartwatch.

IOS or Android?

If you want a watch that pairs with your phone, then this decision is pretty much made for you. (However there are watches that can standalone, almost taking you away from the need for a mobile as they are 3G enabled – notably the Samsung Gear Live.) I am an Android fan, the openness of the platform really brings usability to life.

However if you are stuck with IOS – then your Smartwatch hopes needn’t be dashed, because of course Apple have ensured their share of the market by bringing out the Applewatch. As I said I am an android girl, however I have seen 2 of these now, and hear great things. Naturally as you would expect from Apple they look pretty, and a Fitness fanatic I know really rates the ability to track exercise. So if I was still an iPhone user – and had a spare £300, or perhaps £13,000? I would be tempted to buy one!

Round or Square?

Initially the first smartwatches were square or rectangle, you didn’t get to choose so it didn’t matter. However from what I understand there are many people who want their Smartwatch, to look like a normal watch – and so the gadget geeks at Motorola and LG innovated the Smartwatch world and rocked it with ROUND faces – can you believe?

For me, I want a Smartwatch that looks smart – I’m not too worried for a round analogue face. But it is down to personal preference.

Under the bonnet…

As with fitness trackers the things these bad boys can do stretch the possibility of your imagination. Especially as the android developers of the world continue to make more apps – I am certain that I will soon be able to control my world through the freckle and hair on my arm. But there are some features that aren’t app dependent – and are about the build of the watch. Want a camera? Have a look at the Samsung range. Want fitness tracking? Sony have nailed this. Want style and functionality? Check out the Moto 360.

Sony Smartwatch 3

I decided upon the Smartwatch 3 as it was both affordable and functional. It does everything I wanted – although the addition of a HR monitor would have been nice – and the open android platform lets me do more than anyone planned when they made it.

For fitness it is excellent and really tailored to runners and cyclists – of which I am neither. However the multiple sensors, built in GPS and Googlefit app are a great substitute for my Fitbit. At £120, it is the same price (give or take £10) as the Fitbit Charge HR, and better still, not only does it function accurately – it does more!

This is Sony’s 3rd Smartwatch and by far the best both visually and technically. It is quite sporty looking, which I don’t mind as I was focussing on the fitness aspect. To compete with more stylistic Smartwatches, the body of the watch pops out and can be placed in to both a metal or leather strap, to make a more fitting option for formal occasions. I think this is something I will be investing in, as whilst I don’t mind the strap, its rubber is a huge dust collector – often looking black and speckled white! (Just as well it is both dust and waterproof.)

Google obviously rules the basis of the operating system. AndroidWear is a long way from being finessed, however there have been numerous positive updates since its launch in 2014. You can read emails and texts, and even reply through the much improved ‘Google Talk’. This is great, but only ideal for short replies – after all you don’t want everyone in the office to hear you declare your undying love, or the ins and outs of your day’s agenda. Plus, you look like an idiot talking to your wrist! But as I mentioned, the App developers have overcome this with applications that include a keyboard. You would think a keyboard on a small screen would be impossible to use, but once I got used to it even my chubby fingers were able to fluidly compose a message.

The connectivity is unbeatable on the market, already with WIFI, NFC and Bluetooth built in – makes it a superb option for the recent update from Android, with WIFI capability. This means wherever my phone is, so long as they are on the same network I don’t miss a notification. Ideal for the poor Bluetooth range you may have, or if your meeting rooms are in underground bunkers.

Sony also have a wide range of compatible apps to enhance your usability, from listening to music to their own fitness app. I’m yet to really dig in to these and find out more – but I am sure as I continue to use it, and look for more capability I will unearth some new treasures. For now though, I am very happy with my purchase and thoroughly enjoying my new toy!

This post isn’t intended to act as a be all and end all guide. But more to give you my overview of copious research and hands on experience. If you are in the market for a wearable, I must urge you to be sure of what you want from it before making a big purchase.

Are you looking at wearable technology at the moment? Are you already using a fitness tracker? Or have you already settled for your Smartwatch? I’d be really interested to hear your thoughts in the comments box below!

L x

 

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