Smartwatch Roundup

Gadgetry: The State of Smartwatches

With IFA 2014 behind us (the global trade show for consumer electronics ), this is the perfect time to reflect on the releases and announcements made this year. Chances are anything you hear about after this will be in the 2015 basket of goodies.

Yes there has been enough talk about them the past few months at least, but let’s round up the top contenders and discuss what they bring to the table. First, and for the sake of those easily offended by neglect, I must mention that I will not be discussing my thoughts on all of them because I do not have 80 days to write this. This discussion then will mostly deal with the latest, greatest and most anticipated of the bunch.

To put my views in perspective regarding how I judge a smartwatch at this point, let me just say that I am a complete spec-head if there ever was such a thing, BUT I do not want to live in a world where you choose your watch based on its performance and specifications. In my perfect world those things are good enough in all smartwatches for them not to matter and you choose based on the same criteria as you would a normal watch. We have not yet reached that point, as one might deduce by the relative novelty of the gadget, regardless I view them with this in mind. So here we go…

The Basics

Here we find the Samsung Gear Live and LG G Watch. I would actually have said the Samsung Gear Live and LG G Watch could have been “developer editions” to avoid consumers being put off by the experience or just being disappointed in general, but one could argue that they were both needed when they were launched to get a foot in the door to the smartwatch game for their respective manufacturers. Both can be seen as not much more than a vessel through which to experience Google’s Android Wear OS, and to be honest that is exactly what they did achieve and we can leave it at that.

Samsung Gear Live
LG G Watch

The Step Up

LG G Watch R is what the G Watch should have been, (no hard feelings towards LG), although the G did what it was intended for they thankfully did move on from there.
With it’s beautiful bright and round plastic OLED display cased in a metal body and accompanied by a leather strap, it has a certain classic look to contrast the geekiness. It has then, apparently, stepped things up a few notches in the build department, which is exactly where its predecessor was lacking. Inside there is not much difference, Snapdragon 400’s all round. The G Watch R also has 4GB internal storage and 512mb RAM with a 410 mAh battery. Pretty standard specs for 2014, no complaints then.

LG G Watch R

In this same boat we can place the Moto 360, and the Asus ZenWatch. The latter not yet available at the time of writing this article, although announced.

Moto 360

Asus Zenwatch

These babies did not have basic counterparts that came before them, and in a way it makes them all the more awesome. The anticipation to the Moto 360 drove me crazy!! Not many times before have I sat and stared at an image of anything with lust in my eyes, but alas, this was different… I showed it to everyone and basically sold it to them as if I was going to get commission. Some time has passed though since it was announced, and the gap that stood between it and its nearest rival has just about disappeared. The basic two pioneers mentioned earlier is no longer its only real competition, the G Watch R discussed above is a shining example. It is basically a matter of taste now, and that’s a good thing as the ZenWatch from Asus looks to be a real competitor as well. It brings a more powerful version of the Snapdragon 400 to the table and a rectangular AMOLED display. Being of the Asus Zen Family I would expect it to be upmarket and quite pricey, but no word on that just yet. Build quality is excellent though and it looks very elegant – once again a matter of style. I suspect no one will be making their ZenWatch purchase based on the CPU it contains, as it should be.

Speaking of CPU, if we were in a spec race, Sony would probably be leading with its quad core 1.2GHz processor it placed in its recently announced Smartwatch 3. Sony is the veteran here in the smartwatch world, but shocked fans by moving away from the previous proprietary OS, instead opting for Android Wear. An all-round excellent move indeed. Especially considering the support it gains with the move. Also worth mentioning is the angle they are coming from here, not trying to please everyone (*Samsung…cough cough) as they did not mess about by adding needless things like a SIM. Sony focusses on the Smartwatch 3’s ability to play your songs without your phone, while still tracking your exercise, not a bad angle for Sony to be at. It needs to be said that the Smartwatch 3 may not appeal to all, it does not have the classy look of the Moto 360 and ZenWatch we already discussed, but rather sports (see what I did there!?) a sporty look with the silicon strap it was sporting at IFA.

Sony Smartwatch 3

On to the oddball, the tablet of the smartwatch world. Well almost. Samsung announced the Gear S. The Gear S features a 2-inch curved Super AMOLED display.

Samsung Gear S

Yes, that’s 5cm of screen on your wrist. In my opinion; too much of a good thing. It has worked before though, their Note line is a huge success and people got used to the idea of having considerably more screen than to use than the average device offers – just not your whist though. Did I mention that it can almost do all your phone does? It’s running Samsung’s own Tizen OS, it can make phone calls without a phone and do all the rest. This will certainly appeal to some, but I would not bet on too many needing that in a watch. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against it, choice is always welcome. It certainly looks nice while not on an arm for scale… What you buy will ultimately decide if we walk around with wristphones or smartwatches. I’m not too worried though.

Cupertino’s Contribution

As you probably know by now, Apple also joined the smartwatch game. And as you would expect, their Apple Watch (notably NOT iWatch) is a well-built piece of hardware. True to Apples roots, their Watch is a masterpiece of design. Its software seems to be well thought through and they even put a functional crown on the side to aid in navigating the UI. It comes in three variations, including a 18kt gold one, and will be endlessly customizable if their claims ring true. There is a lot to mention but seeing as this is not a classic review but an AUDACIOUS one I will try and to cut to the core. Apple made a product that you would expect them to make, it has all the advantages that their products usually has, and all the disadvantages as well. To illustrate this let’s look at a few of the many examples: Firstly the quality of the build, a usual strong point for them, then as usual, it only works with an iPhone, so not very compatible with other stuff. Also they developed their own charging method instead of opting for the standard Qi charging (the inductive charging standard). See?

Apple Watch
Apple Watch Range

So to sum it all up, if you like their current stuff you will love the Watch.

Final Thoughts

This segment is growing really fast and with the release of Android Ware many manufacturers decided to join in. We also predict that soon we will be seeing watchmakers join as well. It’s going to get really interesting to say the least. One of the great advantages of this boom is the effect the competition between manufacturers is going to have on your pocket and the quality of the products, and as always it will only get better. Two months ago I would have advised most people that, if you want to buy a smartwatch, give it a little time. That feeling is fading fast with the newly launched and announced watches. You would do well to choose your favorite of any of the watches discussed here, and buy it once it becomes available. That being said, we might have to wait a while before most of the nice stuff hits South African shores. The Moto 360 seems to be the best choice if you want a fashionable watch whilst satisfying your geeky side, without waiting too long – IMHO. But remember, some things are worth waiting a little longer for…

We will be doing our homework though, so keep looking out for future smartwatch opinions from us.

Editor’s Note: This post was written by our Tech Guru, Pieter Coetzee. Look out for more tech stuff and general geekery from him!

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