Connected sports watches are poor smartwatches
I’ve been waiting for a good opportunity to get a smartwatch for a pretty long time now. As years went by, I got increasingly tired of missing calls and messages just because I didn’t hear or feel my phone ringing/buzzing in my pocket or bag. Having a device on my wrist notifying me of such events seemed to be the prefect solution. Last year I bought the Polar M400 mainly for running and tracking workouts, but also for its smart notifications feature. It’s an excellent, rugged sports watch and activity tracker, but it does very poorly in the notifications department. The Polar app for Android is very nice and it’s very convenient to go for a run with the watch only and check out the stats on your phone afterwards. However, it’s too bulky for a normal everyday watch and my biggest gripe is, that it lacks vibration. It can only beep, which is a no-go for me. I thought it’d be enough to look at the watch every now and then to check notifications, but I kept missing my wife’s calls and other important stuff. After researching the internet for Garmin, Suunto and other Polar products, I came to the conclusion, that sports watches and fitness trackers cannot fill the role of a real smartwatch, at least not yet. The only exception seemed to be the Pebble Time 2, which I eventually planned to buy. It was a real smartwatch with great looks, a heart rate monitor and unmatched battery life, but it was gone when Pebble went broke. I also considered the Samsung Gear S line and the Ticwatch 2, but I didn’t want to buy into those ecosystems. I especially disliked Samsung’s version of Android and the idea of Tizen, yet another wearable OS. As a hard-core Android user, my only viable option was Android Wear.
Searching for the “perfect” smartwatch
The next challenge was finding a good Android watch under 250 Euros. I didn’t want to spend more money on one more gadget that was destined to become obsolete and abandoned by its manufacturer in only 2 years. I already had my 500-Euro Nexus 5X for that (officially it was € 530 in Austria)! I looked at the 2nd gen Moto 360, but I didn’t like the flat tire and the idea of an LCD screen on a smartwatch. I wanted something with an AMOLED screen, ambient light sensor, mic, speaker and circular design that looked like a real watch. The Fossil Q Founder and Marshal had the best looks, but the technology inside was too weak for 250 Euros. They had LCD screens with flat tire and I read conflicting reports on them having an ambient light sensor or not. The Huawei watch was really beautiful, but it was still around € 300 and lacked a light sensor. The LG Urbane was nice, but lacked both a speaker and a light sensor. GPS and optical heart rate monitor wasn’t important for me at all, because I wouldn’t have used a good looking smartwatch for sport and fitness anyways. My Polar was designed just for that!
I eagerly waited for the release of LG’s new “Nexus” watches with Android Wear 2. I wanted to buy the smaller one, but I was really disappointed by both. The Style’s specifications don’t justify its $ 250 price tag at all. It lacks a speaker and I find its design very boring. The Sport looks way too big, has 4G LTE, which I don’t need and costs 350 bucks. I really don’t get who on earth needs a cellular connection in a watch. Most people carry their phones with them everywhere anyways. 4G LTE is just an unnecessary battery hog and makes the device bulky. I certainly don’t need it my watch!
The ZenWatch 3 – cut down on your crap Asus!
It all came down to the Asus ZenWatch 3, which is the best value for money right now. For only € 230, it has amazing features and specs:
- beautiful, elegant, circular design
- sleek, all metal body with a silicone strap (genuine leather is also available)
- gorgeous AMOLED touchscreen
- ambient light sensor, without a flat tire!
- Wifi and Bluetooth
- microphone and speaker
- 2 costumizable buttons
- Snapdagon 2100 processor specially designed for wearables
- upgrade to Android Wear 2
- extremely fast charging – for me about 30 mins to full charge
- solid, all day battery life with always on screen
After using the watch for two weeks, I have to say I like it. Vibration could be stronger, but it’s hard to miss a call now. Missing messages can still happen, because the watch vibrates just once and it does so very shortly. By installing ZenWatch Manager you get a lot of beautiful watch faces. I like the fact that I can change my watch face any time I like, for anything I like. Battery life is good: I usually start with full charge at 7 am and I still have around 30% left at 10 pm, WITH always on screen. The ability of taking phone calls is also very useful, because I don’t have to run for my phone every time. For example, when my wife calls me while I’m changing diapers for our baby, I can just pick it up right on the watch. It’s very practical, but there’s a bug. Since Android 6 I think, your phone switches to do not disturb (DND) mode during phone calls. If I accept a call on the watch, it won’t automatically get out of DND mode after the call, but I have to manually disable it each time. I don’t know if it’s Asus’ or Android Wear’s fault, but it’s very annoying! Tehre’s one serious problem for which only Asus is to blame: if you activate Asus Zenfit on the watch (by granting it permissions), it drains the battery abnormally fast! That’s why I use Google Fit for activity tracking and it has no such negative impact on the watch’s battery life. This is really bad of Asus and it keeps alive Android’s most disturbing problem as a platform: manufacturers forcing their own crap down the throats of Android users, without even optimizing their own apps for their own products! No wonder Apple is so successful that Google is trying to copy them by launching Pixel devices. OEMs should really cut down on their crappy Google duplicate apps or at least let the users decide if they want them on the product they payed for or not.
Android Wear – the apps make the difference
Speaking of Android Wear itself, I like it too. It’s great for notifications, for dealing with phone calls, messages, emails, for basic activity tracking and music control. The main advantage here is the apps. More and more Android apps are enhanced for Wear, adding more and more functionality to your watch. Of course many Google apps are available for Wear and there’s Skype, OneNote, Spotify, just to mention a few of my favorite ones too. If you use 2-step verification, having Google Authenticator on your wrist is very convenient. If you’re not into Apple and the apps are your thing, your only viable option is Android Wear. The Samsung Gear S3 looks awesome, but I don’t think app developers would embrace it as the 3rd wearable platform. They’ve even been ignoring Microsoft’s mobile platform for years, let alone Blackberry, Firefox OS or the Ubuntu phone. It seems the world has room only for 2 mainstream platforms: it’s Apple and Google in mobile and Apple and Microsoft in the laptop/desktop business.
Thoughts on the Apple Watch 2 – lack of choice
If you’ve got Apple gadgets, I’m sure your best bet is on the Apple Watch. Although Apple’s platform is free form fragmentation, it also provides much less choice. If you want a round watch, you’re out of luck. Battery life is supposed to be 3 days, but I’ve read conflicting reports, some saying it doesn’t even make it through one single day. Apps should be no problem though. One ridiculous omission is the always on screen. Why do they take even the choice away? This attitude is the main reason I dislike Apple. You pay a crap ton of money for their product and then you’re pretty much limited to what Apple thinks you should like or how you should use your own device. I used to have an iPad 3 and I had enough of Apple’s treating me like an idiot.