In the first article, we will address mainly theoretical issues. However, the information from this article will be very useful for those who really want to make an informed choice (even if he does not listen to the specific recommendations that will be in the second article).
1. What is a smart watch?
Let’s start with the most obvious question in order to avoid confusion in the future. So, a smart watch is a wrist gadget in a form factor that resembles a watch (that is, there should be a screen in the case and a narrower strap). The gadget can display time, but it also offers a number of features that are not typical for classic watches and borrowed from smartphones. The watch is usually equipped with a Bluetooth module for connecting and synchronizing with a smartphone, an accelerometer that allows you to track your activity, and a vibration signal. This is a minimal set. Otherwise, the set of hardware and software features of a smartwatch is very dependent on a particular model.
2. When did smart watches appear?
The first smart watches in the modern sense appeared in 2010, when there was not even such a concept. The model was called Sony Ericsson LiveView . Two years later, Sony released the SmartWatch model (in fact, this is the first use of this word in the product name). And a year later, SmartWatch 2 appeared .
The first smartwatch – Sony Ericsson LiveView
Around the same time, rumors began to spread that Apple was going to release a smart watch. In 2013, everyone was waiting for the announcement of Apple watches, but they did not wait. However, in the wake of these rumors, interest in a new type of device went far beyond the borders of high-tech experts and technologists. Samsung decided to play this and presented its Galaxy Gear watch in the fall of 2013 , which immediately became the center of attention (despite a number of imperfections).
Samsung Galaxy Gear – Samsung’s first smartwatch
The year 2014 turned out to be a real flourishing of the smart watch industry. Firstly, in the spring, several new Samsung models were introduced, already much more advanced than the first-generation Gear watches, and secondly, in the summer, the Android Wear operating system developed by Google specifically for smart watches was released. And soon the first hours on this OS appeared on store shelves. It was the LG G Watch .
Smartwatch LG G Watch – the first and currently the cheapest model on the Android Wear OS
Unlike Samsung and Sony (and then Apple), Google does not release its devices on this OS, but licenses it to other manufacturers. Thus, companies wishing to release smart watches can avoid the headache of developing their own software. During 2014, several models on Android Wear appeared on the market at once, including the first smart watches with a round screen: Moto 360 .
Moto 360 – the first smartwatch with a round screen
And in the fall of 2014 another turning point took place: the long-awaited announcement of the Apple Watch . As expected, Apple came up with a lot of interesting things there, although some took the announcement with skepticism – worked out high expectations. But most importantly, Apple has outlined a new trend: smart watches should now be in several sizes and case options, with many options for straps. In general – a stylish accessory, not a gadget for geeks.
True, the Apple Watch went on sale only in the spring of 2015. But this also spurred competitors, who not only improved the software and hardware of their existing model lines, but also released new devices, following Apple, giving customers a wide selection of aspects related to the appearance of the watch. We are talking about Samsung Gear S2 and Gear S2 Sport, Moto 360 second generation, Asus ZenWatch …
A variety of options for the Moto 360 second generation
In parallel with this, more and more new smartwatch variants of smaller manufacturers appeared, and they often boldly experimented with the functionality and appearance of their devices than grandees. Recall startup Pebble, who came up with the use of a non-dimming E-Ink screen, or Withings, which built smart features into a classic watch.
But the consequence of this was the blurring of the very concept of “smart watches” – now this device can fulfill completely different possibilities than the first smart watches, however, not being able to do what the pioneers did. Therefore, it is necessary to understand what smart watches are.
3. What are smart watches?
Depending on the proposed features, the watch can be divided into two large categories, and already within the second category, several subcategories can be distinguished.
The first category is a watch with an analog interface (that is, with a conventional physical dial and hands). There are both models that would rather be called fitness trackers in the clock form factor (for example, Withings Activite or Runtastic Moment ), as well as more advanced models that allow notifying the user about calls and messages, controlling the smartphone’s camera and playing music, etc. etc. An example of such a device is Cookoo 2. The first Cookoo model did not know how to track user activity, but the second version of the watch learned this.
Withings Activite – a smart watch with physical hands
Cookoo 2 – a smart watch with physical hands and notifications
The second category is a watch with a digital interface (that is, there is an electronic screen that can form a picture of pixels). As a matter of fact, it is precisely the representatives of this category that come to mind in the first place when they talk about smart watches. This includes all models of smartphone brands (Apple, LG, Samsung, Sony, Motorola, etc.).
But, as you might guess, this category itself implies many options that differ quite radically. We conditionally distinguish two subcategories. The first subcategory is a watch without a full operating system and the ability to install third-party applications. An example of the first category can be considered Alcatel OneTouch Watch and OneTouch Go Watch , or, for example, the experimental Qualcomm Toq model .
Alcatel OneTouch Watch
Simply put, they can show notifications, contain an alarm clock, display weather and more, but the operating system is severely limited by the few features that were originally there, adjusting its appearance is impossible (or minimally possible), and you cannot install applications on this watch third-party developers.
The second subcategory is a watch that has a full-fledged operating system. You can change the dials and install new ones, download third-party applications, adjust the display order of application icons … In addition to this, updates to the operating system can bring very serious changes to the functionality.
4. What operating systems for smart watches currently exist?
At the moment (winter 2016), there are three main operating systems for smart watches. These are Android Wear, Tizen and watchOS. Android Wear was developed by Google, it is used in their watches by LG, Sony (starting with SmartWatch 3 ), Motorola, Asus, and Huawei. Initially, models on Android Wear worked only with Android smartphones, and the OS version on the smartphone should not be lower than 4.3. But since the summer of 2015, Android Wear is partially compatible with the iPhone. Partially – because third-party applications cannot be installed. Of the existing Android Wear watches, we would primarily recommend the first generation Moto 360 and Asus ZenWatch . In terms of price and appearance, these are the best options.
The first generation Asus ZenWatch smartwatch is beautiful and still relevant, but at the same time very affordable model on Android Wear
The TIzen OS has a difficult fate – Intel, Samsung and other manufacturers had their hands on its development, but the TIzen version for smart watches is being developed by Samsung. Accordingly, the operating system is used in Samsung watches, starting with the Gear 2. At the moment, these are Gear 2 , Gear 2 Neo, Gear S and Gear S2 . Other Tizen manufacturers do not use. At the same time, the watches Gear 2, Gear 2 Neo and Gear S are compatible only with Samsung smartphones. For Gear S2, wider compatibility is promised, including with the iPhone, but so far the update has not come out, and we could not evaluate the operation of Gear S2 with the iPhone.
Samsung Gear S2 Classic: a beautiful model on the Tizen operating system, pleasing with an excellent appearance, a round screen and an innovative control mechanism – a rotating bezel
Finally, watchOS was developed by Apple and used by Apple Watch. Third-party Apple manufacturers traditionally do not license their OS. Apple Watch is only compatible with iPhone. Using the watch with other devices is not intended.
With some stretch to the current full-fledged OS can be attributed Pebble OS, used in watches Pebble , Pebble Time and Pebble Round. Third-party applications are available there, and there is also wide compatibility with smartphones on Android and iOS. But the capabilities of the OS itself and the settings for its appearance are very limited. The most spectacular look here, of course, is the Pebble Round.
Pebble Time Round – the latest Pebble OS model with a round non-fading color screen E-Paper
5. How much is the price of smart watches related to their functionality?
The most amazing thing is that there is no direct relationship here at all. Asus ZenWatch 2 for $ 129 can do the same as the Huawei Watch for $ 350. At the same time, the functionality of the Huawei Watch for $ 350 does not differ in any way from the capabilities of the model of the same manufacturer for $ 800. The difference is solely due to the design. But even if we take products on different operating systems, then the price here is not an indicator of functionality at all: for example, Withings Activite costs 350 euros, but they can do much less than the already mentioned Asus ZenWatch for 129 dollars. Etc. There are many such examples.
6. What is the difference between different models on Android Wear?
On Android Wear watches, all the important differences relate only to design, screen and battery capacity. In terms of functionality, stability and other parameters, even the release date does not matter. The first-generation Moto 360, released in mid-2014, works no worse and can no less than the latest models on Android Wear. Moreover, while in the case of the tablet and smartphone Android, Google allows device manufacturers to install shells and make some changes to the interface, in the case of Android Wear, the interface looks the same for all watch manufacturers on this OS.
Software differences are limited to a set of branded dials and a couple of additional pre-installed applications. But the dials and applications can be found in the Google Play Store for every taste. So this can hardly be considered a serious difference.
7. What is the difference between the different options for Apple Watch?
Indeed, Apple pretty much confused users with an abundance of Apple Watch options. We had an article where everything was explained in detail, here we will write briefly – the most basic. First of all, in terms of functionality, all Apple Watch options are absolutely identical. Without the slightest exceptions and nuances. This applies to both software and hardware inside (processor, RAM, etc.). The difference in price is due solely to the size (38 or 42 mm) and body materials. The cheapest modification – Apple Watch Sport – uses aluminum and plastic, the more expensive (it is simply called Apple Watch) – stainless steel and ceramic, plus the screen and round button are covered with sapphire crystal. In the elite modification of Apple Watch Edition (officially not sold in Russia), a gold alloy is used in the case.
All three modifications are available with a 38 mm and 42 mm screen. The straps are suitable for any modification. That is, you can buy cheaper Apple Watch Sport with an expensive leather strap or, conversely, more expensive Apple Watch with a cheaper silicone strap. The main thing is that for the 42 mm case there should be a strap designed for the 42 mm version, and for the 38 mm case, respectively, 38 mm.
8. How can smart watches be useful in everyday life?
The simplest and most universal is the display of notifications from a smartphone (calls, messages, etc.) and activity tracking (the number of steps, calories dropped, duration of active physical exercises). In addition, the watches on Android Wear, watchOS and Tizen have a voice assistant to whom you can ask a question (for example, what is the weather like) and get an answer in the form of brief information on the watch’s screen. Plus, of course, all smart watches can display time (moreover, synchronizing it with a smartphone), so they completely replace the classic watch.
Smart Watch Tips
After answering general questions, it’s time to move on to more specific tips that can help you make the right choice.
1. Decide why you need a smart watch.
First of all, you need to ask yourself the question: why do I need a smart watch at all? What do I want to get from them? As a rule, here are some of the most common options. First: “just curious what it is,” “everyone says, so I decided to buy something like that.” In general, you do not know why, but you are interested in trying. That is, this is an experiment for you, a toy. In this case, if you have an Android smartphone, it makes sense to take some inexpensive model on Android Wear. For example, Asus ZenWatch 2 or Moto 360 of the first generation . And then some Chinese crafts on Android Wear. Do not like it, get tired – it will not be so sorry for the money spent. But get an idea of the capabilities of smart watches and play enough.
Asus ZenWatch 2 – Android Wear OS, two case sizes and low price
If you have an iPhone, then, of course, first of all you will think about the Apple Watch, but they are very expensive (even the most affordable option), and for the sake of experimenting to spend such money not everyone will decide. So if you want something more affordable, but at the same time revealing the potential of this class of devices, pay attention to Pebble. The first plastic Pebble can now be found in Russia substantially 10 thousand rubles. Not to mention shopping options on hand. Well, or much more expensive and original Pebble Round (we mentioned about them above).
Pebble: Outwardly, a very simple but notifiable clock on Pebble OS. In addition to this, the model lives on battery for a week
The second answer to the question about why you need a smart watch: “I want to receive notifications, see who is calling or writing to me.” Indeed, this is one of the main purposes of smart watches. This is especially convenient on the go or behind the wheel: you don’t have to get your smartphone, you can take a look at your hand and understand whether it is worth responding somehow or not. The third option: “I need fitness functions such as tracking steps, but I want a watch, not a bracelet or fitness tracker on a clip.” And the fourth option: “I want a stylish wrist accessory that would not only demonstrate my taste, but also position me as an advanced and not a stranger to high technology.”
If you have chosen the second, third or fourth answer options, then the design of the watch will be of fundamental importance to you, since you are buying a thing that you really are going to wear every day, and not just want to play a week or two. And here we can immediately give a second tip.
2. Pay particular attention to the appearance and materials of which the watch is made. You should really like the appearance of the watch, and not just “suit it”.
Of course, design is important for smartphones, tablets, and even laptops. But if you interact with these devices from time to time, then the watch in your hand is constantly on, and you look at them much more often during the day than on a smartphone. A watch may be more functional or less functional, but it must definitely please you with its appearance. Ultimately, a smart watch is not a thing of prime necessity. Their presence will not affect (or minimally affect) your working productivity, they will not replace other devices. Therefore, what matters more is not what they can, but how they look and feel by you. In general, listen to your taste. For example, if a smart watch for you is primarily a fitness device, here you can generally not even look at the characteristics and just buy the one that you liked the most in appearance. Because the accelerometer works the same for everyone. True, we will make a reservation that we do not mean professional GPS sports watches here. This is a separate story that goes beyond the scope of the article.
In terms of appearance, the main trouble of most smart watches is cumbersome. It is clear that in the case it is necessary to fit the entire electronic filling, various sensors and, if possible, a more or less capacious battery. Some manufacturers decided to play this and emphasized the “brutality” of the watch. But by doing so, they clearly focused their product specifically on men, and with rather large hands. Such models include LG G Watch R , LG Watch Urbane , Huawei Watch … And although LG and Huawei use both women and men in advertising these products, we must understand that they are still male models, and women most likely they will not fit and will not like.
Huawei Watch: expensive and massive, but very effective model on Android Wear is especially suitable for men
Which of the watches we tested (or studied at exhibitions and presentations) could be recommended to women in terms of design? Apple Watch (any version), Asus ZenWatch of the first generation, Withings Activite (this is just a watch with physical hands and fitness functions), Samsung Gear S2 Classic, Moto 360 of the second generation (version with a 42 mm case). Of the current models available for sale – that’s probably all.
3. Think in advance about the straps.
Even the most beautiful watches that you really like, may one day get bored. And then the question will be: how and what to change the complete strap? And here the number of options varies greatly depending on the watch model. Therefore, it would be most prudent to think about this in advance, even when buying a watch. It is worth paying attention, firstly, to the fact of whether the watch has a removable strap or not (here our reviews can help you, where it is always mentioned!), And secondly, to the availability of straps for this model. For example, some watches have removable straps, but finding a suitable option in Russia is very difficult. I have to buy abroad.
Signature Watchbands for Apple Watch
Best of all, the Apple Watch straps. They can be found in a wide range both online and offline retail outlets. Almost all branded straps for the Apple Watch are beautiful (especially if you don’t make a mistake with the color). But – very expensive. Of course, there are already many third-party straps. However, there is already a great risk of buying something mediocre.
By the way, a well-chosen removable strap can radically change the feeling of a smart watch and its appearance. For example, with a leather strap, any model looks more serious and more expensive, but with a silicone strap it is more convenient to play sports in a watch. Men may also be interested in models with a steel bracelet, but the choice is still small: either the expensive Apple Watch (more precisely, the expensive bracelet there, for which they ask for almost as much as the watch), or the Moto 360, or Huawei Watch (this is also not cheap option, although much cheaper than the Apple Watch).
Moto 360 Steel: the most affordable and at the same time very nice version of smart watches with a steel bracelet
4. Do not pay attention to the processor, RAM and the amount of flash memory.
“How so?” – you will exclaim. But like this. These are not smartphones or tablets. This is not important here. Absolutely. Generally. In terms of performance, all smart watches are the same. And if something slows down – it is because of software, but not at all because the processor is weak or there is not enough RAM.
5. The screen is better than AMOLED.
If in the case of smartphones, there are still disputes about whether AMOLED or IPS is better, then for smart watches the answer is obvious: AMOLED is better. Since color accuracy is not so important in a watch (you will not watch movies and photographs on a watch!), But color richness, black depth and economy in displaying black are important, AMOLED seems to be the best choice.
At Apple Watch, Apple first used the AMOLED screen, which is also protected by sapphire crystal.
However, an even more important parameter is the shape of the screen. Want a Moto 360 with a round IPS screen? Do not deny yourself that there is no AMOLED. When choosing a smart watch, the shape of the screen is more important than the matrix and resolution used.
6. Do not be afraid to take a model a year ago or even older if you liked it externally.
Watches become obsolete more slowly than smartphones. The performance race has not yet reached this market segment. Therefore, in many cases it is even more profitable to buy older models. For example, Samsung Gear S with a beautiful curved Super AMOLED screen (this model still retains the title of a wrist gadget with the largest screen!) Can now be bought for 16-17 thousand rubles, that is, in rubles a little more expensive than a year and a half ago, at that the dollar has nearly doubled since then.