This wonderful cartoon from XKCD.com is a very succinct expression of how perhaps we may all feel one day about smartwatches. In time we may start adopting them in widespread usage but what is interesting is where do they fit in to our lives? What can they add really of value so that we will happily hand over £200 or more and wear them on our wrists when many people are now used to living without one now?
I have been wearing the LG G Watch for a little over a week now. Straight to the point:
I simply would not buy one of these with my own money.
The screen is too small and not edge to edge. The lift to activate function is very temperamental, meaning you naturally go to look at the screen and end up comically overacting the gesture trying to make it work. The watch can’t be turned on unless you place it on the charger and turning the power off is hidden in the settings menu.
When battery life is always an issue with smartwatches why wouldn’t you want to turn it off when not in use? Now you may argue and say “Ah well, you just leave it on the charger overnight and set it to silent”. Indeed you can except when the watch is fully charged it likes to vibrate like crazy and never failed to wake me up. So now I chose to charge it before bed or during the day when not in use and fully power down overnight.
Hardware is easily improved and bettered however. The Motorola 360 is much more attractive and since a recent update has a dramatically improved battery life now too. I think the LG G Watch should have been kept for developers only. It simply isn’t ready for consumer use and gives a bad first impression of smartwatches.
Android Wear however will likely be the platform for android based watches for a while yet. One week in how is it figuring into my daily routines? So far I am so out of the routine of wearing a watch I keep forgetting to put it on. Perhaps that is in part also due to the G Watch’s cosmetic shortfallings but also it hasn’t embedded itself so quickly into my life that regret leaving home without it. The plain and simple reason is my phone does all of these things anyway, so you miss nothing if you leave your watch at home.
There was one compelling moment this week when it proved helpful. I was really busy with my kids after shopping and about to leave in the car when the watch notified me of an incoming call. I knew it was someone who always takes a while on the phone and with two boisterous young boys in the back I wouldn’t have heard a word anyway. As part of the alert there was two options to quickly reply via text. I chose ‘ Sorry I can’t speak right now. What’s up? ‘ option and that whole interaction took less than a few seconds. My phone was in my pocket and for me it’s not easy to remove from my pocket when I’m sat in the car so this was genuinely useful.
There are cards that pop up from Google Now like ’22 minutes to work with 1 minute delay’ but I could live without that information. Really anything that appears in your Google Now cards pops up on the watch as well as texts, emails and tweets.
These are dealt with by a series of swipes. Swiping your finger to the right dismisses the card, to the left brings up more options. Swiping up and down cycles through the cards. I found myself experiencing at times what I can only call ‘swipe anxiety’. I find myself with my finger on the card and rather than being able to swipe confidently away I move it gently to see what happens. Will I get more options? Will it fade indicating that its going to disappear? If it does disappear is it gone from my phone as well? It can be a little unsettling at times and sometimes I find myself not dealing with it at all and simply shutting it down by putting my hand over the display.
Another aspect I dislike is that there can be privacy issues. At work I am always concerned that whilst I am consulting something pops up on my wrist that gives away some personal information about me or perhaps that someone sends you a message with offensive language even and it could easily be seen by others as they pop up on your wrist. Indeed you can mute the watch so it stops showing notifications but when most of us are working the majority of the day that means you are rendering the smart bit of your expensive smartwatch inactive a good chunk of the day. So therefore you make it active at lunch or breaks when it then vomits a load of alerts onto your wrist which frankly you could deal with more effectively with your phone. Which you now have time to get out and look at anyway.
The sport and fitness angle is something that is often promoted as a good use case for smartwatches. Intriguingly the watch gives me a nice 68 step headstart everyday without it moving off my bedside table. There is no inbuilt GPS so there is no value in wearing it when running or cycling and it’s not fully waterproof so I can’t swim with it. Even if I could Android Wear doesn’t have any meaningful sports tracking at the moment. So in my case that means taking it off and putting on my TomTom GPS Sportswatch.
So in my personal use case that means its active and on my wrist in the morning, lunch time, evenings and weekends but excluding the 5 times a week I train. Which means its on and off my wrist a lot and once its off its not hard to leave home without it as you know it’s really not that essential.
At the end of week 1 I am a little saddened by my experience of both software and hardware. I find myself pushing to keep wearing it and hoping it will prove its usefulness to me in time. Like the quick interaction with the phone call.
I’m off to put the smartwatch back on. Not because I want to or need to, but because I feel I should.