Saturday 25 October 2014

It's all about timing in the battle of the smartwatch

Versions of the next must-have device are already on the market

Adrian Weckler, Technology Editor

Published 25/08/2013 | 05:00

Sony Smartwatch *** The original of the species
Pebble **** Elegant budget model
Metawatch** Best avoided

IN 10 days or so, Samsung will try to grab the tag of tech innovator by releasing a smartwatch.

It is determined to beat Apple (also working on a smartwatch) to the next big thing. According to leaks from Samsung, the gadget will have a 2.5-inch screen, smartphone-like engine power, will run apps and will even sport a camera. Whether or not it works independently as a phone, the device will be designed to work closely with smartphones and tablets.

But the Galaxy Gear smartwatch will not just compete against Apple's yet-unnamed wrist gadget, it will also go head-to-head with a number of existing smartwatch devices Here are four you can buy now.

Sony SmartWatch

Remember Apple's square iPod Nano? Think of that attached to a rubber strap but with access to some social media apps and you have Sony's Smartwatch.

This is basically a gadget that connects wirelessly to your phone, without a microphone (so you can't make or receive calls).

What it offers is a number of core communications apps which combine to give a souped-up notifications system. So you can add Facebook, Twitter, Messaging (for texts), Call Handling (for call notifications) and Music Player, among others.

To get them, you have to download a special SmartWatch app to your smartphone. You can't reply to texts, Facebook messages or tweets and the battery life is about a week. An updated model is expected soon.

Price: €100

Rating: ***

Pebble

Aside from its budget price, the Pebble's chief appeal is for those who like to stay connected outdoors.

In this vein, it can act as a GPS aide for cyclists, with metrics for speed and distance. It's also waterproof. And, because it uses an 'e-paper' mono format (commonly seen in Kindles and other e-reader devices) instead of a colour screen, there's no problem with glare in sunny conditions in looking at the screen.

That mono screen has another benefit in that there's less of a drain on the device's battery. In terms of functionality, it's designed to display email, SMS or social media alerts by connecting wirelessly to an iPhone or Android smartphone.

It also acts as a vibrating alarm device. It's mainly available directly from Getpebble.com.

Price: €120

Rating:****

Motorola MotoACTV

Despite its age, Motorola's MotoACTV is probably the most powerful smartwatch currently available. It tries to fuse the concept of a colour-screen Android device with a jogging-friendly fitness tool.

In this regard, it has GPS that can give you some data about a run or a workout. It's also water and sweat resistant and relatively scratch-proof. Perhaps its biggest differentiator to rivals is the amount of storage memory it packs on board – a comparatively generous 8GB. This gives the ability to store files such as music tracks, making it a rival to iPods.

It also tells you who is calling or texting you (on your synchronised phone), though it's aimed squarely at Android smartphones. It's only main drawback is that it is a little bulky.

Price: €250

Rating: ****

MetaWatch Strata

The MetaWatch range tries to get as much from your phone to your wrist within the confines of a relatively puny engine and a modest price tag. It largely does this, but with a few significant corners cut.

The most obvious of these is its physical heft size: the entry-level Strata is a heavy, rubbery glob of a smartwatch (the higher-end model is a little slimmer). The gadget uses a monochrome format to save on cost and on battery life.

Its main functionality lies within a set of mini-apps that alert you to phone calls, texts, email and calendar alerts. (There's no social media compatibility, however.)

Like its competitors, its does all of this by synchronising wirelessly with both iPhones and Android smartphones.

Price: €135

Rating: **

 

Weighing up the pros and cons

WILL people use a watch-phone? Is it convenient or clumsy? Here are the pros and cons of using your watch as a communications tool.

IN FAVOUR

Quicker communication headlines: Beeps and vibrating pockets are fine, but handsets still have to be retrieved from a pocket or handbag. A quick glance at your wrist could now suffice.

No giant receptacles needed: Humungous smartphones are now de rigeur. Unfortunately, that means bigger pockets and saggier jackets. A watch-phone could mean deadweight-free clothes.

Mugger-proof: We all hear stories of smartphones being snatched by organised gangs on city streets. But how do you snatch a watch off someone's wrist?

WATCH OUT

Losing one's cool: How does one maintain an air of non-ridiculousness when talking at a) your wrist or b) into thin air via a wireless connected headset?

Rudeness: While there are disparate views on whether checking phones in company is rude or not, continually checking your watch is surely a no-no in polite company.

Squinting at screens: Larger phone screens are coming in for a reason. Checking email, using apps and browsing the web on a two-inch screen seems a very retroactive step.

Sunday Independent

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