Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Smartwatches Pebble and Gear 2

I purchased a Pebble smartwatch as it fell under the $100 point at which I don't feel particularly guilty trying out things.  Soon thereafter, I found a new Gear 2 selling for $89, which I purchased as well (I think this might have been mis-tagged, but they honoured the price).

My first experience was that both are difficult to set up - I have a BlackBerry, which isn't the best tool for linking to either device.  Without the link to an external device, you can't even set the TIME on the watch, so they are basically bricked right out of the box.

I did buy a Samsung Galaxy Tab 4, again somewhere around $100 (though on the higher end) and found that I actually like it a lot.  I was reluctant to get into the smaller tablets, but found that I can carry this one in my pocket, and that I like the Android OS quite a bit.  This device runs both the Gear 2 (which is also Samsung) and the Pebble without problem.

The pebble was easily set up from the iPad, has an easy to use online store for apps, and a variety of apps to choose from.

  • The Pebble only allows 9 apps to be loaded at any time, though the desktop software does keep a library of other software that you've chosen, so you can swap easily into the 9 virtual slots on the device.
  • There were a range of choices - I pulled in a compass, as I thought that was cool, a few different watchfaces, and sleep trackers and activity trackers.  Still looking for the "ultimate" tracker (I want a watch with time in addition to the tracking info)
    • My best app so far is using Map My Ride on the android tablet (Samsung Galaxy Tab 4), which gets picked up by the Pebble to show live time, distance and pace stats.
  • Not sure if the on-board accellerometer accurately counts steps - haven't run the study yet.  I use my fitbit for that info and would like an app on the watch to provide the fitbit info (I have the FitBit flex, which does not have a screen, so you have no live updates of steps etc.).
  • The battery runs about a week - I take it off sometime on the weekend and charge overnight.  It does take getting used to the need to re-charge a watch
  • I like the "e-reader" screen - keeps battery life acceptable, but isn't particularly flashy
  • The Pebble comes with several watchface options - the one "problem" I have with the Pebble is that adding additional watchfaces tends to take one of the precious 9 slots.  I was hoping to keep a bunch of watchfaces to show the versatility of the device
  • the charger for the Pebble is a USB, but is unique and held to the watch by magnets.  Kinda cool, but somewhat prone to falling off if the charging station is jostled ("charging station" is typically the bedside table, so it gets "jostled" at lot).  As with the Gear 2 (and the FitBit) I am concerned with unique chargers as losing them is a real possibility, and finding new ones quickly will be a problem
The Gear 2 is much more like the over-hyped Apple watch in that it has a high resolution (though small) LCD screen. 
  • Battery life is a problem - wouldn't count on more than 1 day, you might stretch to 2 days, but you'd probably worry on the 2nd.
  • Don't like the need for a specific charger, though it works fine.  It has a dongle which you attach to the back of the watch, and connect to a standard USB for charging.  My fear is that the dongle will get lost, and thus, a bricked device.
  • There are a variety of apps available (for free) for this device and many different watchfaces, which are fun to play around with (I have a "hulk face" and a "Matrix" face which I like right now).  Lots of "standard", though attractive options, and some hybrids (e.g. weather updates and time, steps and activity and time...)
  • The Gear 2 also has a camera - kinda fun to take Dick Tracy pictures (note: not "Dick" pictures) from the watch.
  • As I can't easily link to my phone, I haven't used the other "killer app" of talking into my wrist.

I can't say that either watch has changed my life.  I do wear a wristwatch, and do find the battery life to be a problem (my "standard" wristwatch has battery life measured in years, not days or hours), though I am getting used to it.

I am not a texter, so the key feature - getting messages to the watch, is somewhat diluted for me.  I do check when the watch notifies me of contacts, and do prefer that to checking a tablet or phone, as it is one step less intrusive.  However, for me personally, I don't always carry my phone (in fact, rarely carry my phone) so the linkage only really works when I'm at work or home with devices online.  I do think this feature is great, though you have to be careful - many apps default to sending you notices - you want to limit them (I don't really care that there is an update pending for app X, and don't want that buzzed to my watch like a Pearl Harbour headline).  Once you tone down the unwanted notices, you get summary e-mail text, texts and appointments, all of which are useful.

There is a remote function (available on both, but I've set up on the Gear) which allows you to turn the TV on and off.  I kinda like that, and would like more if the Gear was "available" to be worn more frequently (not being charged).  

All in all, I'm glad I didn't pay a lot for the watches - not sure if I'd be positive with a $400 or $500 purchase, but quite happy at the sub $100 range - I'm not counting the connecting Tablet in the cost, as virtually everyone else will have an iPhone or Android to make the connections..  The Pebble is my day to day watch, but on a recent out of town trip, I forgot the charger, so it was dead - not great.  I have to pack an older-style watch to keep covered, so lesson learned.