I think smart watches are pretty good. I’ve carried one for over a decade, starting way back with the 2011 MotoActv. That watch was a little brick on the wrist, the software was clunky, and you definitely didn’t get any real apps on it. But the device gave me a glimpse of what a smartwatch can do for people. While it mainly focused on fitness first ie. The “Actv” part of the name, the rudimentary notification system and other bits the watch tried to offer were enough to keep me on the smartwatch bus.
In the time since the wearable, I’ve tried many of the best Android smartwatches and, gasp, even an Apple Watch, and to be honest — the smartwatches of 2023 aren’t all that different from the one that got me interested in the space in the first place. Take a breath. When I say these devices aren’t that different, I say this based on the primary ethos of what smartwatches did and now do. Would I go back to wearing the MotoActv today if I could? No. But a decade of smartwatch advancements has brought us to the point of highly refined wearables that are actually pretty boring, and I think that’s perfectly acceptable.
All that was old is new again
Okay, now that I’ve wound you all down, let me defend myself a little. When we look at what old wearables did in the beginning, there are many changes. Perhaps change is not the word to use. Evolved might be better. This is because features like notifications, reminders, a calculator, exercise tracking and others were there and are here now. So, if we really look at it, much like the smartphones that so many of us once criticized for being boring slabs of glass and metal, wearables are very much in the same place. You know what? The absolute best Android smartphones that we have today were not and are not boring if we think about what we once had to use.
Both of these technologies have grown and matured so much that we are beginning to take the capabilities of products like smartphones and smart watches for granted. Maybe these things are boring, but as I tell my kids when they say they’re bored, “You’re probably just ignoring what you can do.” When we apply that to our smartwatches, we have to remember that there are millions of people who don’t want to use a smartwatch. Are people boring? Maybe, but it really comes down to perspective and what your needs are.
Are we asking too much of our wearables, or are we so spoiled by technology that we can’t appreciate what we have?
At its core, a smartwatch like the Mobvoi TicWatch E3 is simply an extension of your smartphone with built-in health and fitness monitoring. But wearables like the Samsung Galaxy Watch 6 and Google Pixel Watch 2 are designed and manufactured by two huge companies that also happen to have entire ecosystems of software and hardware in addition to these wearables. So these two companies, and others like them, are using wearables as a way to leverage the web of devices and services on offer. But at the end of the day, regardless of the wider ecosystem of device overlords, it’s still just an extension of your smartphone.
What else can or should smart watches do?
Smartwatches have offered the same two shapes since we first got the devices – square(ish) and round. For the most part, mechanical watches have too. The only exception, sort of, to this was the Samsung Gear S from 2014, which was more of a rectangle with a curved screen to fit your wrist a bit better. Maybe that’s why many people think smartwatches are boring now. Like the slabs of metal and glass we call smartphones, we’ve basically had the same design for over a decade, and with innovation in technology happening so quickly, seeing the same thing over and over again gets boring – but it’s mostly a society Thing.
Sure, there are people in this industry like me who will repeat things like “The watch’s design looks just like last year’s” or “There’s nothing really new in this year’s watch.” These statements are true, even if they perpetuate the sentiment that smartwatches are boring as a bad thing. It wasn’t until Samsung finally released the first Galaxy Z Fold that we all collectively said, “Finally!” Since that phone came out in 2019, we’ve seen an uptick in overall excitement in the smartphone space, with more and more innovation and players getting into the foldables. With options like the OnePlus Open, Motorola Razr+ and, of course, Samsung’s Galaxy Z Fold 5, we have choices for the top foldable smartphones.
Maybe we’re all just waiting for a Samsung Galaxy Z Fold smartwatch moment to shake us out of the current dull funk.
So, do we need something to shake up the portable form factor that the original Galaxy Z Fold did for smartphones? Perhaps. But unless a change in form factor leads to new uses that we don’t have now, that novelty will likely wear off quickly and lead us all back to where some are – bored with smartwatches. If so, we need to consider the devices we currently have at hand and think about what we are missing now and what we want from these wrist computers.
As I mentioned earlier, we can do with smart watches right now – track our heart rate, blood oxygen saturation, steps, sleep, exercises, location, take an EKG, receive and respond to notifications, take phone calls and so on, so much more. With all these things available today, what more do we want from our smartwatches? Again, these devices are currently meant to be extensions of our smartphones, even ones with cellular radios, and I’d say they do a pretty good job of that.
Because as much as I love new technology and seeing how devices change and evolve over time, I don’t know that I need much more from my watch. What I need/want is for the entire smartwatch industry to make a big jump in battery life. If you want more than a couple of days out of a Wear OS smartwatch, your only option is the TicWatch Pro 5. Otherwise, you’ll have to go outside of Wear OS and look for a third-party smartwatch brand like Garmin or Amazfit. Both are great in their own ways, but for some, the lack of apps and other integrations is a deal breaker. What I’m looking for in smartwatches is less of a small step in improving features we already have, which is what we’ve got, and really making offered features work consistently.
Sad is not always bad
I’m here for the day we get a new kind of smartwatch that’s less of a shrunken version of our phone to wear on the wrist. Maybe in the form of some of those crazy wearable concepts we’ve seen in recent years, bands that project a display onto our wrists or even something like the Humane AI Pin. But again, while something like these form factors would be less cumbersome to carry, if we don’t get features we don’t already have – boring?
I want excitement and change as much as the next person. But I also like to appreciate what I have in the moment, and with smart watches we’re big steps from where wearables were a decade ago. From design and materials to software and features, the devices we get to enjoy today are amazing in many ways. Is there room for improvement on these products? You bet. But I’m more than happy to stick with the smartwatches we have now because until there’s innovation with a purpose that actually works, boring is just fine by me.
Samsung Galaxy Watch 6 Classic
320 USD 400 USD Save $80
Samsung’s latest generation of the Galaxy Watch 6 comes in a larger Classic version. It has a larger case and a physical rotating bezel to control the watch, along with all the other welcome improvements in the vanilla Watch 6.
Mobvoi TicWatch Pro 5
245 USD 350 USD Save $105
The TicWatch Pro 5 is Mobvoi’s most versatile smartwatch with newer features and software that make it a truly exciting choice for your wrist. Its two-layer display takes the concept a little further, making it easier to see and saving battery life.
Google Pixel Watch 2
The Google Pixel Watch 2 is the sequel to Google’s first self-branded smartwatch. The second generation doesn’t reinvent the wheel, instead offering a handful of low-key improvements like a redesigned digital crown, Wear OS 4 out of the box, and a newer chipset that should offer better performance and battery life.