Note: I started writing this piece about smartwatches in July 2016. Many months have passed and this ‘once on the verge of release’ article was shelved. Why the wait? You’ll find out as you read further…
Flashback to: Late Summer 2014. The first visually attractive smartwatch wooed my interest. The summer heat didn’t affect my impression of what a smartwatch could offer. Part of the Lenovo family, Motorola’s Moto 360 was the first circular AndroidWear watch released and the shape, for me, was the deal closer. Until then all smartwatches had a various rectangular or square shapes which seemed more suited toward manufacturing design. Motorola’s circular watch face set me on track with my first smartwatch.
The Moto 360 is a good looking watch. In many circumstances it looks like a traditional analog watch. Motorola did an excellent job in the visual look and feel of the watch.
When I received the Moto 360 and set it up, an epiphany raced through my brain – I had just purchased a second screen to my phone. I had heard of this description and it made sense, but once on it was clear. I just replaced a portion of my phone usage with the smartwatch. I no longer checked the time on my phone or managed/checked my fitness steps on it. I simply looked at my watch for this information.
Email, text messages, quick replies while doing something else are features you begin to rely on with a smartwatch. You can even control the watch without touch and only use voice. Easy. Simple. Elegant.
Since smartwatches are a second screen to your phone, you still need a phone nearby for it to work. Quick tip for smartwatch wearers: If leave your phone somewhere, turn off Bluetooth (which is how the Moto 360 initially connects to your phone) to preserve battery. When your phone’s battery is dead, the watch loses some functionality. How much varies, based on how you use your smartwatch.
Some apps can be installed directly on a smartwatch. Other apps are simply an extension or controller to an app on your phone. Fitness apps are a good example of this, where minimal information is available on the watch, but you can start and stop your fitness tracking from the smartwatch.
With superb styling came a cost.
The 1st Generation Moto 360 is mute. It can not make a sound. Not a beep, peep, or click. It only alerts you by screen illumination or vibration. Why it didn’t chirp like a 30 year old digital was strange to me. It doesn’t need to play MP3s but an audible tone would’ve been nice.
Software updates came frequently adding features and improvements, including eventually WiFi, where the watch could sync with your phone wirelessly at further distances than Bluetooth. This was great but I was further irritated with the biggest problem every smartwatch has, and I’m sure you can guess it.
I’m not going to write a lot about battery life. However, if you think about it, battery life is what you would expect. Small device + small battery = short usage time.
With the Moto 360 you can get 1-2 days of use. The Moto 360 will operate for 2 days if you use it like a traditional watch with NO smartwatch perks. The Moto 360 will operate 1 day if you really use the smartwatch features. Note: ‘A day’ isn’t 24 hours. It’s 10-14 hours. So two days is really two 10 hour sessions. Once the session is over, you will need to charge the watch.
After a year and a half, in January of 2016, my Moto 360 began to fail. The battery wouldn’t last 8 hours. It sporadically shut off. It generally began to be useless. After a few months and a lot of frustration I began to notice that the watch would not charge past 70 percent.
Interestingly, I figured out that the watch shut off when it got too warm. This could happen during charging or other operation.
Finally… I was done. The smartwatch experiment was over and for me it was a failure.
Here is what I learned…
I really wanted a watch.
I’ve always liked watches but had stopped wearing one. I preferred a watch that looked like a traditional watch and not a smartwatch. Ironically, as of February 2017 there are several Androidwear smartwatches which are just that – truly analog watches with smart innards. This is compelling.
I wanted to avoid pulling my phone out of my pocket.
When you begin to notice that about a quarter of time you spend looking at your watch you are checking time. Notifications or not, using an app as a second screen is just an easier way to interact with your connected data.
I wanted to track my steps and sleep in a wearable, preferably a watch.
When I got my smartwatch, it was the height of the Fitbit count-all-your-steps trend. I didn’t want to wear two watch-like devices, so my smartwatch needed to do both.
I wanted a watch to last at least 3 days without a charge.
What is it going to take to get smartwatch makers to simply limit features to provide longer battery life? I love the animation and screen capabilities but it’s at a hefty battery cost. I’d like to see smartwatches with E-Ink screens like you see on the plain white Kindle and Nook devices. These screens are DRAMATICALLY lower in battery consumption.
I wanted a watch I could keep for 3 years without loss of functionality.
Let’s look at what you have 3 years later in the release of a Moto 360 smartwatch; The AndroidWear operating system has been updated to version 2.0. Yay! But… first generation Moto 360’s will not be updated to AndroidWear 2.0. Booo!
This alone is a real reason to put a pause on smartwatches. Simply put, smartwatches should NOT need be released or purchased as frequently as smartphones. $300 a watch every 2 years. $500 a phone every 2 years. This is not sustainable. Maybe it’s time for $600 smartphone and watch combos?
Lastly, it is an old family tradition to pass down a time piece from father or grandfather to son or grandson. Most likely no one will ever pass on a dead smart… watch.