Wearables are the largest buzzword in technology, with companies like Apple belatedly joining Motorola, Samsung, LG, Pebble and others to the party. Smart watches have become the cream of the crop for the wearables market, with other technologies sitting on the fringes. Let’s face it, that’s mostly because traditional watches are ubiquitous and expected, and adding technology to something you already use is only supposed to enhance your experience, right?
So why is it that after a week, I wanted to smash my shiny new “smart watch” with a hammer?
About my watch
About a month ago, my wife was able to upgrade to the new Samsung Galaxy 6. In the Verizon store, the sales agent was able to talk her into a new Gear S watch at a discounted price. Given that she barely ever wears watches, and this one would have looked like an aircraft carrier on her dainty wrists, she gladly gave it to me.
I admit it, I was excited to have the additional productivity and connectivity to technology without having to reach into my pocket to grab my phone. The convenience of having something electronic permanently glued to my wrist was extremely attractive to the technophile in me. I’m also a but of a watch whore, with about 6-7 sitting on my nightstand, plus the advantage of having something that wasn’t an Apple product was even more appealing.
The gear is attractive and sleek, and surprisingly light. In-fact, I had to doublecheck my wrist a few times to make sure I was still wearing it when comparing the weight to my Swiss Gear watch. It has a curved face with a single button to bring up your main menu. The touchscreen is responsive to swipe commands and pushes on specific areas of the home screen to prompt weather, calendar, pedometer and notifications. The internal accelerometer usually knows when I turn my wrist to look at the face to check the time or updates, and immediately illuminates the screen to display what was hidden when it went to sleep.
Also, it has in impressive battery life. Unlike Apple watch users that have to recharge every 18 hours (with minimal usage), I can get almost 60 hours of use from a full charge, before the thing died on me. The charger that it comes with is a little cumbersome, clicking into on the back. I find myself having to press very hard to get it to snap into place when I want to charge it. It usually charges full in less than an hour, but I’ll plug it in overnight, as I usually won’t wear a watch to bed.
Applications and Usability
The Gear S is pretty easy to use, but maybe I’m just too used to Samsung UI. After pressing the multifunction button on the face, I easily access the main menu/clock. The clock itself is super clean and after looking at a lot of the available faces in the Gear App Store, the standard face is really the most elegant. If I wanted, I could opt for a digital face, or get one that makes the phone look like a $10 Casio calculator watch, but I’m sticking with the standard analog face that looks similar to another one of my dressier watchers.
Swiping left or right will lead me to running applications or widgets that I’ve defined; in this case, my Samsung Fitness app, Accuweather, Calendar and the Samsung Music Player. Each application can be controlled with touch commands and it’s pretty simple to find what you want, and some of the applications have mini menus that drop from the top. connectivity is easy through WiFi, BlueTooth, and it even comes with its own 3G receiver and phone number; which means I make a call or can receive a text on my wrist instead of my phone if I so wanted.
Some apps are available through the Samsung Gear App connection from your phone, but they’re really limited. You just find can find some things that you might want, and your phone will install it onto your watch. Some of the pre-installed apps are interesting.
I really like the Samsung Health application as a basic pedometer, pulse monitor and UV monitor. As I take it off at night to charge the sleep activity doesn’t really help, and as volleyball player, I’d have to take it off to exercise, so that function is out.
The Milk Music app, powered by Slacker Radio is cool, however it acts more like a remote control to play music on your phone, rather than using the built-in speaker for the watch. Also the slider to choose between stations was really touchy for me.
The Samsung music app is good, but only if you transfer songs directly to the memory of your watch as you can’t access the songs remotely through bluetooth – which should absolutely change.
The other apps that I’ve installed are the compass app, which is very well designed; a golf GPS and shot counter app, which I have yet to test; and a blackjack app, because let’s face it you need something to play with while you poop.
I really wish there were more apps available, like Google Play Music, Instagram, Podcast Addict or even a voice recorder for interviews. But, there’s not much in reality yet, likely because developers would rather have a full 5in screen than a little 1.5×2 space for a UI.
There are some problems that I found with the native UI and application navigation. First, in the user documentation it doesn’t tell me that if I want to return to a previous screen, I have to swipe down from the top. Secondly, when I do swipe from the top (perhaps because I have giant sausage fingers) I often get pulled to a side menu, it goes back when I really want to bring down the app menu, or it pops down the settings menu like on my Galaxy S5. I often find myself going back to the main menu, flicking up to find the app I wanted, and going back through the app’s home screen to get to the function I was seeking.
Also, don’t ever, ever try to pinch/zoom on the screens, as it doesn’t restore back to the original resolution unless you exit out of the application and come back to it.
With the phone application, I found the audio was pretty good. It’s perfect for using as a speakerphone when I’m chopping onions for dinner, or if I didn’t already have a built-in bluetooth in my car. The sound quality is crisp and the people I talk to didn’t seem to have trouble hearing me in closed environments. However, stepping outside with a little breeze. or standing in my local coffee shop, the audio degraded quickly as it had trouble isolating my voice. The only way to fix this was to pretend to be a secret agent, and speak directly into the watch.
Texting on the watch is impossible for me. Even with the integrated swipe keyboard, my fat fingers just can’t seem to press the right keys and I end up having to use the voice recognition software, which was only about 75% accurate.
For most people today, we rely on email, text messages, Google hangouts or Facebook messages to communicate with one another. So, getting notified that you have a pending conversation is nice. The Gear S, seamlessly lets you view your notifications (be it communication or in-app notifications) through the home screen, and with a little vibration on your wrist when a new one arrives.
This is probably the biggest reason for wanting to put the watch in the blender. If you’re like me, you probably have multiple email accounts (work and personal – or in my case 9 accounts), social messengers and text messages all connected to your phone. In a given day, I probably receive on average 200 emails, 20+ google hangouts, 6-10 Facebook messages and a fair share of app notices. If I tallied them up, I’d probably have just under 300 notifications a day.
That means, in a given 8 hr workday, I’m likely to have my wrist buzzing about every minute and a half. On top of which, I’m already getting notified on my laptop and cellphone with the same notifications. It was like a cadence of dings: first the PC then the phone then the watch. And, I couldn’t for the life of me figure out how to silence certain applications from notifying my wrist, or make it so they only appeared during certain times. The only solution was to turn off notifications completely.
So what does that leave me with?
Let’s recap: I’ve turned off notifications; maybe I can make a call but forget texting; there aren’t many apps; and the only thing I can really do with it thanks to fat thumbs is play blackjack from the John. In all honesty, I just have a fancy digital watch.
Maybe in the near future there’ll be an open market of smartwach apps that has more functionality that it does today, but that’s the biggest issue I find with the wearables economy: function and usability. Without the apps to run solely on watch or smart device instead of connecting to two or three devices, the wearables are just watches with one or two added features.
Perhaps they’ll update the Gear store with a new batch of kick ass apps, but I just won’t be getting the notifications if they do.