How rivals of the Apple Watch fare

How rivals of the Apple Watch fare

Motorola Moto 360

I used this smartwatch for a while, until the Apple Watch arrived.

The Motorola Moto 360 remains the best Android Wear smartwatch in form and function. Why, even Apple design supremo Jony Ive might approve of its clean minimalist look.

The Moto 360 has a circular stainless steel case with a bezel so thin that the 1.56-inch touchscreen display (320 x 290 pixels) seems to all but overflow the watch face. A single small metallic button is sited on the right side, but it is not as polished and refined as the Digital Crown on the Apple Watch.

The Moto 360's back is smooth, and the heart-rate sensor works as well as that of the Apple Watch.

Like the Apple Watch, the Moto 360 will survive a splashing when you wash your hands, but probably not a swim. Not officially.

As much as I admire the superb design of the Moto 360, my Apple Watch is far superior, with a sharper display, premium build, and a smoother feel than the Moto 360, although both cases are made from the same type of 316L stainless steel. This is an extra-low carbon grade often used for watches because it is so resistant to corrosion.

And you cannot do a Dick Tracy call with the Moto 360.

Like the LG G Watch R, the Moto 360's biggest advantage is Android Wear's vast library of watch faces that you can buy, or download for free. Alas, these work only with Android smartphones.

If you use only minimally animated watch faces, the battery is good for up to two days, about the same as for the Apple Watch.


Samsung Galaxy Gear S

In typical Samsung fashion, its smartwatch Galaxy Gear S is positively stuffed with features when compared with the Apple Watch.

For example, the Gear S has a nano-SIM card slot on its rear, so it can work on its own without needing to be paired with a smartphone. You can receive e-mail messages, make calls and send SMS messages.

The Gear S not only measures your heart rate, but also tracks your sleep patterns and gauges the ultraviolet light levels in the vicinity.

It runs on the open source Tizen operating system but, for now, supports only selected Samsung Android smartphones.

In terms of design, the Gear S can give Apple Watch a run for its money. Its curved 2-inch touchscreen display looks gorgeous. Its 360 x 480 pixel resolution makes for easy reading and is sharper than that of the Apple Watch display.

With only one button just below the display, its clean facade and chromed edges make this a good- looking watch. But it is really huge, even on a big wrist. And far from the elegance of the Apple Watch, the Gear S shouts Inspector Gadget.

Swiping and tapping on the display is easy, because it is so big. But I found it difficult to send text messages because the virtual keyboard is so small.

Samsung's S-Voice failed to recognise my dictation. While the Gear S can handle calls, the speakerphone volume was low, and those I called said my voice sounded very soft.

The battery lasted about two days, roughly about the same as the Apple Watch's.

The Gear S has great hardware that its software does not live up to.


Pebble Steel

This the premium version of the original Pebble smartwatch, the probable spark that ignited the smartwatch craze back in 2012 with its US$10 million (S$13.3 million) crowdfunding campaign.

There are similarities - starting with the rectangular watch face and timeless design. But this pioneer lacks the polish and finish of the newcomer.

While the Steel feels comfortable on the wrist, it lacks a wow factor and also the heart-rate sensor that most of the current smartwatches seem to have.

Then there is the matter of those four fiddly buttons, and the Steel's small monochrome ePaper display - 144 x 168 pixels but not touchscreen, and nowhere as crisp and vivid as the Apple Watch display.

But it still displays the time easily even under bright sunlight, like the Apple Watch, and I also like the fact that the backlight can be activated with a gentle shake of your wrist.

The Pebble OS developer community is quite vibrant. It has a plethora of watch faces - some of which can be downloaded free - and apps such as Misfit, Yelp and PayPal.

The ePaper display draws so little power that the Steel's battery life is about four days, twice that of the Apple Watch. A big plus: The Steel works with both Android and iOS devices, compatibility is not an issue for those switching mobile platforms.

If you are a "switcher", the Pebble Steel, or its successor, Pebble Time Steel, may be a better option.


LG G Watch R

If you have your heart set on an Android Wear smartwatch with a round face, your best bet is probably LG's G Watch R.

Because its display is fully circular, the watch faces downloaded from Google Play Store will not be sliced off at the bottom, as they are in the Motorola Moto 360.

The LG G Watch R's 1.3-inch touchscreen display has a resolution of 320 x 320 pixels.

Its readability is good, but text close to the edge of the screen can be obscured. Under bright sunlight, the time may not show up clearly in dim-screen mode.

With its metallic bezel, generous lugs and round display, the all-black watch looks like a regular watch.

It has a heart-rate sensor at the back.

The home button on the right side of the face resembles a watch crown. Press it to return to the clock face.

The design looks good, but it is a pale shadow of the refined and polished Apple Watch. It even lacks the wow factor of the Moto 360.

The G Watch R has a microphone for voice commands. Say "OK, Google" first before commanding it to measure your heart rate or take a note. But you cannot make or receive calls with it.

Its battery life is about two days - around the same as that of the Apple Watch - but it lacks the functionality and finesse of the Apple gadget.


This article was first published on May 13, 2015.
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