Smartwatches don't make me tick

Smartwatches don't make me tick
A model displays the LG G Watch R at the LG booth during the 2015 International CES.

I was so excited to get my LG G Watch R last week that I was like a kid all over again as I installed a ton of apps and tried out what I could do with my new gizmo.

Straight off, I found that I could swop the design of my first smartwatch's face on-the-fly, read incoming WhatsApp, Gmail and SMS messages on my wrist and even play Space Invaders on it.

The built-in heart-rate sensor and pedometer measured my rapidly ascending pulse rate, and the Google Fit app automatically tracked the steps I took as I walked around showing off my discoveries.

That was during the first three days. Since then, the excitement over my toy du jour has fizzled.

Here's the bottom line: Unless you are a mad-keen enthusiast, there isn't any compelling reason yet that propels this latest crop of Android Wear smartwatches from the merely nice-to-have to a die-die-must-buy.

The only two things which work natively on the LG G Watch R are its heart-rate sensor and pedometer.

I like Google Fit because it automatically tracks whether I am walking or running and how long I have been at it.

By default, it sets me a goal of being active for an hour a day.

You can also input your daily weight measurements to create charts to see if your hard work is paying off.

It is not difficult to check one's heart rate.

My smartwatch just requires me to tap on the app each time I want to measure my pulse. However, this makes it less useful to fitness buffs who need to monitor their real-time heart rates to see if they are working out within their optimal heart-rate zones.

They can do this if they have devices which come with a chest strap that tracks one's heart rate continuously.

Other apps are merely an extension of the smartphone - connected to the smartwatch via Bluetooth. Being able to read messages on your wrist is cool because you can leave your phone in your bag or pocket.

However, the experience is generally poor. SMS and e-mail messages are truncated, so you still end up having to take out your phone to read the entire message.

WhatsApp messages work better as you can see the whole message and even scroll back to earlier conversations in the same chat group, but you cannot view WhatsApp images or videos on the watch. So, it is back to the phone again.

In theory, you can respond to messages by speaking to the watch, but that has never worked for me.

Most of the apps are not installed on the watch and are merely extensions which will work only when the smartphone and smartwatch are within Bluetooth range of each other.

So, your smartwatch ends up being more of a companion than a stand-alone gadget.

There is some cool stuff you can do with the smartwatch. Wannabe secret agents can use its microphone as the input device to secretly record a conversation.

You can aim your smartphone camera at the person you are talking to and use the watch as a stand-in shutter release to take a shot.

If you have misplaced your phone, you can use the watch to trigger the phone's alarm. The catch is that this works only when the two are within range of about 30m of each other.

You can also use your watch as a security device, letting your phone unlock for use only when it is within range of your watch. However, all this may be for naught because the smartwatch has such a short battery life. When used sparingly, it can last a day.

The one feature which remains cool is your ability to change the face of your watch in a second.

There are many designs out there - from sleek dress watches to artistic manifestations to fun kiddy themes, such as Despicable Me and Pac-Man.

My friends and family members were intrigued when I showed them my new smartwatch. Most were awed by its ability to switch its appearance on the fly.

The look-factor plus their changeability are strong pull factors which will get people all excited about these new smartwatches. Apple, perhaps, could work some magic with the Apple Watch, to be launched later this year.

After a week with my new smartwatch, I still enjoy the variety of looks I can sport on my wrist with a single device. However, not much else wows me.

The smartwatch holds lots of promise, but it will require much more improvement - a killer app or two wouldn't hurt - before I feel I have to rush out and buy smartwatches for the whole family.

ginlee@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on Jan 21, 2015.
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