After smartphones come smartwatches: IT companies are looking to bring intelligent watches onto the market in the near future, and the demand for these is reportedly high. But can the initial products from Samsung, Apple and co. also impress in practice?
What can smartwatches do?
The smartwatch, which is worn on the wrist like a normal watch, connects with the smartphone in your pocket using Bluetooth and sometimes NFC. From there, the watch receives both important and less important data: On the display, the buyer can check the time, of course, as well as data such as the current weather situation. However, notifications regarding incoming emails can be much more important, for example. The smartwatch can also be used as an additional control unit for some mobile phone functions: Music can be controlled using the watch without the smartphone having to be removed from the pocket, and calls can be received just by raising the arm to the ear.
Small problems that muddy the overall picture
Of course, smartwatches can’t do everything, and the products from the various manufacturers are subject to many limitations. Samsung’s Galaxy Gear, for example, can only be paired with a few available devices – currently only the Note 3 and the Note 10.1 to be precise; the support for the smartphones will only be available from October. The very small size is also troublesome for the company: An integrated camera can, for example, take 720p videos, but due to the limited storage space, these cannot exceed a maximum length of ten seconds. The watch also loses all of its “smartness” if there is no compatible device nearby; the Galaxy Gear then only displays the time – an expensive affair given the recommended retail price of 299 US dollars.
Time to charge my watch…
There’s obviously a big problem in terms of the battery life. People who have only had to charge their cell phone in the evenings will have to do the same with their smartwatch in future. The Galaxy Gear battery only lasts for one day, after which the device, which has a 1.6-inch touchscreen, must be recharged. This fact did not go down too well with the South Korean company’s customers. It doesn’t have to be like this though: A smartwatch called Toq from chip manufacturer Qualcomm can last for several days thanks to energy-saving display technology and can also be recharged wirelessly. When compared with the Samsung watch, the slightly smaller display (1.55 inches) must be taken into consideration.
Devices offered by other manufacturers
Samsung and Qualcomm aren’t the only companies with smartwatches on the market. Other companies are also following suit. We will introduce you to some of the most interesting products in the following smartwatch overview. The list will continue to grow in the future as other interesting electronic watches hit the market.
• The Sony SmartWatch 2
This Japanese company recently introduced the SmartWatch 2; its predecessor has been on the market for some time. This watch is rather compact compared to other devices and is made of aluminum and stainless steel. The 1.6-inch display offers a resolution of 220 x 176 pixels, and the watch can be linked to compatible Android smartphones per Bluetooth or NFC. Depending on usage, the battery can power the watch for 3-4 days on a single charge. Not bad compared to the 24 hours of battery life offered by the Samsung Galaxy Gear.
• The car watch: Nissan’s Nismo
The automobile manufacturer Nissan of all companies has an interesting smartwatch: Dubbed Nismo, the watch “connects the car to the driver”, according to the advertising brochure. For this reason, it mainly displays information that is (more or less) relevant to the car driver: For example, the driver’s current heart rate is shown as well as the average speed, fuel consumption, and other vehicle-related information.
The Nismo must be connected to a smartphone per Bluetooth. The Nissan smartwatch is also somewhat reminiscent of a navigation device in that it warns the driver of traffic jams ahead. Its seven-day battery life and a comparatively stylish design make the Nismo the surprise product of this year’s smartwatch hype.
• The Pebble E-Paper smartwatch
This relatively affordable smartwatch is equipped with e-ink technology, a 144 x 168 pixel display, and a battery that lasts for seven days. What’s special about it: The device can communicate with both Android devices and iPhones. It is compatible with all models running iOS 5 or later. A slight disadvantage is found in its current availability; the Pebble E-Paper smartwatch is currently only offered in the USA. Anyone looking to import the $150 device is likely to find themselves left out in the cold instead of looking at a watch. Customs is not (yet?) allowing this watch to be shipped.
• The rumor mill is in full swing
The mobile phone veteran Nokia can’t be left out of the mix when it comes to communications technology: The Chinese magazine C Technology, which is usually very well informed, claims that Nokia will at least announce its own smartwatch by the end of October. That would fit well with the announcement of new Lumia smartphones that are expected to be seen for the first time at Nokia World, Nokia’s in-house trade fair.
Whether or not the Finnish company will limit itself to devices with the Windows phone remains to be seen. That would, of course, make sense considering its own range of products. Leaked photos point to the same combination of polycarbonate used for the Lumia models, meaning they could share the same design.
And what about Apple?
There was no mention of a possible iWatch at IFA 2013, meaning that this time Apple has left the presentation of this new class of device to other companies. However, this in itself is not greatly surprising; thus far the American company has always held its own large-scale product unveilings. Furthermore, the smartwatches that are currently available or that have at least been presented, do not have very attractive designs. It can therefore be assumed that Apple will only bring a similar product onto the market when the company is satisfied with the quality and look of the iWatch. As all of the rumors remain unsubstantiated to date, Apple is not expected to enter into the smartwatch market before mid-2014.
Big, expensive, and short battery life – who will buy it?
Lots of users asked this question in relevant Internet forums after the first smartwatches were announced. In spite of all the criticism, it should not be forgotten that this is the first generation of a totally new type of device. You just have to think back to the first cell phone, which looked like a brick held up against the user’s ear and did not have anything to offer other than the function of making calls – and compare these devices with a current smartphone. While the initial products have some weaknesses, a key one being battery life, we can say with absolute certainty that this will not be the case forever. The tough competition will ensure that smartwatches that are much more practical will appear on the market soon and that these will be more affordable.