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Sulware Blog

My first 48 hours with a smart watch

07/04/2015 Posted by Brendan O'Sullivan | Comments(0)

Key Areas:

Future Trends, New Technology, Product Reviews
My first 48 hours with a smart watch

In my last article about wearables (click here to read), I talked about how I didn't really believe it was a strong growth area.  I acknowledged how Apples entry would probably give the area a massive lift, but I still have my reservations.

Since then, as if to rub my face in it, my better half bought me a Moto 360 as a premature birthday present from a recent trip from Silicon Valley.  I must say, when I heard it was coming I did get that familiar excitement feeling whenever a new gadget comes across my desk.

When she finally got home from her trip, out came the lovely Moto 360 circular box and I dived straight in.

First off out of the box the watch looks and feels like a real watch.  This is very important for a watch. In fact I'd argue its pretty critical.  The key problem, in my mind, with most of the smart watches out there is that they don't really look like watches. They look like a techie device strapped to your wrist.  Watches are very personal devices and people initially pick them based on their aesthetics not their function. How it looks on their wrist is critical for a watch.  It's a highly personal thing. Just take a look at the sheer number of watches out there and you soon realise how important it is.

So as soon as the Moto 360 went on my wrist, it looked and felt primarily like a watch! A really nice watch. It was the type of watch I like and I was happy to wear it

So once I ticked off the design box, it was a case of delving into the watch itself.  This is my first smart watch to own. Yes I honestly didn't think I'd be owning one of the first generation smart watches, but as I said it was a present, so time to throw myself into it.

The first thing that struck me was the lack of any sort of decent documentation in the box about the watch.  Just a two page quick start guide, which was very scant on any decent info to be honest. For me a gadget freak, that's fine, but for the ordinary layman I wonder how frustrating that could actually be.  Also what struck me was how the watch fit me just about perfectly out of the box, but God help me if my wrists (which are already slim) were any thicker! There was no additional strap links so I guess that means if the watch is too tight on your wrist (which I imagine it could very well be on others), then you're probably looking at having to buy a new strap. That's not great after spending 300 euro on a watch!

So despite these minor gripes, I was lucky enough to have a slim wrist so no real issues for me so far.

Next I had to download the Google Wear app first off, and pair it all up with the watch which was fine. Once up and running I had a brief play with the watch before putting it into the docking cradle to charge it from the 20% level out of the box up to 100% in about 2 hours or so.

The basic navigation of the watch was the first thing I had to get to grip with. So swiping down from the top of the screen brings up the various watch settings: mute, theatre mode, sunlight mode, and Settings.  All pretty easy to work with and no major usability issues there.  Admittedly I spent a chunk of time just playing with the different watch faces.  Only 5 or so in the phone to start with but very easy to add to using the Android Wear app on the phone. 

Swiping up from the watch face allows you go through the google cards that your phone will have fired at you.  Each card can then be swiped to the right to dismiss it, or clicked on or swiped to the left to drill into.  It worked well for me and was pretty intuitive. No real problems here that I could see.  The notifications/Google cards gave me the immediate info I was interested in for that particular notification, and if needed I could pull out the phone and just action it if needs be.  This did lead me to actually pulling out my phone MUCH less which I guess must be a good thing but for my social interaction skills and my phone battery!! ;)

For things like text messages, hangout messages, whatsapp messages etc I could actually respond to them by talking to the watch via Google Now.  Not something I ever had a keen interest in, talking to my watch, BUT I actually found that after responding to a few messages this way, it actually worked surprisingly well, and the accuracy of Google Now in recognising my speech was just as good on the watch as it was on the phone, in fact it seemed speedier than on my Note 3.  I managed to hold a complete Hangouts conversation this way. It felt very natural and had just about no errors.  I found this to be very impressive to be honest.

So by now I'd probably gotten to grips with most of the core features of the watch and how it worked with the phone app.  So far I was actually impressed.  

The main reason I had in my head for ever considering a smartwatch was how it might help me in my exercise.  Now I'm a swimmer mostly so the watch is useless there, but I like to run, cycle and workout in the gym also.  Plus I have a strong ski passion and one of the things I particularly hate on the ski slopes is ruffling around for a phone to see my skitracks data or alter my music selection. I haven't checked it out on the slopes yet, but I can bring it for a run.

The first thing I did was download the Google Fit App which manages all the data collected by the watch to keep track of everything. Again no real issues here. Everything links up well.

I'm a MapMyRun person, but alas MapMyRun doesn't apparently seem to support Gear, (am I wrong? It wouldn't work when I started it and messed with the settings but still no joy). So I downloaded the recommended Runtastic app.  Worked straight off and gave me the info I wanted on the watch face.  Distance, speed etc. 

For music during a workout, I wanted to see how good it was with Spotify. I could see there was out of the box integration with Google Play, but I'm not a fan of that application, and am a Spotify person.   On starting spotify on the phone the watch reacted perfectly and without any intervention by myself to the app allowing me to pause the current track, go forward and back and showed me art work on the watch face. So now my phone could be on my arm and I have no reason to go near it to control the music in the chosen playlist.  The watch interface is simple and fast so it's a win in my list.

So now I can do just about everything I need to do on my watch leaving my phone in the pocket or on my arm.  I've got my bluetooth headphones on and controlling everything on the wrist which is much much easier and natural than messing with the phone on the run.

So from an exercise perspective, (although I still am going to have to use my Garmin watch for swim tracking), the Moto 360 has done a great job in my mind on handling my land based exercise requirements. I just have to try it out on the ski slope!!! Next year at this stage alas.

Regarding battery life, well, the Moto 360 can barely get through a day on a charge.  This isn't great  obviously.  It means every night the Moto goes to it's bed when I go to mine.  This is fine as it's practical in a way, and I haven't run out of battery yet during the day, but I know it will happen. It does mean that the charger has to accompany me on trips, which is another thing I have to remember.  I'm sure over the coming months I'll find myself buying a few chargers. Not a great situation but there you go.  Battery life is the biggest negative for me here so far but let's see how annoying it becomes over the coming months.

I'll wrap things up by saying that the Moto 360 has been a surprising hit for me.  I honestly wasn't expecting it to be.  The watch looks great and feels great which is a big requirement for me to wear a watch. I've found that it's managed to get me back into wearing watches again, which I always loved to do in the past, but stopped doing so a long time ago.  I think Googles approach to wearable tech is the right one given the nature of watches and how we interact with them. Watches are designed to be something you glance at to get immediate and quick info.  Notifications pop up and are read quickly and swept away. The more important ones result in the phone coming out.  The trick I can see in developing a good "watch app" is to just have a good notification system in your phone app and you're done.  I don't want to do anything more than get quick info from my watch and perform quick actions on it that suit the time, e.g. skipping a music track while running, or even doing a very quick voice response to a message. 

Just on Google/Android Wear, I did notice a lot of criticism online about how immature the platform is. I must say I don't really agree with this. As I've said above I find the interface to be intuitive and I applaud Google for being able to produce a platform that handles the different watch faces so well, from what I can see.  My immediate impression of Apples watch approach is that they're trying to do too much with the watch apps stuff that SHOULD be done on the phone NOT the watch. I think the trick is to keep things ridiculously simple on the watch. Quick access to key info is what watches should be all about in my mind, so notifications are key.

After my first 48 hours, I'm enjoying the watch and genuinely find it useful. Come back to me in 12 months and see how I am with it.

About the Author

Brendan O'Sullivan

Brendan O'Sullivan is a computer science graduate of DIT and has been working professionally as a software/web developer, Systems Architect and IT consultant since 1993. After spending 3 years with IBM, he went on to found Sulware in 1996. He has worked with a vast array of companies from large multi nationals to small family run businesses. Brendan also holds technical directorships with a number of other Irish based companies.

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