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I finally bought an Android Wear watch. Here’s which one and why

Months before Google introduced its Android Wear software platform, I said that the first company to put Google Now on my wrist would get my money. That was back in August of 2013 as I outlined the contextual information I wanted to see at a glance:

Enter Google Now. I previously alluded to it being part of a potential Google smartwatch, but I’m starting to think it could actually be the core feature of a smartwatch unlike any other on the market today. The idea of having useful information “magically” appear at a glance is more appealing to me than email notifications, caller ID and other data already available in other places.

Eventually, companies such as LG, Samsung, Motorola, and Asus delivered exactly that. But I didn’t put my money where my mouth was. Why? Because I didn’t feel like I’d get $200 or more worth of value simply from Google Now in a watch alone. Yes, there are apps for Android Wear devices but too few that I’m interested in. And all of the watch apps depend on having a connected phone along for the ride, so the watch is simply a second screen in many cases.

Sony SmartWatch 3

That will be changing with one particular [company]Google[/company] Android Wear smartwatch, so I bought it. This weekend, I ordered a Sony Smartwatch 3 direct from Google Play; [company]Google[/company] sweetened the deal with a $50 Play Store credit and extended holiday returns. I’ll have until January 9, 2015 to decide if the watch is worth the $249.

I suspect it will be because it’s currently the only Android Wear watch that adds both a dedicated GPS radio and Wi-Fi support. Sure, the Smartwatch 3 doesn’t look as stylish as the Moto 360 or LG G Watch R, for example. I can live with that if I can use the watch with my phone as needed but also as a standalone device.

Today, I generally have to carry a phone with me during my daily run. Android Wear devices now support music playback but they still rely on a phone’s GPS radio for gathering pace, distance and such.

my tracks GPS android wearOnce apps for the Smartwatch 3 are written to use the watch’s GPS, I’ll be able to leave the phone behind. Google’s MyTracks already does. And RunKeeper, one of several exercise tracking apps that support Android Wear, already has a version of its app work with the GPS radio inside the watch that it’s testing. Once that arrives, my phone will stay at home while I run down quiet country roads listening to music.

The Wi-Fi radio inside the Smartwatch 3 will go unused for now, simply because Android Wear doesn’t yet support it. My hope is that apps will be able to use it for syncing data directly to the cloud — when I return from a run, for example, my watch could automatically connect to my home network and upload data from the run directly to RunKeeper. That’s actually how the MotoACTV watch used to work and it was fantastic: No need to use the phone for moving data.


I’m also thinking that Google Now alerts and other information could arrive on the watch directly through a Wi-Fi network. If so, that would mean I wouldn’t need to have my phone with me every second of the day at home. I often do carry it — I still get calls on occasion; go figure! — but sometimes I put it down and walk away. I’m not always in Bluetooth range of the phone in this case, so an Android Wear smartwatch that relies entirely on the phone can get dumb pretty quickly.

I’m sure there are competing Android Wear watches that look nicer, have better displays or other compelling features that make them more appealing than the Sony Smartwatch 3. And if there’s one thing that Sony’s watch lacks by comparison, it’s the missing heart rate monitor.

For some, that could be a deal-breaker. For me, however, those extra two radios make up for these differences and I’m looking forward to finally having Google Now on my wrist plus a watch that I can use on the run without needing a phone. Once it arrives, I’ll take it for a spin and report back on my findings.

Now if we could just get Google to bring iOS support for Android Wear — like it does for Google Glass — I’d be even better off since I switch between phones on a regular basis!


17 Responses to “I finally bought an Android Wear watch. Here’s which one and why”

  1. I’ll be curious to see a good thoughtful review, Kevin. So many simply dismissed the Sony as it wasn’t round or as pretty as some. I think it’s supposed to have a transreflective display too, isn’t it?
    It’ll be interesting to see what other carriers they come out with for it, if any. The worst part about it seems to be the horrible placement of the charge port. I think Motorolla went the right way with wireless charging for these watches.
    I’m also curious if your phone – or Android in general – would get confused if you had more than one Android watch and wore a different one on any given day. Or perhaps one while running and another to the office. That would be pretty common behaviour for old school watch people, at least some of them.

  2. Jahan Ward-Rashid

    I have the smartwatch 3 and am on the runkeeper beta dedicated app program and it runs very well! They need to make the writing bigger for glancing. Theres no encouragement or voice updates yet. But music works well with the onboard Walkman app and my Bluetooth (waterproof!) sony ws613 headphones. Im a slow marathon runner (4+ hours) and i reckon the battery will last the duration. I had the motoactv as well, the actv still displays info better but it was poor at notifications. Theres a rumoured grey metal strap coming out soon which would make the smartwatch 3 nicer to wear when out dining etc. Enjoy!!

  3. Steve Birchfield

    Until I actually bought one of these smartwatches (LG G Watch) and used it I thought as you do that I needed a device without my phone attached to it. Actually I have found that I use it for what it was intended to be, a watch first and foremost. I like the other features it offers but because of the limited screen size, you can use the watch more as a filter for what you open your phone to do. For example, I now scan through emails and text messages from it rather than opening the phone every time. I can read a text while I am doing something else quickly and almost without interruption. While I watch TV at night my phone sits charging and I just get notifications on the watch and if it is something really critical that I need to respond to I can do so from either the watch or my phone.

    I stopped wearing a watch a few years ago because I was carrying my phone everywhere but I love watches and had several. I had so many because I wanted different looks for different occasions. With the watch faces available I can have hundreds of watches on one device. I change it almost daily. The G Watch excels at simplicity as a watch and for doing basic tasks.

    The other apps I find are nice but still not quite complete yet. Even with GPS and Wifi I don’t see this taking the place of my phone anytime soon. The screen is too small and the processing power and resources are limited. There is no killer app yet that has made me think my phone will not be needed. It is certainly a supplemental device. It is not your typical second screen. It has become my primary screen and the phone has become the secondary device. This is what these watches are really best at.

    • I completely agree with your thoughts here. These are generally secondary devices. For the purposes of exercise tracking, however, I don’t want (nor need) my phone with me – it’s in that aspect I want the standalone capabilities. I don’t plan to “replace” my phone with a smartwatch. ;)

  4. Simon Currey

    The missing heart rate monitor maybe an advantage. Happily we have two wrists. My plan is to have an UP3 + Sony smartwatch . The advantages are better watch battery life, no tight strap, periodic consistent resting heart measurement, freedom to use other watches while continuing to collect heart data, use of specialist heart straps without duplication when doing intense exercises. Plus the Sony is waterproof. Snap on and off strap suits fitness. Looks are honest and not pretending to be something else!

    • Rob Hughes

      I’ve heard that the HRM on other smartwatches aren’t very good and don’t continuously monitor you. I’d prefer to carry on using a chest strap HRM when running as they are much more accurate.

  5. BarrySpar

    Can you report on the accuracy of the GPS chip?

    I’ve found over the years that some mobile devices with GPS chips can be off by a few meters or so, and while that isn’t a problem for driving navigation, it can cause accumulated distance inaccuracies when used for running or biking.

    • billshepp

      My Samsung Gear S GPS appears reasonably accurate (I can’t zoom in because I’ve paired it with an HTC One and as such it doesn’t upload the fitness data). The device is reasonably, but unless/until they come out with full non-Samsung integration it won’t be nearly as useful.

  6. S. Kyle Davis

    Samsung Gear watches still lead the pack for features people seem to want (if you own a Samsung phone). What I’d like is to have something with the ease of use and feature support of Gear, but with the app platform and cross-brand support as Android Wear (plus Google Now).

    Is that too much to ask? ;-)

  7. But I gave up wearing anything on my wrist years ago. Things on the wrist cause fraying of the shirt cuff. Chemicals (including water) can get trapped under the watch, and that causes problems with my skin. I can pull my phone out to see what time it is – or look at it on my desk.
    Maybe this watch can be worn by people who don’t wear long sleeves without problems. And my knees and hip gave out long ago, so I have not been running in a long while. With my runner’s watch, I was able to take my pulse to determine when I should start another half-mile run while doing interval training.