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.

motoactv-featured

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!