Is it time to buy a smartwatch?

We look at what smartwatches can do today, and what the next generation is doing better.

When we tested the first smartwatch in 2013, we weren’t particularly impressed. They were bulky, hard to handle, the battery life was poor, and they couldn’t actually do much. Other than seeing what time it was,you could check messages and the weather, control music, and keep track of your workouts. Some had more experimental than practical features, like a built-in camera. The watches themselves have become better over the years, and have been given longer battery life, a more readable display, and lighter weight.

 

But the fundamental issue of first-generation modern watches was that you could not download apps. There were no operating systems for the watches, so every manufacturer used his own software, or utilized poorly adapted smartphone-OS, like Android. Naturally, third-party manufacturers were not particularly fond of spending time and money to adapt their apps to the countless clocks that existed out there. The time had come for standards.

 

Already in 2014, the problem resolved itself, although it also then split the market. We got a watch model by Tizen, that is supported by Intel and Samsung, among others. Naturally, it was the latter company that first came out with their Gear S2. That same year, Google launched its Android Wear, which is adapted to smartwatches. The first product was LG G Watch. Apple continued to remain isolated, until 2015, when they released the first Apple Watch with their own operating system WatchOS.

With a very similar format for watches, the same sensors and very similar electronics inside, the operating sstem the watch uses has therefore become important. The OS is what determines many of the features, management, and apps that one can use. So let’s go through the three contenders.

Tizen

An operating system based on Linux, developed by the Linux Foundation, Tizen Foundation, Intel and Samsung. It is used widely for embedding in smart home appliances, home electronics and even white good. But especially Samsung has additionally pushed for using it for cheap mobile phone models in developing countries as well as for smartwatches. Early versions suffered greatly from the lack of apps, but with time more well-known apps have been released. Today, it’s not a big deal, and all the essentials can be found like Spotify, SAS, Über, Shazam, Amazon Prime, Skype, Twitter, Office, Evernote, Kindle, Tripadvisor, Runtastic and Paypal. It’s fast, decent and has good integration between the mobile phone and the watch. The only real drawback is that it is mainly Samsung that invests in it.

 

WatchOS

Apple’s own watch operating system is based on iOS for the mobile phone. One noticed that very clearly in the first versions, where the interface was not fully thought out. Moreover, it was relatively resorce demanding, in that the watches felt slow and the battery died far too quickly. Version 3, which was released simultaneously with the second generation watch, is considerably more polished. The navigation is more intuitive and everything feels faster. At the same time, it doesn’t drain the battery as much. One major advantage is the offering of apps, partly due to the fact that developers can create so-called universal apps. They work on several types of devices, like the iPhone, iPad and Apple Watch. It’s clearly marked in the App Store, and also implies that one doesn’t have to buy an app multiple times. In a short time, WatchOS has evolved into the most mature operating system for watches, with the most features.

Android Wear

As its name implies, it is Google’s operating system that has its roots in the Android of mobile phones. It was released in 2014 as a solution to the problems manufacturers had with running custom Android versions in watches. The custom operating system had an interface that worked better on a small screen, support for the watch sensors, and worked with the electronics of many manufacturers. But it was far from perfect, and although it supported Google Now, it was mostly a one-way communication. However, one major advantage is that since 2015 it has actually worked well with the iPhone. Since then not much has happened other than that it now supports speakers and Wifi. Before now, as a major upgrade to version 2 has just been released. Many new watch models will appear, and it will be exciting to see what unexpected features the next generation of smartwatches have to offer.

 

In our mini-test of smart watches, we have examples of watches that run WatchOS, Tizen, Android Wear, and the first watch to be released in Scandinavia with Android Wear 2.

 

What’s new in Android Wear 2.0?

 

Better dials: Previously, the dial has only been able to display selected information such as date, battery level and training targets. The new dials can be tailored with information from apps such as the next meeting on the calendar, stock quotes or Quick buttons to book a taxi or start the training. Different dials can have different information so you can sweep between work, leisure or the gym.

 

The fitness app Google Fit can measure pace, distance, calorie burning, and pulse as you walk, jump or bike. Besides calculating push-ups and sit-ups, it can now also calculate repetitions with the barbell.

 

With a built-in Play Store in the watch, you can download Android Wear apps directly, even if it’s connected to an iPhone. If your watch has a built-in SIM card, you can also keep track of your calls and messages while streaming music directly to your watch, no matter where your phone is.

 

It’s easier to manage messages. Tap to read the entire message and choose between responding by dictation, keyboard, handwriting, or with the emoji character. One can even use smart auto reply that is customized to what is stated in the message.

 

The watch now has Google Assistant built-in so that one can use the voice to ask questions or give commands. One can, for example, use it for navigation, weather forecasts or restaurant bookings. So far only in English or German, but more languages are on the way.

 

Be aware that certain features require sensors or other hardware that your older watch may not have.

 

Existing watches that can be upgraded to Android Wear 2.0: ASUS ZenWatch 2 & 3, Casio Smart Outdoor Watch, Casio PRO TREK Smart, Fossil Q Founder, Fossil Q Marshal, Fossil Q Wander, Huawei Watch, LG G Watch R, LG Watch Urbane & 2nd Edition LTE, Michael Kors Access-smartwatches, Moto 360 2nd Gen, Moto 360 for Women, Moto 360 Sport, New Balance RunIQ, Nixon Mission, Polar M600 and TAG Heuer Connected.

Products in this test
Practical and Smart

Samsung’s best smartwatch so far, but it's already in arrears.

Gone are the days when a smartwatch was considered nerdy and that normal people didn’t want to be seen wearing. Gear S3 looks like a traditional watch, especially this Classic version in stainless steel. However, a tougher Frontier version exists, with a more masculine design and in grey-black. Both are equally robust, with an impressive IP68 rating against dust and water. However, swimming is not recommended, something that the Apple Watch can handle.

 

Gear S3 feels like a quality product with good durability. But it has to be said that it is a really big watch that fits badly on the wrist. The only physical buttons to get to the home screen or back in the menus are found on the side. Navigating in the menus is done by turning the ring seated around the screen. It feels natural, and is much better than poking around on the small screen, as one does with many other watches.

 

The watch runs on Tizen, which has both advantages and disadvantages. On the one hand, Samsung has benefited from having manufactured both the hardware and software. This makes everything flow well, and all possibilities are exploited to the maximum. On the other hand, Tizen still does not have the same app offers as Android Wear and WatchOS. There is also not quite the same two-way communication, because you mostly receive information on the watch. In particular, it lacks advanced voice command. However, there are features that we appreciate greatly. For instance, you can choose to have the screen always turned on, so it really looks like a regular watch. It obviously affects battery life, but luckily the battery is so powerful that it still lasts just as long as many competitors with turned off screens. We also love the training features that even list the activity you are doing, including sleep. It also logs the pulse continuously so you can get the stats.

 

Conclusion

Gear S3 feels like a nice step up from the previous model. It looks more like a traditional watch, regardless of whether you choose the Classic or the Frontier model. It has become better for training, and Tizen now has several well-known apps. Luckily, it’s still as robust, and it has kept the smart navigation ring. On the other hand, it is not as interactive as watches with other operating systems, and it is mostly something by which that you receive information.

 

 

 

Connected and modern

Huawei gives it all regarding the latest technology, but loses points regarding style.

What we liked most about the predecessor was how nice and luxurious it felt. It’s oddly enough one of the few areas where we have to mention that Watch 2 has gone in the wrong direction. It simply looks a bit sad in comparison. The competitors have gone in the other direction and made their watches more luxurious. However, there are no issues with the quality. It feels as sturdy as some of the others. It is also adequately protected against both dust and water.

 

Like so many other watches it’s quite large, and it has actually become a bit thicker than its predecessor. One can’t call it discreet. One reason might be that it has been equiped with a really huge battery, and the consequence is that it can last considerably longer than for example Asus ZenWatch 3. It also recharges with a magnetic cradle charger. It is not the most elegant solution, but it’s actually quite convenient.

 

A favourite feature is that one can actually put in a SIM card. It does not depend on your phone to be connected, for example, if one is out jogging. One doesn’t quite realize how practical it is until you’ve tried it. If you add the generous sensors, this is a truly competent training watch. One also gets some practical extra features by using the Huawei’s app, as well as the standard Ear app.

 

It gets bonus points for being the first out with Android Wear 2.0 on the Scandinavian market. This is despite the fact that LG is Google’s official launch partner. Suddenly, the watch is not just an additional display for messages. You can see at a glance when the next meeting is, how the weather will be, or whatever other information you need to know from your apps on the dial. Everything is quite convenient, from answering messages to installing apps.

 

Conclusion

Huawei takes two steps forward and one step back with their new smart watch. On the positive side, it’s bursting with the latest technology, and has more sensors than you knew you needed. On the negative side, it actually looks sadder than the classy predecessor. The disadvantage is outweighed by having a built-in SIM card, so you don’t have to take your phone along when you go for a jog. As a final point, Watch 2 has the latest software, which makes it very pleasant to use.

Apple Watch is all grown up

If you have decided on a smartwatch, this is the best that is currently out there.

Unlike their Android-friendly competitors, Apple continues with the square format. It may not be just like a watch, but it does provide more display for information. One of Apple Watch’s biggest advantages it has over the competition is all the options. You can get it in two sizes, three different materials and four types of bracelets, as well as all colour variations. Regardless of taste and budget, you can find a model that suits you – everything from an aluminium watch with a sports bracelet to a stainless steel casing with a classic metal strap. Or why not the new gorgeous, ceramic model? It is rather expensive, but less so than the crazy gold version of the first watch. However, all of them feel like quality watches that you should not feel ashamed of wearing.

 

The first generation was too dependent on the iPhone. It is now improved in Series 2, which has built-in GPS to locate you. It also has a faster processor than its predecessor. Thanks to WatchOS3, the whole navigation in the watch has been redone, and it is for the better.

 

It is clearly noticeable that Apple has wanted to make the watch a bigger competitor to the activity bracelets. It already had the basic prerequisites with a heart rate monitor and accelerometer. But with a more robust finish and GPS, it now feels like a full-fledged substitute. The watch also has an extra bright screen that is more easy to read in sunshine.

 

You should also not forget that Apple has improved the water protection on the watch. The old one was spray watertight, but users voluntarily reported that they showered with it on without a problem. The new Series 2 is now waterproof down to a depth of 50 metres. But Apple is as usual cautious about what they promise, and warns against diving or going water skiing with it on. Either way, it should be no problem to swim with it on, and take advantage of the feature that keeps track of your times.

 

Conclusion

Apple Watch continues to be the most complete and lightweight smartphone in use, with the most options available for appearance. Many of the small annoyances with the first model have now been improved. Menus and navigation feel more natural, and it is considerably faster to switch between features. Besides, you can swim with it, the screen is easier to read outdoors, and you no longer need to bring your phone along on a jog.

 

 

 

 

Stylish but slimmed down

An elegant watch at a good price, but one must live with some limitations.

Like so many others,, the computer giant Asus has realized that watches need to have a certain amount of style. The difference between the previous model’s lumpy appearance and this is striking. The watch is unusually thin and light, despite its being slightly large for narrow wrists. It must also be said that you cannot switch to any watchstrap. Whether you like the look is a matter of personal taste, especially the protruding buttons. But this watch is not like the others.

 

The original setting is such that the upper button starts the fitness app, while the lower button sets the watch to power save mode. You can easily change that so that you open the app or start the function you want. It doesn’t have inductive charging like Samsung Gear, but the magnetic charging ring is actually rather convenient. It’s good, because the watch needs to be charged more often than the other competitors in the test. Luckily, it has rapid charge, 15 minutes at 60 percent.

 

Oddly enough, the watch lacks most of the sensors that the others have. True, it has a gyro that can be used for step counting, but that is much less than the others who have built-in GPS, and above all heart rate monitors. It makes the ZenWatch less suitable as an activity bracelet. It is noticeable that Asus has saved money on the functions. Therefore, it does not stand out from the crowd so that you would choose it over others.

 

When the watch ran the old Android Wear version during the test, it felt a bit obsolete. You can only get basic information directly on the dial. It’s a little tedious to interact with the messages and notifications. The whole handling is a little more hands on than what you would have wanted. However. it must be noted that ZenWatch 3 is on the list of watches that will be able to be upgraded to Android Wear 2.0. Perhaps this may provide it new life?

 

Conclusion

Asus has taken a huge step forward when it comes to the appearance of their watches. ZenWatch 3 is stylish and thin, albeit somewhat too big for many. Unfortunately, this has taken a toll on battery life, which is the shortest among the tested watches. Even worse, it lacks most sensors, which makes it less suitable as a training watch. However, it gets points for the affordable price. And once the long-awaited upgrade to Android Wear arrives, it will feel more modern.

 

 

 

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