I hope this article finds you enjoying a relaxing mid-May Sunday, but I'm going to diverge a bit from my typical sunny disposition. You see, I tend to be a pretty positive person, both in life and in the articles I write here at Android Central. I always try to focus on the positives as much as possible when writing a review or opinion piece, and I like to give companies the benefit of the doubt (Benefit of the Doud?) whenever I can. However, I've had this persistent, nagging itch building for a while that I feel I must scratch, and now's the time to let loose.
I've had it up to here (holds hand at the top of my 6'1" frame) with "smart" watches.
Now don't get me wrong, I still love to try out and experiment with smartwatches. I'm very eager to have a device manufacturer change my mind — which actually almost happened recently when I reviewed the Garmin Venu 2. That fitness-focused smartwatch has a lot going for it — it's easy to use, it looks and feels nice, and it has a long-lasting battery. And yet, it still costs $400 and is packed with more features than I suspect most people will use or need.
I don't deny that many millions of people derive tons of value from the best smartwatches, and the benefits of a good fitness watch are well-established. Yet as much as I try, I just haven't been able to see the appeal of continuously wearing one. In my view, smartwatches generally cost too much, have short lifespans for what they are, have underwhelming battery life, and just try to do too much.
Sure, you can find traditional wristwatches that cost much more than the latest Galaxy Watch, Apple Watch, or high-end Garmin, but those timepieces can last decades, have replaceable batteries, and often emotional attachments beyond their functional purpose. And I don't know about you, but I have enough devices that have built-in planned obsolescence. I don't need to feel like I need to replace a smartwatch after a few short years because the chipset is underpowered to run the OS and apps are no longer supported. Those expensive Mont Blanc and Tag Heuer Wear OS devices — who's actually buying those? They'll be bricks in two years or less.
Beyond the device's lifespan, I absolutely hate that many smartwatches have to be charged every night or every few days. At least the Venu 2 that I mentioned is capable of lasting a week and a half. I love that some devices from the likes of Garmin and Casio support solar power — let's have more like this?
I'd also be curious to know how many people who use an Apple Watch or Galaxy Watch take advantage of the entire feature set or app ecosystem beyond basic fitness and sleep tracking and replying to messages. I know I'm an "old," but what else do you really need to do on your wrist. I've found the experience of typing on those little screens and interacting with voice assistants to be frustrating at best, and it's almost never better than just pulling out my phone or laptop to accomplish the same thing. I realize there are people in certain professions (teachers, doctors, police, etc.) who benefit from this flexibility, but it seems superfluous.
I'm very nervous about what might happen to basic Fitbit trackers with these Wear OS rumors.
With rumors of an upcoming Google Pixel Watch and deeper Fitbit integration, I've had some mixed emotions ahead of Google I/O 2021. I've always preferred basic fitness trackers due to their simplicity, slim profile, and long battery life, and I remain nervous about what might come of non-smartwatch Fitbits in the coming years.
I can feel my own hypocrisy while writing this piece because I happen to be currently wearing a Fitbit Sense, but I have a good reason. As much as I love my basic Inspire 2, I simply can't read it outside in the bright sunlight when I'm on a walk or a run (and truth be told, my eyesight is slipping indoors too). I'm finding that I need the larger, brighter screen to see the time and my workout stats. Hopefully, the newly-announced Luxe will be a good compromise for me. I'll report back on that when I can.
I long for the days when my beloved Pebble Time was still alive and kicking and have been giving some serious side-eye to pseudo-smart watches like the Casio GSHOCK series (though even those are starting to get too smart for my liking). Hybrid smartwatches are an option, I suppose, but I'm not 100% sold on those either. Maybe I'll just go back to that cute little Amazfit Neo I reviewed last fall!
Simple notifications, large bright and readable displays, solid fitness tracking, no unnecessary apps, extra-long battery life, alternative charging options (replaceable batteries, wireless charging, solar charging)... those are all the smarts that I need or want in a wearable. In fact, I'd actually pay more for that stuff than a fancy case, AMOLED screen, or futuristic features.
Ok, thank you for putting up with my grump old man rant. Now, here is a short list of things I've come across recently that I think are pretty smart:
- Amazon is finally bringing modern charging tech to its popular lineup of devices, including the new Echo Buds (2nd Gen) and upcoming Fire tablets. Both will now have USB-C charging, and both have options for wireless charging. Better late than never!
- Facing increasing competition and pressure from Apple's AirTags and Find My and Samsung Galaxy Smart Tags, Tile is doing everything it can to stay alive and relevant. From partnering with more third-party devices and companies like Fitbit to integrating with Amazon's Sidewalk initiative, the O.G. device tracker seems to be making some smart moves right now. I'm pulling for them.
- This past week, some device renders leaked purporting to show what the new Google Pixel 6 might look like. The design has been a bit polarizing, but I'm a big fan. The Pixel shine had worn off with the 4 and 5 series, and if these are accurate, it looks like Google is ready to make a statement with the Pixel 6.
I also wanted to highlight some of my talented colleagues' brilliant work this week. If you haven't read them yet, you should tuck in:
- Ara Wagoner wrote a fantastic guide to buying the best wireless charger (even I learned some things), and also expressed many of the frustrations that Chromebook fans have felt for years about the state of tablet-sized Android apps.
- Chris Wedel continues to show why he's our go-to guru on all things kid and family tech-related with his essay on why we're on the precipice of a golden age of parent tech.
- Nick Sutrich always makes this non-gamer want to try my hand at it with his witty and informative reviews of Oculus games and hardware, and his hero images are the stuff of legend.
- Finally, I wanted to shout out Alex Dobie for his deep dives on the new Asus Zenfone 8 and 8 Flip (be sure to watch his video above).
Okay, now that I've got all that off my chest, I can get back to enjoying my weekend. I hope you're doing the same because we've got a busy one coming up this week!