I know a lot about fitness trackers, and I really like the functions and purpose of those devices. Smartwatches, on the other hand, are a little more elusive to me.
I’m on the first few week of wearing my new Apple Watch Series 3. Set up was a breeze as I’m already plugged into the Apple ecosystem. Set up, too, made me think that I’d get plenty of the activity and wellness tracking I wanted.
Beyond the health and wellness stuff, however, I’ve struggled to understand the point of this smartwatch. Granted, I’m still new to the world of smartwatches. But here are some of the things I’ve learned about this smartwatch and the purpose of smartwatches in general.
Smartwatches Aren’t for Everybody
This probably seems obvious, but I think it’s worth talking about a bit more. Perhaps you’ve been wondering if you should invest in a smartwatch. Maybe you think that you are a gadget lover so naturally you would want the most recent tech.
The thing is, it doesn’t really matter how much you love gadgets or want to have the latest and greatest in technology. You’ve got to want the very specific features that a smartwatch offers you. This is probably why I’ve struggled to understand the appeal. For me, what I want from wearable tech is a focus on fitness and a motivator to be healthier. I can get that from a fitness tracker – and there are plenty of those to choose from.
If you are looking for features beyond those fitness-centric ones, then a smartwatch might be for you. I’m wearing the new Apple Watch, so I’ll talk specifically about the features and functions of this one.
What a Smartwatch Can Do
Now let’s look at what a smartwatch can give you in addition to that fitness stuff:
- Notifications: Calendar, texts, email, reminders, etc.
- Mobile pay: Buy stuff without getting out your wallet
- Add apps: Choose from a selection of smartwatch-friendly apps
- Find your way: Use maps and GPS to get to where you need to be
- Communicate: Via text or calling
Avid smartwatch users will tell you there are plenty more things you can do with your watch, but these are the basics. Adding apps unlocks new and custom potential, so if you’re considering a watch it’s worth it to see what’s available.
Here’s my take on all these features.
The notifications are nice, but my phone is always nearby, so it’s not that useful. I do see possibility in this feature, however. I would like to be on my phone less, so having wrist-based notifications gave me the opportunity to ignore the unimportant stuff for a while. Previously I would’ve read every text or email straight from my phone, but the watch notification made them feel less urgent.
I haven’t yet set up mobile pay, primarily because I haven’t seen a lot of places where I could actually use it (although, I guess I haven’t looked that hard). Starbucks is the only place I might use it, but I’ve already got my Starbucks card connected to my iPhone, so I’m not sure I see the benefit of using my wrist instead.
I also haven’t added any apps, though I have checked out the options. I was disappointed because I couldn’t find any that were specifically for stress tracking. There are a few apps that are geared for “mindfulness,” but I’d really like a dedicated app that just tracks and helps me manage stress. Beyond that, I’m not seeing any apps that are appealing to me. Also, there are multiple apps for fitness, which is confusing to me. I want my watch to have all of that already. Perhaps this is something I need to investigate more. (Plus, many of the apps cost money, which, after spending over $300, I’m not quite willing to do right now).
The GPS and maps will come in handy, I suppose, though again I’m not sure how this differs from what my iPhone can do.
I haven’t responded to texts or tried to make calls with the watch, and, to be honest, I don’t really want to. I will for the sake of my Apple Watch review, but this is just another reminder that smartwatches aren’t for everyone. (i.e., there is probably someone else out there who wants the watch for the specific purpose of not having to pull out their phone to send a text.)
Fitness Features on Smartwatches
There are plenty of activity and fitness features on the Apple Watch itself – even more if you elect to download additional apps. The primary, every day tracking includes:
- Heart Rate: Check your current, resting, and walking average heart rate right from your wrist
- Steps: Keep track of all your steps, total distance, and flights of stairs climbed
- Exercise: Log daily run/walk exercise automatically; start additional workout tracking from your watch
- Standing: Get reminders to stand up and walk around each hour; keep track of each hour you accomplish this
The data lives on both the Activity app and the Health app on your iPhone. However, these two apps aren’t matching up for me – there are more steps and other data on the Activity app than on the Health app. I’ve been trying to figure out why this is, but so far I haven’t been able to reconcile the two. Based on a brief internet search, it sounds like this is an issue many users have had even on older Apple Watches.
This week has been a little wonky, so I haven’t done any full on workouts yet. I’ll update here when I have.
I will keep playing with the fitness options and different data interpretations, but I have to say I’m not super impressed early on.
If you are looking for a heavy (and accurate) focus on fitness, I’m not sure a smartwatch is your best bet. Next up I’ll be trying out the Fitbit Ionic, so you can bet I’ll have more opinions then.
Using a Smartwatch with/without a Smartphone
The Apple Watch Series 3 with cellular option changed the smartwatch game quite a bit. Without built-in cellular, you are at the mercy of your smartphone.
Your non-LTE smartwatch will work A) when it’s connected to your phone and within range and B) if it’s connected to Wi-Fi and out of range of your phone. For me, this means I can’t go on a run in the foothills and leave my phone in the car – I’m out of range of my phone and there’s no Wi-Fi.
So, if you have the non-LTE watch and are out of range of your phone and Wi-Fi, here’s what you can do:
- Track workouts, activities, and heart rate
- Use timers, open synced photos, and play synced playlists
- Use Apple Pay to make purchases
The cellular-enabled Apple Watch solves the problem of limited access. It untethers you from your phone and still lets you get notifications, listen to music, and so forth. On the other hand, buying the LTE Apple Watch will cost you more up front, and it will tack on an additional $10 per month on your mobile phone plan regardless of your carrier.
Battery Life, Comfort, and Interface
I knew ahead of time that the Apple Watch is known for less-than-stellar battery life (approximately 18 hours). So far, I’ve been getting longer than that. However, it did mess me up not charging it sooner – I missed out on my activities and work out last night because the battery died.
I don’t usually wear a watch, so it did take some getting used to. It’s pretty comfortable for the most part, but I’ve been struggling with how tight to wear it. The heart rate monitor seems much different when I wear it at a tightness that’s more comfortable. I know it’s supposed to be snug, but the next sizing hole down is tight and I hate it. Does this mean I’m getting wildly inaccurate data on my heart rate? I’m not sure.
The interface is just okay. I figured it out fairly quickly, but I still forget which button is which and I’m often opening the wrong thing or taking a minute to find what I’m after. That could improve with time, but as of right now I’m not super impressed with the interface.
Should You Buy a Smartwatch?
If you’re reading this, chances are you’re looking for an answer to this very question. My answer is: it depends.
If you are into the idea of doing as much as possible from your wrist, if you’re not super picky about fitness tracking, and/or if you intend to pick up a LTE Apple Watch for more freedom from your smartphone – go for it.
If you are unsure about the purchase, if you fail to see the appeal of having on-wrist notifications or adding apps to a watch, or if you want more comprehensive fitness data, you might be better off waiting or looking elsewhere.
Do you have opinions about smartwatches? See something I’m missing out on when it comes to the Apple Watch? Let me know in the comments!