Thursday, February 19, 2015

More Wearables! G G Watch R and Martian Notifier

I LOVE Wearable technology. Love, love, love it. It combines some of my favorite things; the ability to be always connected, metrics and data, and shiny jewelry and tech. Team Feliciano has tried tons of wearables, and we love getting the opportunity to try out more.

Recently AT&T Seattle loaned me some watch style wearables to try. For the past month or so we have been giving the Martian Notifier and LG G Watch R a go. Here’s what we thought:

LG G Watch R
This is a sexy watch. I loved the way it looked, especially it’s circular face with a true circular display (the Moto 360, a watch with a similar look and round face, still had a weirdly rectangular display that showed its bottom edge). It looks, for the most part, like a watch. Unlike every other smart watch we’ve tried, this one has a real leather band, which can be swapped with any appropriately sized watch band of your choosing. This is a neat feature that not only allows you to personalize the watch, but helps extend the life. The drawback here is that the watch face is pretty darn big. This is definitely sized like a men’s watch. I have very petite wrists and It was pretty uncomfortable for me to wear. Nate, at age 14, has wrists a bit bigger than me, found it to be just fine. After I deemed the watch too uncomfortable, he wore it for the most of the month.

The G Watch R is also a “Pure” Android device. it runs Google’s Android Wear, as opposed to a watch like the Samsung Gear, which runs proprietary software over the Android framework. This seemed to make the watch a bit more zippy, with virtually no lag. Coming off the Samsung experience, there was a bit of a learning curve with the interface. Not surprisingly, Nate was the first to really get it, and once he did he found it very easy to navigate.

Nate’s favorite features were the pedometer and the heart rate monitor. He really liked that there are many watch faces to choose from, and his favorite looked like a regular watch that had subtle dials for steps taken and current heart rate. We have offered him wearables that were simply for step tracking, but he has never really been interested. I think that the fact that the G Watch R looks like a cool watch, but has the ability to show steps discreetly makes this a health tracking device that even an image conscious teenager can get behind.

The charging situation with smart watches has been a problem since their introduction, and I don’t think that any of the ones we have tried have really solved that yet, and this is no exception. The charging cradle has the benefit of a magnet, which only slightly mitigates the awkward cradle fit.

It has a nice, crisp OLED display. The battery conserving properties of the OLED allows the G Watch R to have an “always on” mode that always shows the time, just another step towards smart watches actually working like a traditional watch.

Nate got about 3 - 4 days of battery life when the watch wasn’t connected to his phone (to honestly use it as a watch and not a “device” at school, it was better for him to sync it at home). When it was constantly connected via bluetooth, the battery life was about 2 days, which is pretty respectable, and a small improvement over other smart watches we’ve tried.

Nate was upset when I told him our review period was over and he’d have to give the watch back. This is the first piece of tech that I’ve brought home that has really gotten him excited. WIth a $300 price tag, I’m not sure that it’s in the budget as a gift for a teen. This is totally a contender for me to buy for myself once my current smart watch bites the dust, though.

Martian Notifier Smartwatch

We took this one out, and Kitty summarized all of our feelings about it pretty well. “PopPop would like that”. This is a smartwatch that is first and foremost a watch. It, once again, was too big for my tiny wrists (c’mon smartwatch designers, ladies like gadgets, too!). The face was a bit more comfortable for me than the G Watch R, but the rather large rubbery watch band once again made this look more like a man’s watch than a unisex time piece. The face size shouldn't be too much of an issue on this one, a majority of the face is an actual, analog watch with just a small sliver along the bottom for the screen. Hopefully Martian will be able to offer a Ladies’ Notifier in the future. Currently the Notifier comes in red, white or black. AS with the G Watch R, the straps are interchangeable with any watch band, and the Martian also offers “quick change” watchbands in nine colors ($20) that can be swapped out without using tools.

If subtlety is your game, this is the smart watch for you. I can imagine this being used by anyone who wants to discreetly stay connected without the flash of a OLED, touch screen, and speaker equipped mini-computer. It syncs with both Android and iOS devices, making it one of the few options out there for Apple devotees. It will sync with almost any app that can push notifications to your phone. You can change the watch’s settings to vibrate differently for each app, a helpful feature for knowing which of your notifications need your immediate attention (waiting for an important text or email?) and allowing you to ignore notifications that can be saved for later (SportsCenter, Facebook, and Clash of Clans, all apps that can be set up to send notifications).

I love that you can set up the Notifier as a “leash”, it will tell you when your phone is out of range; and you can have the Notifier make your phone ring if you've ever misplaced it. It’s one of the valuable features for me, as I seem to misplace my phone multiple times a day.

There are a few detractors here, even when taking it’s purposely limited scope into consideration.

The Martian Notifier is *this* close to having the charging system I want to see in wearables. It has a port right on the side of the watch, and you just plug it in, which is awesome. The downside? The micro USB port is set really deeply into the side of the watch, meaning it needs a ridiculously long proprietary USB connector that seems really delicate to me. I didn’t have any problems when I used it, but being in an active household with two kids, I was constantly concerned that it would snap off the cord. The charging port on the watch requires a cover to be snapped into place to keep the splash resistant qualities intact. Yes, it’s splash resistant and not water proof, which seems a step in the wrong direction considering all of the other current smart watches are water proof. You could wear the Notifier while washing your hands, but you’ll have to take it off if you’re going to take a shower. It doesn’t have an onboard speaker, which is probably fine as I would imagine anyone opting for this aesthetic would feel pretty silly talking into their wrist anyway.

Two other points in the Martian Notifier’s favor? This is an affordable piece of tech at $130 MSRP. I also loved the five day battery life and the fact that when that battery does die it still works as...a watch.

Both of these devices are available from AT&T retail stores, your carrier or online.

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