Watching Watches Get Smarter
A Second Take
Sony SmartWatch 2 ($200)
Sony has tried several iterations of watches with the SmartWatch 2 being the latest. As the main rival to the Samsung Gear watch, Sony’s presents several advantages, although it is not nearly as feature packed as Samsung’s entry.
The SmartWatch 2 will last three days on a single charge, whereas Samsung’s model only goes for 25 hours (which is still better than the battery life of any smart phone). Sony’s watch also works with any Android phone with the 4.0 or later software.
But there are several shortcomings of the Sony SmartWatch 2. It doesn’t have a camera and there’s no way to answer a phone call with it, which means you’re back to digging out your phone to take a picture or answer a call. Owners can check messages on Twitter and Facebook but, as with the Samsung model, they can’t scroll through a lengthy e-mail.
Smart and Sporty
Adidas miCoach Smart Run ($400)
Smart watches don’t have to be tethered to a smart phone to get their intelligence, as demonstrated by Adidas’ miCoach Smart Run. This dedicated sports watch has all the hardware on board, including a GPS receiver, an accelerometer, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and a pulse rate monitor.
The touchscreen watch relies on its own software and concomitant Web site (so experienced runners already committed to another program can’t import the data). Adidas covers a lot of ground, such as training programs for marathoners, plus audio encouragement. Serious runners will get more out of this watch, than say a simple Nike Fuel Band, and they also won’t have to lug along a smart phone.
Toned Down for Toning Up
TomTom Multi-Sport GPS, ($200)
Taking a simpler--and less expensive--approach to the sports watch category, the TomTom Multi-Sport has a monochrome display that is not touch sensitive. A single button is used to change settings and initiate workouts. No smart phone is required, but there’s no built-in pulse sensor. A separate $50 chest strap sensor is required to monitor heart rate.
The Multi-Sport GPS will track a run, bike or swim (for up to 10 hours), as well as log times and even give the wearer on-screen prompts to pick up the pace. There’s also a treadmill mode, which estimate run distances.
Initially, the watch had to be plugged into a PC to collect and compare fitness progress. However, TomTom says a new iPhone app will allow for wireless synching. Unlike Adidas, TomTom lets the owner use TomTom’s program or other established popular applications, such as RunKeeper Pro.
Magellan Echo ($150)
Taking an even more stripped down approach to smart watches, Magellan’s Echo relies on a Bluetooth connected phone for its intelligence.
Designed to display information from fitness programs running on a smart phone (as well as control music on a smart phone), the Echo doesn’t even have its own GPS receiver. It relies on a smart phone for such information, which in this case means an iPhone 4S or later. It also works with Bluetooth compatible heart rate monitors. However, the Echo can work with a variety of iPhone fitness apps, including Wahoo, Strava, and MapMyRun. One of the advantages of having less hardware on-board is better battery life. Rather than needing to be charged every day or two, the Echo will run for 6 months or more on a single disposable battery.
Far From A Beta
Mio Alpha ($200)
One major trend this year will be the growing number of watches with a built-in optical pulse rate monitor. Mio’s Alpha was one of the first to market.
Chest strap heart rate monitors are more accurate, but they’re clumsy and uncomfortable. In tests, the optical models are reasonably accurate and don’t require endless fiddling or make the wearer look like they’re training for a triathlon. The Mio Alpha is designed to constantly monitor the wearer’s pulse during a workout, which it does no matter how much the owner perspires.
The pulse rate is sent in real time to any Bluetooth compatible smart phone app, such as Wahoo, to monitor and improve one’s performance. The Alpha is intended for athletes who are already using their smart phones but want an easy, accurate and comfortable way to add important pulse rate data.
Basis B1 Band ($200)
Activity trackers were all the rage last year thanks to items like the Nike + FuelBand and the Fitbit Flex. The Basis smart watch represents the next stage in activity and fitness monitoring by including something the previous generation did not: a built-in pulse monitor.
While it will not track the wearer’s location (there’s no GPS), the Basis will continuously monitor the wearer’s pulse, skin temperature and perspiration (too much sweat will decrease the pulse monitor’s accuracy). It will also automatically recognize the difference between running, walking and biking, which it later digests over a Bluetooth connection and submits to its own iPhone or Android app. The Basis software focuses on improving the wearer’s habits over time, rather than promoting particular daily goals.
Compared to less expensive activity trackers, the Basis watch is designed for more serious customers who recognize the importance of pulse/heart rate information.