Handheld Technology

The conundrum of the digital smartwatch

At the recent UK launch of the Huawei Watch 2, I asked what was different to the (generally well-received) first iteration. Aside from some slightly better specs and the latest version of Android Wear, they said, it’s made from plastic not metal.

Why? Because unless you’re Apple or Tag Heuer, digital smartwatches don’t have any fashionable allure. People want them for practical purposes. Which brings up a question that been repeatedly asked – including by Huawei’s own CEO - but rarely answered satisfactorily: What’s the point of digital smartwatches? What can they do that fitness trackers, connected analogue watches, or mobile phones can’t do better?


The watch

As for the Huawei watch itself, it’s perfectly fine. It’s quick enough, and feels like a quality product. Aesthetically it’s quite pleasing. The ability to choose a watch face that suits your personality – or even mood if you’re the changeable sort – is nice. The battery lasts for a couple of days, just about. If you want a digital smartwatch, you probably can’t do much better at the minute. But is that enough?

It’s still massive and bordering on the ‘big black hockey puck’ realm of things, which might be fine for a showpiece, but this is meant to be a sports-focused item remember. My fears about its size were realised when I clocked a civil servant in the head with it during a game of football.

The fitness features work perfectly well – I can track my movements, my heart rate, steps, all the usual ‘quantified self’ information that is de rigueur for such devices – and the occasional reminders that I need to stretch after a period of inactivity are nice (if usually ignored). But there’s no shortage of cheaper and smaller devices that do that.

It has all sorts of apps, but with limited use because of the small screen size. The find my phone feature and call notification features can be useful assuming it’s not in your other hand. Google Assistant on your wrist can be useful if you’re too lazy to whip out your phone, as can Android Pay. [There is a 4G-enabled version, but that wasn’t available to test].

But gaming is just a flat no. Reading and replying to messages is a chore. Typing on the screen is infuriating, the pre-prepared messages rarely fit the bill, and there’s no chance I’m going to reply via voice message into my wrist. If anything, it makes the distractions even worse because now I have to check and dismiss notifications from two screens instead of one.

So what are they good for? Fitness trackers do the sports bit just as well, if not better, for half the price and physical size. And there’s nothing the watch apps can do that your phone can’t do better and quicker.

I’m not mad on fitness or the quantified self, so I won’t be looking towards a Fitbit or similar device. However, it has made me remember that wearing a watch can be a nice thing. So, I might look at getting a regular watch. Maybe if the mood takes me, I could consider a Withings-like connected analogue device. But I’ll pass on having another screen on my wrist.


Also read:
The watch industry shows no fear of Silicon Valley
Huawei’s CEO Eric Xu talks wearables, Cloud, AI, and more
After early hype, smartwatches slowly emerge with enterprise uses


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Dan Swinhoe

Dan is a journalist at CSO Online. Previously he was Senior Staff Writer at IDG Connect.

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