Who Smart Watches the… Nevermind, that’s a really terrible joke

One thing that I haven’t spent a lot of time talking about in my writing career (outside of a few short pieces here and there) is how much I enjoy technology and gadgets and shit like that.

There’s something about electronic bits and bobs that wakes up my nascent inner engineer. I start thinking of ways I could cobble them into my workflows and make my life easier. It rarely actually works out that way. I went through three tablets before I finally figured out that I absolutely have no use for them other than occasionally reading books. (Weirdly, I don’t find reading on an actual ebook reader enjoyable, only tablets.)

But one purchase I’ve been exceptionally happy with is the smart watch I got for Christmas in 2013. I bought a Pebble and it’s been a major difference in my work and leisure. (Please imagine that I said leisure in the British way, but with a shitty French accent, because I did that in my head.)

Say you’re in the middle of something and the e-mail noise goes off on your phone (mine’s the little tune that plays when Simon Belmont dies in the original Castlevania). Let’s also say you’re expecting an e-mail, but that you signed up for some newsletter a while back and they’ve been spamming the hell out of your inbox lately, too.

Until you grab your phone and check, that fucker is Schroedinger’s e-mail: it simultaneously is and is not the e-mail you’re waiting for until you collapse the waveform by looking at your phone.

Or you look at your wrist, see it’s junk, and keep working, all in about a second. Also, watches are charming and will get you laid. James Bond had a watch.

Now there are newer, fancier watches. Watches with pretty color screens that are better integrated with the phones they’re meant to complement. I’m an Android user, so my choices are Android Wear or Pebble. I’ve been using Pebble for the last year and a half, but maybe it’s time to look and see if the grass is greener or not, right?

So I rented a smart watch. I wasn’t even aware that was a thing you could do until I saw someone mention it in a Reddit comment., who are mostly known for renting camera equipment, also rents smart watches. Who the hell knew?

Originally, the plan was to rent a Sony SmartWatch 3, because it has a screen that can actually be seen outdoors and gets more than a single day of battery life, unlike most other Android Wear watches. Unfortunately, they didn’t have any, and since all Android Wear watches work fundamentally the same, I went with an Asus Zenwatch instead.

Now, I’m going to pause and go over some things I like about my Pebble that I knew I wouldn’t be getting with a Wear watch:

  1. Week-long (approximately) battery life
  2. Visibility in any lighting
  3. Actual, physical buttons

Now, in fairness, some Wear watches do have physical buttons, but it’s usually just one, and I’ve got no fucking clue what it’s supposed to do, because the Zenwatch has zero buttons.

So I received the Zenwatch and spent some time fiddling with it and setting it up. I went with as many power saving features as I could, because a lot of the bells and whistles stuff (heartrate monitor, wifi support [Zenwatch doesn’t have that anyway], GPS) don’t matter to me. I wanted to see what kind of battery life I could reasonably expect.

Good news: It can make it through a day. I had heard horror stories of people’s watches dying at 9 p.m., but that didn’t happen. I’m actually usually ending the day with more than 50% battery. That’s turning all the extra sensors off and leaving the always-on screen turned off, too. (If I’m not looking at the watch, it’s kind of pointless anyway. I don’t give a shit if anyone else can see it.) I still have to charge it every night, which sucks, but it’s not dying before I go to bed, so hey.

Regarding visibility in sunlight — Uh, it turns out I kinda overblew this feature because I don’t go outside during the day a whole lot. I’m a night owl, so my day usually doesn’t start until at least after noon. I’m sure the issue would come up eventually, but for now, I haven’t noticed it.

So it’s pretty much just down to the functionality of the watch. Do I like it better than the Pebble? And the answer is… not really, no. I mostly just use my watch for notifications. I don’t like fiddling with apps and crap like that. I don’t need to know what the weather is like (I can look outside), I don’t follow sports heavily enough to need scores sent to me, and the music player controls aren’t that fantastic. With Pebble, at least you have real buttons to control music while you’re driving. Not so with Android Wear.

Sure, a color screen is cool. And one feature I thought would be super handy is voice controls. I’d never use them in public, because I don’t want to look like an asshole by talking to my watch, but I could use them in the car. Last weekend, I took a trip up to Lexington, which is a little over an hour and a half from me. I figured it’d be a good time to test it out.

I got started driving and tried to pause the music I had playing. “OK Google, pause music.” It did a Google search for “pause music”. Not quite what I had in mind, but okay. So I tried again. “OK Google, next song.” It did a search for “next song”. Same with “skip track”, “next track”, and “skip song”. Apparently, you need a third party app to control music with your voice. That would have been nice to know beforehand.

I’ll tell you the coolest thing I managed to do with the Zenwatch. As I was leaving the bookstore I went to Lexington to visit, I tried another voice command: “OK Google, directions to home.” I know shit about Lexington, having only been there a few times since I moved to Kentucky last year, so I still rely heavily on GPS when I’m up there.

Like magic, the watch picked up my voice (side note — my voice is pretty soft and a little high, so a lot of devices have trouble with it, but not Android Wear) and started the Google Maps app, navigating to home. That was pretty fucking awesome, I’m not going to lie. I felt like a damn space man.

But, that aside, it’s been just sort of meh. I can always just set my phone’s directions for home before I start driving. I don’t need a watch for that, or voice controls.

This morning, I preordered Pebble’s new color screen watch, the Pebble Time. It’s all the stuff I liked about the Pebble, but a little smaller and with a pretty color screen. It’s supposed to ship in July.

I’m supposed to send the Zenwatch back next Wednesday. I’ve been considering sending it back early, because it’s just been sitting on my nightstand for the last two days. Eh.