Smartwatches – What you need to know

Introduction

What is a Smartwatch?

First of all, to enter the definition, it has to be attached to your wrist. After all, it is a watch. But is not just a watch. It’s a device that does amazing things. It connects to your smartphone or other devices. It shows you things on a small screen. Things like the weather, notifications, apps, fitness, health, music, calls, messages, and more. Some smartwatches don’t even need a smartphone to connect to. Those smartwatches can work all by themselves.

A very short history.

The history of smartwatches isn’t all that long. The technical capability to put a CPU inside the extremely small space inside a watch wasn’t developed until recently. Still, during the last decades many have tried to make the common watch a little sexier with, for the time, advanced technology. Here are a few examples:

  • Pulsar by Hamilton Watch Comèany (1972): The first digital watch with LEDs and a button to show the time.
  • Seiko Data-2000 (1983): A watch that could store data, memos, and calendar entries with an external keyboard.
  • Seiko TV Watch (1982): A watch that could display TV images with a receiver box.
  • Sinclair FM Wristwatch Radio by Sinclair Radionics Ltd (1985): A prototype of a watch that could receive FM radio signals.
  • Seiko MessageWatch (1995): A watch that could display caller IDs and updates on various topics using FM frequencies.

What’s so awesome about using a smartwatch?

The main features and functions of a smartwatch

Smartwatches

It’s small and out of the way. It fits on your wrist like a watch but does much more than just tell time. Compared to a smartphone, a smartwatch has some distinct advantages… You don’t forget it at the bar, or in your car, cause it’s attached to your wrist.

It lets you worry about one less item around you, no need for pockets or purses. Still, it can do much of what a smartphone can… Well, at least some of it. Needless to say, it is limited because of its size. There’s no way around that. But it gets you the news and weather updates, It plays music and videos for your entertainment, and it keeps you connected if that’s what you want. Otherwise, just put it on flight mode.

It can also measure your heart rate, blood pressure, blood sugar, oxygen level, sleep patterns, and more if you have health concerns. And it can assist you in your fitness struggle. It can monitor your workouts and activities, whether you’re running, cycling, walking, or swimming.

The pairing of your smartwatch.

One small flaw with smartwatches is that they need a phone to work. And you need to pair it with your smartphone. Normally, pairing a smartwatch with a smartphone is a simple process. Depending on the type and model of your smartwatch, you may need to download a specific app on your smartphone to pair them. You need to turn on both devices and enable Bluetooth. Then, you need to open the app on your smartphone and select your watch name from the list of available devices. A pretty normal procedure, that shouldn’t be a problem. The issue could be that you need your phone close by. And that would mean that some of the advantages mentioned above suddenly are gone.

Fortunately, there is a solution: The standalone smartwatch. These devices have all the bits and pieces to connect to the internet via their own sim card, and its own GPS, and network interface. This could make the standalone smartwatch heavier and more costly, but the variations are huge. You need to find the solution that works for you… Paired or Standalone.

Types of Smartwatches

The different categories of smartwatches.

Apart from the choice of a standalone, or paired smartwatch, there are many types of smartwatches. You have to ask yourself which features you’re prepared to pay for, and what you’re prepared to carry along with you because what you opt for will impact the size and weight. Here are just a few different categories:

  • General use smartwatches: These are smartwatches are designed for everyday use often with loads of features. They can display all kinds of information. General use would mean that they have more or less everything. Like all the watches below in a single device.
  • Fitness smartwatches: These are designed for fitness enthusiasts. They have specialized features and functions that help you track your workouts and activities. If you want to measure your steps, calories, distance, and speed, this is the one for you. They sometimes also monitor your heart rate, blood oxygen level, and stress level. Some even check your sleep quality. This type of smartwatch should be reasonably lightweight.
  • Hybrid smartwatches: These are a kind of combination between the traditional watch and the functionality of a smartwatch. It’s a good choice if you want the best of both worlds. Analog or digital displays, just like a normal watch. On top of that, they have smartwatch features like notifications, alerts, reminders, and more. They usually have longer battery life than other types of smartwatches.
  • Smartwatches for specific sports: These are designed for specific sports or activities that require specialized features and functions. They can help you improve your performance, skills, technique, and safety in your chosen sport or activity. They can also provide feedback, analysis, statistics, and tips.
  • GPS smartwatches: They have a built-in GPS or GLONASS receiver that allows them to track your location, speed, distance, altitude, and route. Some also provide navigation features such as maps, directions, waypoints, and points of interest.

The brands

There are many manufacturers who make smartwatches. The same producers of smartphones are also well-known brands in the smartwatch industry. But compared to other high-tech devices, the smartwatch industry is somewhat unbalanced, with one big company producing more than half of all smartwatches.

The name of that company is, of course, Apple. And Apple manufactures a full spectrum of smartwatches, one for every category, and price range. Apple Watch Series 8 is the latest, pairing with iOS devices. To use an Apple you will need an Apple phone like iPhone to pair it with. Unless you’re opting for the standalone models. Apple calls these “Cellular”.

Samsung: Samsung is the second biggest smartwatch brand with an 11% share of the market. The big phone company is trying hard to compete with Apple. But while Samsung is roughly equal to Apple in the phone industry, among smartwatches it’s far behind. Samsung Galaxy Watches generally come at a lower price compared to Apple.

Apart from phone companies, there are a few brands coming from other niches, but who have realized the potential of the smartwatch market.

Garmin is a well-known brand for GPS devices and fitness trackers. They too have entered the race. Their watches are aimed at sport- and fitness-minded people. Garmin Fenix Pro Solar is an advanced model that features a solar-powered display. (Maybe not a true game changer. The solar panel is really, really small, and you’ll have to keep it in the sun to get any measurable effect.)

Another brand with a different background is Fitbit. They offer a more economical lineup especially made for athletics, fitness, and training.

But there are many more of every requirement and budget.

The importance of battery life.

Obviously, a very small and lightweight thing can’t hold a big and heavy battery. And that is one big issue with these gadgets. Let’s look at the problem more in-depth

  • A more powerful energy source would last longer. But more so when it comes to smartwatches, it allows the device to do more things. Maybe you want it to keep track of heartbeat, location, and pulse, as well as be connected to the GPS, and the internet. The more the watch has to do contemporarily, the more it drains the battery.
  • We want our smartphones to be lightweight and thin. The watch on your wrist brings these requirements to a whole new level. Just a few grams up or down make a huge difference when those grams accompany you in every movement you make. The weight of a smartwatch is essential, and we’d like to avoid big bulky batteries.
  • A smartwatch with a long battery life can also possibly last longer than a smartwatch with a short battery life. It can prevent your smartwatch from slowing down, crashing, or shutting down unexpectedly. It can also protect your smartwatch from damage caused by overcharging, and overheating, and maybe even extend the lifespan of your smartwatch and reduce the need for replacement or repair.
  • You need to consider what you want from your smartwatch, what your goals are. For trekking and backpacking, battery life is crucial. If you’re out in the wilderness for days, the last thing you want is for the phone to shut down the first evening.

Battery life varies a lot between models. From standalone watches with only 18 hours of autonomy to some Garmin models that claim a battery life of three weeks. Just like with smartphones, the battery will last much longer if you turn off features like GPS, wifi, and others. It always comes down to a choice of what you want your smartwatch to do.

Conclusion

Smartwatches are in an upward trend, a growing phase. They continue to increase sales, and for the customer, there’s a great possibility that future smartwatches will be better, with longer battery life, and of course, cheaper. Even today, you can buy a really good smartwatch for a few hundred dollars. And if you’re into fitness or have health issues, for a few thousand, you’ll get a device that could radically improve your training, and quality of life, and even save your life. That’s not bad for a watch.