What is a Smart Watch?
Those of us who have a passion for smart watches sometimes lose sight of the fact that smartwatches are a very new field of technology. It is easy for us get involved; deeply delving into the latest features of, say the Moto 360, or the battery life of the Apple watch, and we forget that there is a large part of the population who simply don’t know what a smartwatch is! It is for those people that I am writing this article.
I am going to answer the simple question we often forget to answer: What is a smartwatch? The obvious related question is: What does a smartwatch do? Let’s give you the 101.
They Tell The Time!
Of course, the name is smart watch, so firstly, they tell the time! Unlike a regular watch, though, they don’t have physical hands. Instead, they display information via some kind of display. This can be based on LED technology (much like a smartphone), or LCD technology (much like a calculator or traditional digital watch). Having a display—rather than physical hands—means the user can select different watch faces. Users can swap styles of watch faces at will. You can choose from a simple analogue watch face—which mimics the look of a traditional watch, a digital watch face—which displays the time and other related information in a clear format, or even some cryptic-looking faces only a true nerd could love.
Perhaps the best thing is that you can enhance the information shown on your watch by choosing complications. These are extra pieces of information, such as the date, the day/month, the current temperature, or how many steps you have taken today. Most users eventually settle on a few favorite watch faces, and even have one for casual use, and one for special occasions when they need a more formal look.
It's All About Notifications
Moving from basic watch functions, the next (and primary) function of a smartwatch is to mirror notifications from your smartphone to your watch. New e-mail? New text message? Facebook notification? Time for your next meeting or appointment? It’s all displayed as a notification on your watch—saving you having to fish your phone out to see what it is. This doesn’t sound like much, but most people find it to be a boon when they realize that they’re having to take their watch out so much less. Most notifications can be simply ignored or dismissed. Doing this tens or hundreds of times a day really adds up to added convenience.
Some notifications require an action on your part, but the action is small, such as simply dismissing the notification, deleting the e-mail, sending a quick, short reply to the text message or snoozing that notification. This is the domain of actionable notifications, and they save you having to fish your phone out even for these. The notification for an e-mail, for instance, is usually accompanied by one button (or one or two swipe) actions which allow you to delete the message, send a pre-written reply (think: “OK. Thanks”), or even dictate a short reply into your watch. These are a real time-saver. Anything requiring a more comprehensive action or reply will be done on your smartphone or computer, of course.
Finally, you can initiate actions on your smartwatch. This can be as simple as calculating tip percentage, asking for the nearest restaurant, or controlling your lights or thermostat at home. Really, the sky is the limit with this kind of functionality, and the number (and type) of things you can achieve are increasing daily as more applications are released. For an idea of this more comprehensive type of activity, you may wish to read this article where some examples of what can be achieved with a smartwatch are listed.
Hopefully, this has given you an idea of exactly what a smartwatch is, and the kind of things smartwatches do. The good thing is that you can use your smartwatch exactly as you desire. You can use it as little more than a watch. You can use it for simply receiving notifications, or you can get deep into James Bond or Star Trek territory. The choice is yours!
What Is The Best Smartwatch?
When first dipping a tentative toe into the waters of the smartwatch revolution, so many people ask the following question: “What is the best smartwatch?” Of course, this is a difficult question to answer, and one which carries a high degree of subjectivity. However, your brave (or foolhardy) researcher/writer is prepared to dive head-first into this sometimes hotly-debated subject to try to separate fact from fiction; common sense from bias; and practicality from seductive twinkling doodads. Here goes…
Firstly, I’m going to make a slight but crucial change to the question to make it much easier to answer, and less subjective: “What is the best smartwatch—for you?” See what I did there? You see, despite this being a website dedicated to Pebble smartwatches, I’m fully aware (and appreciative) of having a diverse market available to us. Each type of smartwatch offers distinct advantages (and sometimes disadvantages) to individual people. We are not all the same. How could one type of smart watch perfectly fit the needs of all people? It can’t. Just as one type of car cannot work for all individuals and families. Being a self-confessed geek and hopeless technology slave, I make it a point to study and keep informed about the latest advances in smartwatch technology. I’m going to use this knowledge to make things easier for you. But first, let’s get this one out of the way: do you actually need a smartwatch at all?
Do You Need a Smartwatch?
Let’s get this clear right at the outset: the answer is no. Nobody needs a smartwatch. But that’s OK… really. One could argue that nobody needs a DVD player either; or that automatic coffee maker; or that latest and greatest smartphone. No, these things are squarely in the “nice to have” category. “We did very well, thank you, without these things for many years.”, I can hear many people of middling years say (or write—in pencil, of course). However, we live in exciting times technology-wise, and what a boring place it would be if we only bought things we can prove a pressing need for. Thriving industries are built around the “nice-to-haves”, rather than the “needs”. 3.75 gazillion QVC viewers can’t be wrong, can they? OK, they may be, but that’s not the point here. As it turns out, smart watches actually provide a quite useful function. One which is difficult to appreciate until you’ve worn one for a few days. Let’s try to answer the question of whether you actually need a smartwatch by taking a look at what a smartwatch does:
So, What Does a Smartwatch Do?
I’m assuming you have a smartphone. If not, please bookmark write down the address of this web page (don’t forget to lick the tip of your pencil), click here, and return when you’ve joined us in the twenty-first century. We’ll wait…
OK. All here? So, at its core a smartwatch performs one major function: it mirrors notifications from your phone onto your watch. This may not seem like much, but consider this: how many notifications do you get every day on your smart phone which do not require immediate action? That e-mail confirming your order has shipped; that notification that someone liked and retweeted your latest witty “bon-mot”; that reminder to pick up some dog food on the way home. Do these need you to take action on your phone? Probably not. However, each of these require you to fish your phone out, unlock the screen (and enter your passcode if you use one), navigate to the notification screen, read the notification, dismiss it, lock the screen and return the phone to its previous place. For some people this happens tens or hundreds of times a day. With a smartwatch, all of this is replaced by a quick and inconspicuous glance at your wrist. That’s it. If the notification requires no action on your part, that’s all you have to do! This freedom from your smartphone is often not appreciated until you live with one for a few days. It truly can be liberating.
Of course, smartwatches can do a lot more that the above, but that is the core function of the little wrist-born computer. For examples of the many more useful things you can do with a smartwatch you may wish to read this article.
So, having established the need or want for a smartwatch, let’s get to the meat of this article, and take a look at your options:
Types of Smartwatches
Currently, there are four major types of smart watches available—separated by their operating system:
- Apple Watch
- Android Wear Watches
- Pebble Watch
- Tizen Watch
Let’s give a brief outline of each:
The Apple watch is Apple’s first foray into the smartwatch world. Like all Apple products, good design is a first priority, and it exhibits a modern and capable look. They are available in two sizes. Interaction is through a touch screen, and a scroll wheel on the right of the watch. The Apple watch will only work with iOS, so if you don’t have an iPhone, this one isn’t for you. Battery life is not the best at around eighteen hours. Various models are available which range in price from $350 to $10,000!
|Designed for iOS||Only works with iOS|
|Siri integration||Relatively poor battery life|
|Good App selection||Screen can glare and wash out in bright daylight|
|Excellent night-time visibility||Cost|
Android Wear Watches
Android wear watches probably make up the bulk of the smart watch market. They are made by numerous manufacturers and all sport a largely unmodified version of the Google Android Wear operating system. Google allows minimal changes to the operating system which is both a benefit and a drawback. On the positive side, this means that once you have used one type of Android Wear watch, you will be familiar with any of them. On the negative side, once you have used one type of Android Wear watch, you will see little difference with any of them. At best, you will find different built-in watch faces, and the differences will be confined to hardware and design.
Interaction is almost exclusively through a touch screen—much like your smartphone. As of writing, most manufacturers are producing their second generation of devices such as the Moto 360, the Huwei watch or the Asus Zenwatch 2. Battery life ranges from less than a day, to two days.
|Google Now integration||Android Wear is a relatively immature operating system. Can be “fiddly”.|
|Excellent app selection||Mediocre battery life.|
|Excellent night-time visibility||Screen can glare and wash out in bright daylight.|
|Some compatibility with iOS (limited by iOS constraints)||Limited functions with iOS.|
It could be argued that Pebble started the smartwatch movement. They launched the original Pebble Watch via a Kickstarter campaign in April of 2012. They stand alone in the smartwatch world by eschewing the use of a touch screen, believing that the most practical way to interact with your watch is through the time-tested method of physical buttons. As such, the operating system is streamlined and eminently practical. Not having a touch screen has the added benefit of avoiding accidental triggering of your watch when, for instance, you cross your arms and find that you have accidentally pressed the screen of the watch. A benefit of the use of an e-paper screen (a highly-reflective LCD screen)—rather than a relatively power-hungry touch screen—is that stellar battery life is possible. Some models in the Pebble range can claim ten days on a single charge.
|Best in class battery life.||Lacks Google Now or Siri Integration|
|Water resistance. Better than most smartwatches.||Less visibility in dim lighting—may require use of backlight.|
|Physical buttons.||Fewer apps available than with either iOS or Android wear.|
|Excellent visibility in daylight.||
|Compatibility with Android and iOS.|
|A more mature interface designed for efficient control with buttons.|
Tizen is an open-source operating system based on Linux. It can, and does, power many devices from smart TVs through cameras and smartphones to smart watches. Tizen seemed a long-shot in the smartwatch world until Samsung announced its use of Tizen at the Mobile World Congress in 2014. Since then, they have released the Samsung Gear S2, an interesting maverick in the smartwatch world.
Interaction with the Samsung Gear S2 is through a combination of a touch screen, and a novel rotating bezel. I must admit to not having used this particular watch yet, but reports seem to be overwhelmingly positive for the bezel and button-based interface. Battery life is a claimed three days, although user reports are that two days is a more realistic estimate.
|Unique.||Poor App availability.|
|Novel rotating bezel proves a useful control method.||Lacks Google Now or Siri integration.|
|Excellent night-time visibility.||May suffer from lack of support in the future.|
|Two to three day battery life.||
Hopefully the above information has given you some food for thought, and helped you to find out which may be the best smartwatch for you. Ultimately, it may depend on your lifestyle, where you spend most of your time or even your ideal "bling to practicality" ratio. To sum up, I have created a table of considerations which may swing you towards one type of watch or another:
|Spend a lot of time outdoors?||Pebble Watches offer the best outdoor visibility.|
|Is an abundant and ever-growing list of apps the most important to you?||Apple watch or Android Wear.|
|Want the very best battery life?||Pebble Watches.|
|Need Google Now?|| Android Wear watches.
|Need Siri?||Apple Watch.|
|Best Water resistance?||Pebble Watches.|
|Heart Rate Monitor?||Apple watch, many Android wear watches, or a Tizen-based watch. Pebble does not natively have a heart rate monitor.|
|Ease of use; the least attention needed in use?||Pebble watches have a very streamlined interface with physical buttons.|
|Do you like to swim or do water sports while wearing your watch?||Pebble Watches offer the best water resistance.|
Which is the best type of smartwatch for you? Let me know in the comments below!
Pebble vs Android Wear
Being a tech freak, and particularly a smartwatch geek, I’m often asked this question: “Which is better: Pebble or Android Wear?”. The fact that I created a website about Pebble smart watches should give you an idea about my ultimate preference, but Android Wear has a lot going for it too. There is no clear answer because everybody’s needs are different. However, you’re here for answers, so I’m going to do my best to explain the differences to help you along the way.
At their core, all smartwatches serve one purpose: they relieve you of the necessity to be continually reaching for your phone. This may not seem like much. I thought so too—until I started wearing smartwatches. I quickly became a convert. I no longer have to carry my phone with me every step I take. I can have the phone somewhere vaguely in the vicinity, safe in the knowledge that I won’t miss any important notifications. Better still, the countless unimportant notifications can be ignored with a quick glance at my wrist, rather than fishing the phone out and entering the unlock code, only to find out that it is nothing important.
Of course, both Pebble and Android Wear serve this purpose. Any notification (e-mail, SMS, reminder, twitter notification, etc.) which will ping your phone can be made to ping your watch as well.
Use as a Watch
Just as we are in danger of forgetting that our smart phones can actually make calls, it’s all too easy to forget—in the excitement of the added functionality—that the shiny gadget adorning our wrist is a smartwatch. It has a primary function of telling the time.
Android Wear watches have a relatively power hungry LED or AMOLED display to feed. Because of this, they do not show constantly. The first generation of Android Wear watches mostly shut off the display altogether after a few seconds of showing you the time. To get it to display again involves either touching the screen, or a (sometimes quite theatrical) movement of lifting the arm and turning the wrist. The downside to this (aside from the aforementioned ham acting) is that it will often trigger unintentionally. When driving, for instance, I usually turn off the wrist gestures in Android Wear, otherwise the act of turning the steering wheel will very often trigger the light. I am also a piano player. Playing a piano will cause the display to regularly turn on and off—not to mention playing havoc with the step counter in either Pebble or Android Wear! They didn’t make these things with us pianists in mind!
Because Pebble smartwatches use a low-power LCD display, they can afford to be permanently on, and still have extremely long battery life (up to ten days). This means that no convoluted gesture is required, and there is no false triggering. This also means that a quick glance is possible while, for example carrying something.
New versions of Android Wear watches have improved this situation by reverting to an “ambient mode” after a few seconds of display. Ambient mode is usually a low brightness, monochrome version of the watch face. As before, touching the watch face, or making the wrist gesture will turn the display fully on for a few seconds.
As we leave the subject of use as a watch, there is one thing that may push you towards either the Pebble or Android Wear. It is visibility in different light conditions:
In a nutshell, Pebble watches get even easier to see as light levels increase, Android Wear watches get harder to see. Conversely, Pebble watches get harder to see in poor light (necessitating the use of the backlight), whereas Android Wear watches get easier to see. What this means in reality is that one type may be better for you than the other, depending on where you spend much of your time. Work or spend a lot of time outside? Pebble may be best for you. Spend a lot of time in dark places? Android wear will save you using the backlight.
As you can see, the Pebble Steel is very easy to see in sunlight. The Zenwatch 2, at its brightest setting, becomes extremely difficult to see. To be fair, the Zenwatch 2 does tend to wash out more than some other Android Wear watches, but this illustrates the point.
Indoors, the situation in somewhat reversed. The Pebble watch is a little more muted, whereas the Zenwatch 2 (still at its brightest setting) shines brightly.
Android Wear and Pebble differ markedly in the way that you interact with the watch. Pebble watches are operated by four buttons placed around the case of the watch (one on the left, and three on the right). The left button serves as a back button, and to turn on the backlight. The three right buttons are up, enter, and down respectively. Android Wear watches have a touchscreen, which means that interaction depends on the particular application you are using—much like your smartphone.
Which method you prefer is personal choice. Personally, while I enjoy Android Wear, and the touch screen, when I think about practicality, I always come down on the side of buttons. Experience wearing both has shown me that there are times I really appreciate having buttons. I can interact with the watch without looking down at it. A simple thing such as changing music track while driving; changing volume, or dismissing a notification can be easily achieved without looking at the watch. Buttons are more positive also. I’m sure we’ve all experienced missing a software button, or a swipe not being registered correctly with a touchscreen. Those issues are amplified when you’re dealing with a much smaller screen.
That’s not to say that a touchscreen is not a useful method to interact with a smartwatch. It is very high-tech. However, it most certainly is not necessary—especially when you consider that most interactions with a smartwatch are reactive. You are mostly taking one action, such as dismissing a notification, opening an application on your watch, muting a phone call, etc. All of these things lend themselves towards quick, single actions for which the humble physical button has always sufficed.
Overall, I find that most things take more actions; swipes or button presses to achieve on Android Wear than on Pebble. I feel that this is partly down to the infancy of Android Wear, and partly down to the nature of the different methods for interaction. When your primary method of interaction is with four buttons, you have to design a lithe, succinct operating paradigm to cater to use them effectively. This is an area in which Pebble excels.
Now, one other way in which you interact with your smartwatch is through voice. This is where—due to its integration with Google Now—Android Wear offers more. Although—with the later models of Pebble—you can dictate replies to messages, take notes, translate dictated speech, etc., Android wear has a lot more possibilities. Even though voice control on Android Wear can currently be very hit-or-miss, there is something very impressive about saying to your watch: “OK Google. Show me a picture of a Shitz-tzu.”, and seeing this:
This actually took me about nine attempts before it worked, but it’s impressive, nonetheless.
Overall, Android wear—while having some great possibilities—feels quite immature. Many of the impressive features are a little sketchy, but I’m quite sure that Google is working feverishly behind the scenes to improve things. It is fun. It will appeal to the tech geeks among us, and it will only get better. On the other hand, Pebble has a longer history, and they are not trying to be all things to all people, or trying to turn a watch into a wrist-born tablet. Nonetheless, there is plenty of room for the geeks to play. I have mine, for instance, triggering some quite impressive functionality in my phone. With a press of a button on my Pebble my emergency contacts will be sent a google map of my location. I can trigger a fake call from a discreet button press on my Pebble, or turn on audio recording. The sky’s the limit!
Whichever you decide is best for you: Pebble or Android Wear, it is an exciting time for us technology freaks. While it is impossible to cover every aspect of the differences between Pebble and Android Wear in an article of reasonable size, I hope this article has provided you with some food for thought; some help in deciding which is best for your application. And if you still can’t decide, do what I did: have both!
Pebble and Tasker - An Introduction and Tutorial
Let’s face it. Most smartwatch early adopters are geeks. I am; unashamedly so. As such, we’re attracted to smart watches. But what happens when our inner geek is not satisfied with the functions built into our shiny tech toys? Well, in true geek fashion, we extend them. That’s where Tasker comes in. Let’s satisfy your inner geek. Read on:
Before we get into details, let me give a quick list of just some of the things that can be achieved with your Pebble Smartwatch, Tasker, and your (Android) smartphone:
- Control most settings on your phone from your Pebble watch (mute, turn wi-fi on or off, place in airplane mode, turn bluetooth on of off, etc.).
- Open applications. Often, when in my car, I will use my watch to open navigation apps or open my podcast application.
- Lock the phone screen.
- Start and stop audio recording.
- Take a photograph.
- Send a pre-configured text message.
- Call a contact.
- Send a contact your current location.
- Store your current location.
- Open your garage door.
- Make your phone ring if you can’t locate it.
- Control your home thermostat setting.
- Turn your lights on or off at home.
This is just a sample list of things that people are doing every day with their Pebble smartwatch by integrating with Tasker. Realistically, what you can do is mostly limited by your own imagination. Unfortunately, because of the more closed nature of iPhone/iOS, Tasker will not work on this OS. This is for our Android users.
In this article, I’m going to introduce Tasker, outline how it works, how it is set up, and give a very simple example. We’re going to be sending a contact a text message containing a link which will show our current location in a Google Map. In later articles, I will be talking about more advanced use. If you would like to follow along with the example, here is what you will need:
But first, let’s get some basics out of the way:
What is Tasker?
You can think of Tasker as a way to tell your phone to do things in reaction to either a given circumstance (time of day, a message is received, etc.), or a command. You can, for instance, set it to automatically mute your phone at midnight, or when you plug in the charger, or to turn off wi-fi when your leave the house. Inside the app itself, everything is stored as a simple script, but Tasker provides a user interface to allow you to script these actions in an easier format.
There is a little learning curve with Tasker, but once you grasp the concept of how it works, things get a lot easier. Tasker has a help system built-in, and there is a very useful wiki, which gives some great examples.
What is Pebble Tasker
On the face of it, Pebble Tasker performs a very simple job, but it opens up a world of possibilities for us Pebble users. Pebble Tasker is the glue which joins our Pebble watch to Tasker on our phone.
Installing Pebble Tasker on your phone will install the Pebble Tasker app onto your watch. Pebble Tasker then acts as the “go between” between your Pebble and Tasker on your phone. By bringing up Pebble Tasker on your watch, you select an action from a list, and that task starts on your phone. Are you beginning to see the possibilities?
Like many people, I often find it useful to let someone know my whereabouts. This is something which is easy to achieve with our Pebble smartwatch and Tasker. We’re going to set things up so that a simple button press on our Pebble will send a text message to a contact which contains a link to a Google map showing our location. Let’s get started:
We’ll begin by creating the task in Tasker on our phone. Open up the Tasker application, click the “Tasks’ tab at the top, and click the “+” button on the bottom-right.
You will be asked to enter a name for the task. Let’s call it: “Send Location”. Enter that, and click the tick mark. You will be presented with a blank task (shown below). Now, we’re going to create the action. Click the “+” icon on the bottom toolbar:
You will be presented with the “Select Action Category” page:
This is a useful area to see just what Tasker is capable of. Under each category is a list of actions you can take. For our purposes, we’re going to get the phone to establish its location. Enter “Location” into the text box at the bottom of this page, and select “Get Location” from the filtered list:
We can accept the defaults here, and simply back out by pressing left arrow at the top left of the screen:
You will now see the action you just created in the list. Now click the “+” sign at the bottom of the screen to create our action to send the SMS message:
You will be presented with the “Select Action Category” page once more:
For our purposes, we’re looking for the SMS category, so we’re going to enter “SMS” into the text box at the bottom of this page, and select “Send SMS” from the filtered list:
This brings us to the “Action Edit” page. Each edit page is different—according to the action we’re taking. In this instance, we’re going to enter the phone number (or phone numbers separated by commas) into the “Number’ field. This will be the number which receives the text message:
The next job is to enter the message to be sent. We’re going to send a specially-crafted message, that uses one of the Tasker built-in variables. The variable: “%LOC”. When sent, this variable will be replaced with the GPS coordinates of our last known location. This was why we called the “Get Location” action above—to get a fix on our location.
The message we’re going to send is: “Here’s my location: http://maps.google.com/?q=%LOC”. Enter that into the “Message” field as shown below:
That’s it for the task! Now, hit the left arrow on the top toolbar to back out of the action. This will save your changes:
You can now test the task by hitting the “play” button as shown below. The number you entered before should receive a text message containing a link.
Clicking that link will open Google maps, and place a marker on your exact location.
Next, we're going to trigger this task using the Pebble Tasker application.
What is Pebble Tasker?
Pebble Tasker is a simple application which essentially serves one purpose. It enables you to trigger Tasker tasks from your Pebble smartwatch. It consists of two parts: the phone application, and the watch application. The watch application simply presents three main menu items (tasks). However, long-pressing the middle button on your Pebble will bring up another menu with up to twenty more tasks that can be selected.
Triggering the Task With Pebble Tasker
Now that we have the task in place, it is a simple matter of triggering that task from our Pebble smartwatch. Let’s open the app:
As you can see, you can simply select the tasks which you would like to be assigned to the three buttons on your watch here. For extra settings, click the “More…” button. That section is where you can also rename the tasks so that they appear with whatever text you would like on your watch. Pebble Tasker will auto-populate with any tasks you have created in Tasker. Let’s select the “Send Location” task that we created in Tasker earlier:
Finally, let’s populate your watch with the default apps by opening the menu (top right), and clicking “Set watch to default tasks”:
That’s it! Opening the Pebble tasker app on your watch, and clicking the “Send Location” item will send your location to the selected recipients.
Once you start investigating Tasker and its integration with your Pebble watch, you will see the wealth of possibilities for really making your Pebble and smart phone do some great things together. The sky’s the limit!
Because Tasker and Pebble Tasker is so useful, I assign Pebble Tasker to a long-press on my watch to make it easily accessible.
I hope you found this tutorial useful. If you have, or have any other cool things you do with your Pebble smartwatch using Tasker, please let us know in the comments below!
Where to Buy a Pebble Smartwatch
Pebble Smartwatches are available direct from Pebble, and at various major retailers—both traditional and online.
Here at PebbeWatchInformer.com, we keep a close eye on current pricing to know who offers the best deals at any time. Consistently, we find that Amazon offers the best deals. Rather than show the current prices here, we present all the models of Pebble smartwatches currently available, together with a link to check the best current price. Simply click the image below, and you will be shown the best price currently available for that model.
Pebble Time Steel
Pebble Time Round
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