A rant about Android Smartwatches

Ok, ok, ok, I know this is a travel blog. I know my last post was about running. But, I can’t think of a more appropriate place to rant about this than here.

I’ve owned my current smartwatch, the Samsung gear S2, since December 2015. I bought it somewhat as a compromise. As much as I love my Android phone, Apple has well and truly outdone Google in the smartwatch department.

When I was deciding between the Samsung watch, which runs it own operating system known as Tizen, or one of the many Android Wear watches that was available at the time I ran through a mini, non-literal, checklist.

I wanted a watch that could, reply to texts, WhatsApp messages, Facebook Messenger and whatever other platform for instant messaging I may decide to use. This is so I could glance at messages while walking through the city.

I also wanted a watch that I could have a phone call on. No, I didn’t want to spend 3 hours in a profound, perspective-altering debate about the origin of the universe, rather something I could quickly answer when I’m sat parked in the car (waiting to pick someone up). If you drive, you’ll know how much of a pain in the a£$e it is having to adjust your seating/standing position in order to scramble a phone out of your pocket – just to miss the call anyway. 

I also wanted to use it for running, tracking my runs, changing music without taking my phone out and measuring my HR. Mobile payments would also have been a big plus.

Ultimately though, I wanted a watch that looked the part! I’m not talking about a gold-plated artistic masterpiece. Just something that looked classy enough to wear on any occasion and not too geeky.

The best match for all of this criteria; the Apple watch. It can take phone calls, reply to texts, loads of app support, mobile payments, HR sensor, the works. After months of researching I found there was no suitable Android wear option. The best match I found was the Samsung gear S2 – which had just been released.

I pre-ordered the gear S2 and after almost a year of waiting I finally had my smartwatch. I loved it, for the first couple of months, then the honeymoon was over; the novelty wore off. I knew there would be limited app support, and I’d accepted that. I certainly couldn’t expect that many developers would have started making apps – this was a brand new product. A product which didn’t have the a household name operating system in its favour. Frankly, this was Samsung’s first pop at a mature smartwatch that the everyday guy could wear (see what I did there?)

knew there was going to be limitations with this watch, but Samsung was the only company I could see really rivalling Apple’s watch – I wanted to give them a chance.

What I didn’t expect was the very few apps that Samsung had developed wouldn’t actually work. A Twitter app they had developed, that simply displayed tweets one by one, couldn’t make it past the loading screen with a giant Twitter logo sitting static on my watch. Mockingly. An Uber app, which worked for a little while, is now totally unusable. The cherry on the cake, when the Gear S3 was launched an update came available for the s2. The only problem is the update won’t get past the 14% mark before the watch restarts with the greeting “update failed”.

The mobile payments promise, which was one of the criteria in my non-literal checklist, still to this day is not available in the UK – this is more than a year after stating it was coming!

I’d also grossly underestimated the importance of a good voice assistant – Google, I give in.

Despite all that, the hardware is actually very good on the Gear S2. I’ve been more than clumsy with it and apart from the inevitable scratches on the spinning bezel – which is a genius feature I might add – it’s still in great condition; apart from the very temperamental HR monitor – which I’m putting down to damaged hardware.

Even with all this criticism I’ve found my smartwatch to be really useful. Glancing at notifications without rudely pulling out my phone is actually great. I really do miss it when I forget to put it on in the morning.

Needless to say, I want a new watch. Something which actually matches ALL of the criteria – without the compromise. So, when I heard that Google had partnered with LG to develop not one but two smartwatches to showcase the new Android Wear 2.0 update, I was pretty excited.

In the build up to the release all of the new feature rumoured on Android Wear 2.0 was music to my ears. Finally, mobile payments are coming to Google wearables. Finally, a speaker will be a fairly standard feature (so standard Huawei and ASUS had hidden speakers in their watches in preparation for this features launch sometimes last year). Finally, a digital crown to navigate without mucky fingers greasing the screen. It all seemed to say FINALLY, Google had made a watch which would match up to Apple’s.

Oh, how wrong I was. The two watches released were the LG sport and the LG Style. The LG Sport was almost instantly undesirable. The sheer size of the thing. So big and in your face, why?! To accommodate LTE. I just don’t get it. I’m a runner, I like to track and share my runs but certainly not at the cost of another SIM card with a separate data deal; I’m happy for a watch to supplement my phone, not replace it.

Not to worry, the LG style certainly lives up to its name. Stylish, slim and exactly what a smartwatch should look like. Only problem is it doesn’t have NFC for mobile payments, it doesn’t have an HR monitor, it doesn’t have a speaker but, thankfully, it also doesn’t accommodate a SIM card.

It’s been almost 2 years and still there is no smartwatch available for Android that lives up to the Apple watch – it’s incredibly frustrating. Manufacturers, please make a smartwatch that has a speaker, has NFC, has an HR monitor, looks good and doesn’t have a bloody SIM card slot. MWC 2017 – please bring something good.

RANT OVER, Don’t get me wrong, I love Google’s products and services which is why it’s so frustrating that their version of a smartwatch isn’t there yet.

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