Now we’re staring at our wrists!! – The Apple Watch is Coming – PART 1
This was originally posted on Sept 10, 2014, just after the Apple Watch was first announced. Now that we have a release date (April 24th), I plan to write a follow up in the coming week, discussing the pros and cons of Apple’s entrance into wrist-tech, including highlighting its features. But for now, check out my original first impressions of what a “computer on your wrist” could mean. And stay tuned for “part 2” in the coming days.
We have a rule in our house, “no tech at the table”. It’s a rule we follow most of the time, and it’s there for a very specific reason. Over the years that we’ve had smartphones and tablets in our house, we’ve noticed a distinct drop in how much we interact with each other. Instead of conversations about our days, we end up staring at our smartphone screens all evening long. So at least for a brief moment, there is “no tech at the table”. But what about when the “tech” is strapped on to your wrist?
Like all tech geeks, I spent two hours yesterday (Sept 9th) listening to the keynote address from Apple, where they unveiled new iPhones and the Apple Watch. And while the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus are decent evolutions of the smartphone model for iPhone (bigger, brighter, faster), the Apple Watch is trying to be the definition of the newest category in tech: smartwatches. And based on my experiences with technology in my own house, I have to wonder what the impact of this new category will be.
Technology is saturating our society. From smart appliances, smart door locks, smart light bulbs, and smart thermostats and smoke detectors; technology is increasingly something you cannot get away from. The older generations that resisted the personal computer could do so because there were alternatives. In the coming years, you probably won’t be able to buy a microwave oven without a smartphone app to run it, and so sitting out on the next wave of tech advancements won’t be an option for anyone. But as our lives are infiltrated by technological advancements, the balance must not be lost with how we interact on a personal level.
I believe that the best technology is the kind that doesn’t take your attention away from what you are doing. That could be as simple as a media streamer that you are fighting with to watch a new episode on Hulu. Suddenly the joy of streaming internet television is lost, to a battle with failed technology. Smartphones have been the culprit of many failed personal connections ever since they came to dominate our society. I know many people who have “no tech” days during the week, and that’s a great idea. I’m far from alone in the realization that our personal technology is causing us to become impersonal, causing us to lose our connections to friends and family. And I worry that the amazing features of the new Apple Watch will not help in the struggle to keep those connections.
I thought a bit about how in films the future is full of technology that permeates all aspects of society. And then I thought about how in many visions of the future everyone is dressed the same way, usually in jumpsuits. And it dawned on me, the clothes they wear don’t matter any more. Because they no longer actually see each other. I see a future where we are all walking around staring at our phones, or now staring at our wrists. A world where we forget the voices of our friends, and only know them by emoticon and instant message. We can call that a more modern way to be connected, but is it better?
So when Apple releases their new Watch April 24, 2015, consider how much of your life that device might consume. Is the technology enhancing your life? Are your personal connections to friends and family made better because of this device? I would argue devices can do such things (the Pebble Time is a good example of a minimalist wristband, at a fraction of the cost of the Apple Watch), but we must be wary. And if you do buy the Apple Watch, make sure you don’t spend too much money on the most expensive model and band itself. Because if you’re looking for your new smartwatch to be a status symbol you might be disappointed, since chances are no one will be looking at you anyway.
Review – Basis Peak Fitness Watch
I have reached the end of my two week testing of the Basis Peak Fitness Watch. If you haven’t caught up with my “first impressions” review, click here first for a breakdown of the features of this device.
The Basis Peak has definitely lived up to its category as a fitness watch. It’s much more than a typical fitness band, which generally counts your steps, calories, and maybe flights of stairs. A few fitness bands are starting to show actual clocks and collect or display heart rate data. I fall in the camp that says for a fitness band to be considered a watch it needs to look like a watch. Maybe I’m old-school. But I’ve asked around and that seems to be the general consensus. If it looks like a watch, it’s a watch. And the Basis Peak certainly looks like a watch. But it’s not a smartwatch, not by a long shot.
It is the current expectation in the tech industry that even the most basic smartwatch must do several things, and do them consistently well.
- Show incoming calls and allow answer or decline from the watch (then you grab your phone to actually start talking if you selected “answer”)
- Show incoming emails and texts from multiple text/IM services
- Show Calendar appointments with alerts sent to the wrist
That’s it. Those three things are not optional any longer. The smartwatch that I usually wear is the original Pebble, and it is arguably one of the most basic smartwatches, but it does those three things consistently. It also has apps for timers, weather, Evernote, and games. You can even track your Domino’s pizza order with it! Being that the Basis Peak costs TWICE AS MUCH you would expect that it would have similar “smartwatch” features. And while the device makes an attempt, it simply isn’t there yet. I found the watch could consistently receive incoming calls and texts, but nothing else. And this was only when paired to an iPhone. It was all but impossible to pair the watch with an Android phone during my tests. I made it work eventually, but for casual users, who want a “pair and go” approach for their device, this is not an ideal choice.
So if the Peak is not a Smartwatch, you might be wondering what it does to justify its $200 price tag? Simply put, it tracks your health metrics, and a lot of them. Steps are caught like any pedometer (no mileage calculated though). The device has an excellent heart rate monitor, which I found very useful. It also has sensor to detect perspiration and skin temperature. I guess I could see some value in the sweat sensor, but I live in Minnesota, and my skin temps are going to swing wildly just by moving between buildings and vehicles, so I’m not sure why I should care about that. Data is only good if you can do something with it. And that brings me to the last feature of the Peak Fitness watch that I found useful.
Most fitnessbands/smartwatches make some attempt to track sleep, but the Peak does this better than any other device I’ve used. Being able to look at my sleep metrics, which were broken down between Light, Deep, and REM sleep was helpful not only in determining if I was getting enough sleep, but whether I was getting the right amount of each type of sleep. I found myself trying to get to bed earlier to get more quality in my sleep, and that turns a gimmick into a tool.
Aside from the features on the watch itself, Basis offers a website and smartphone app. I found the website more useful than the app in general, having more real estate to show the data over time in effective ways. The company offers various “goals” to shoot for, but since there is little interaction with the watch itself, other than telling you when you’ve “met your goal”, I found that more gimmicky than useful. In the end I found tracking over time less important than tracking right in the moment. I walked a few flights of stairs, entirely winded, and I could actually check my heart rate, in real-time, and that’s pretty useful, if you’re trying to improve your health through exercise.
The Cup Half Full
The Peak went to market as a Fitness Watch. Its main feature was the Heart Rate Monitor, and that is the thing it does best. I tested the monitor against a doctor validated monitor and found it to be very accurate. Not exactly the same, but close enough to use it as a guide. I have used the heart rate monitor more than anything else with the Peak, and I know I will miss having that feature when I return to the Pebble this week.
The rest of the Fitness Watch metrics are nothing to get excited about, but they work. It tracks steps pretty accurately, if you’re one to shoot for those 10,000 daily steps. The fact that it is waterproof is a huge plus, and should really be a standard feature for this type of device. The battery life came through at roughly 4-5 days between charges, which is great. It also has a nice charger, using a magnet connection for easy charging, without any case to remove or small connection devices to lose.
The watch itself is very comfortable. The silicone wristband can pinch a little when you strap it on, but once in place I barely know it’s there. It needs to fit snugly to ensure accuracy with the HR Monitor, so comfort is very important. It’s not a stunning watch by any stretch, but it’s also not an eyesore. It works as a watch and as a Fitness Tracker.
The Cup Half Empty
As stated, it isn’t a Smartwatch. I found all of the functionality that was added to the device via a software update in early February to be inconsistent at best and at times virtually impossible. The watch connects to the smartphone via Bluetooth and after some initial problems with my iPhone 6 I got that syncing very smoothly. But only voice and text information came to the watch, despite ensuring the settings were turned on to have emails and calendar updates come too. My attempts to sync with an Android device (HTC One M8) were incredibly frustrating. Even after a software update came during my trial claiming to “resolve Bluetooth sync issues” I still could not get the device to pair. I’m in the business of finding devices that are so easy just about anyone can use them. The Basis Peak failed that test on all levels in terms of its “smartwatch features”.
In addition to those issues, the only other problem I have with the Peak is related to its price. For $200 it should be able to do more than it does. Things like showing the current temperature would be a start. You get the date when you tap the screen, but that’s it. There are no buttons on the device, which is actually kind of nice, but it took me a google search to figure out that you had to slide up and down along the right edge of the watch to turn on the backlight. The device is marketed as being “automated” and thus the premium price model, but it is simply too far behind with some basic features to justify the cost. I could deal with $149, but $200 is too much.
The Whole Cup Summed Up
I sort of love and hate the Basis Peak Fitness Watch. Over the course of my two weeks of testing I found the device very useful at times, and very frustrating at others. The 24/7 Heart Rate monitoring and Sleep Tracker actually drove me to change some of my habits, including giving up caffeine, and working harder to be more active. I can’t over-stress how important that piece of the puzzle is when looking at fitness watches or fitness bands. They MUST drive change in your habits, or they are really just an over-price clock. And in that regard the Basis Peak was a great success. A greater success than 2 years of wearing a Fitbit Flex and Pebble smartwatch ever were. Is it worth $200 for those features? That’s really up to each consumer. But if you are in the market for a fitness watch that will help drive behavior, the Peak is actually a decent contender.
But if you are in the market for a smartwatch that also has a fitness element, this is not your watch. Not at all. Certainly Basis will get their act together at some point and software updates will improve the notifications element of the Peak (after all, these features have only been live for three weeks as of 2/17). So only early adopters who can put up with the frustrations of inconsistency need apply. I’m one of those people, and even I was pushed to the breaking point when trying to sync to Android.
The Basis Peak is a great Fitness Tracker and has a place among the current crop of devices trying to give us all health data on the go, to keep us better informed about how our choices impact our health. Yet these devices are only as good as the value you place in them though, so bear that in mind as you ponder your choices. The Basis Peak is not a great Smartwatch, so steer clear until they fix those features.
For me this one is still over-priced for what you get. And if I really want to go that route, I’ll just wait for the Apple Watch in April.
First Impressions – Basis Peak Fitness and Sleep Tracker
Just when it seemed that the smartphone had eliminated the need for the old wristwatch, along comes the tech industry to reinvent an age old tool. Smartwatches once again dominated the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in 2015, showing that wrist-based tech is certainly on the rise! From the simple fitness bands like the Fitbit Flex and Misfit Flash, to the souped-up smartwatches like Moto 360, Samsung Gear S, and the forthcoming Apple Watch, the tech industry is very interested in slapping something on your wrist.
But how do you know what is best for you? Do you even need one? Well, all of that depends on what you value. Do you want fitness metrics like steps, miles, elevation, heart-rate, and calories burned? Do you want a wristband that interacts with your phone to show calls, texts, emails, and calendar notices? The Wrist Tech industry is very diverse, and actually pretty overwhelming when you really start to see how many options are out there. I recently got my hands on one of the lesser known devices. Based on my initial experience, I’d categorize it as a “fitness watch”. It’s called the Basis Peak, and these are my first impressions.
BASIS PEAK – Hardware
First off, the form factor. The Peak is not too big, and not too small. Weight is also minimal. It has a two tone LCD touchscreen which works very well. It comes with a rubber wristband that I find comfortable. This is important because to get accuracy from the heart-rate monitor it’s essential that the watch be strapped tightly to your wrist.
Battery life has been very good. I’m getting about 3 days of life (from the promised 5 days), but I have been using it a lot. Remember that the high end of battery life is usually found through minimal use. But 3 days isn’t bad, especially for a device that does 24/7 tracking.
The Peak is waterproof. So you can shower and swim with it on and there are no worries. Finally, the device will work with both Android and Apple phones, which makes it a rare breed indeed.
Overall I like the look and feel of the Basis Peak. So let’s talk about what this Fitness Watch does.
It’s a Fitness Tracker
First and foremost, this device is for fitness. It is not trying to compete with the Smartwatch category, at least not directly. The Basis Peak offers a few fitness metrics: steps, calories burned, and heart-rate (we’ll get to that last one in a minute). Noticeably missing from the device are the ability to track mileage (a significant omission), and elevation (which would require an altimeter to work). Many other fitness trackers offer both of those features, and for a premium cost device (the Peak will set you back $200) they really should be included.
Though the metrics are limited, it’s what the Peak does with the data that is pretty cool. The device sells itself as fully automated. You don’t have to tell the device when you go for a walk, take a run, or head off on a bike ride. The device can tell what you are doing, and the device responds with an icon for the activity, and begins tracking the activity as a “work out ” session of sorts. This is a great feature for people who like to track their metrics during exercise, especially those serious runners and bikers. And the key to solid metrics is the heart-rate monitor.
This is my first experience with a fitness band offering constant tracking of an actual health element. It’s one thing to see if you can get those 10,000 steps in every day and the resulting feeling of accomplishment. It’s quite another when your fitness watch can give you insight into your actual health in real time. I’m quickly discovering that I am pretty out of shape. I know that by watching my heart rate skyrocket, even during a long, slow walk. I am excited by the idea of mobile technology like a fitness watch helping people make better health choices in the moment. The Peak is already doing that for me, after just a few days.
It’s a Sleep Tracker
You didn’t know how important it was to track your sleep patterns, did you!? According to the fitness band/watch industry it’s very important because the feature is pretty much standard on anything strapped to your wrist. I’ve used the FitBit Flex sleep tracker for a while and I didn’t find it terribly useful. That particular tracker only tracked sleep and awake, using “micro-movements”. So it showed me when I moved around in my sleep, but the data didn’t get any more specific.
The Basis Peak is different, and it’s all because of the heart rate monitor, and something the company calls Body IQ. The device offers several metrics for sleep tracking including: Light Sleep, Deep Sleep, REM Sleep, Toss/Turn, and Interruptions. The phone based app also gives information to help you understand how much of each type of sleep is typical, so you have an idea if you are getting enough of what you need. This is the first fitness watch that I’ve used where the sleep monitor actually tells me something useful and something I can take action on.
It’s a Smartwatch (sorta)
When the Basis Peak first shipped it was strictly a Fitness Watch. It could do everything I’ve already described and nothing else. Then came the “smartwatch update“. This update was promised to early adopters and the company delivered recently with an update that allows Smartphones to communicate with the Peak, showing incoming calls, emails, texts, and calendar appointments on your wrist. The features are still pretty glitchy, which isn’t surprising because it’s so new. I tested both an Android phone and an iPhone and both were inconsistent with delivery of calls, texts, emails, and calendar appointments. Also the “manual sync” button in the phone app of both devices often resulted in an error saying “sync failed”. These issues definitely make the “smartwatch” element of the Peak less reliable.
Bottom line, if you want a full smartwatch experience, the Peak is not the device for you. At least not until they’ve worked through many of the bugs that are currently plaguing it.
The Whole Cup Summed Up
The Basis Peak is a Fitness Watch. That’s the most important thing to remember. It’s trying to take on some of the other Smartwatches out there, but it’s just not there yet. The fitness metrics offered by the Peak are pretty standard, and nothing to get too excited about. What I am finding most useful is the Heart Rate Monitor and enhanced Sleep Tracking. In the end, the purpose for wearing a fitness watch or fitness band is to help you make better choices about your health, and the heart rate monitor is proving an excellent tool for me in that regard.
The Basis Peak will certainly get better in time. The company promised a software update and they delivered. This is no small feat, especially for a smaller company. This builds customer trust and that is essential for the fledgling industry of Wrist Tech.
The device currently cost $199 and comes in a couple colors. You can swap out your wristband to jazz it up too. My opinion, based my first impressions of the Peak, is that it is overpriced for the features it offers. A $200 fitness watch should at least offer mileage tracking. It also wouldn’t hurt to put in that altimeter so users could track elevation (I used to challenge myself to take the stairs!). At a premium price, it should offer every feature possible. The only justification for the high cost would be the inclusion of “smartwatch” features, which the company is starting to offer. But the phone connectivity is still unreliable, and so be prepared for some frustration if you plan to use those features.
Mobile Health is taking off, and fitness bands and watches are leading the charge, providing valuable health data on your wrist (and your phone). This is technology that truly has the potential to change lives. Unlike the majority of tech updates (tablets, phones, and gaming consoles), wrist tech is often focused on health. At the same time these devices can keep you connected to the things that you value, in a way that involves minimal interruptions from technology.
These two elements in partnership on a small device like a wristband will revolutionize how we communicate with our friends and family, and with our doctors too! Great tech should be easy and life enhancing, and that’s the direction we are heading!
Review – Pebble Smartwatch
For months I’ve been waiting for a device that I was certain would change the way I interacted with my smartphone, the Razer Nabu Smartband. But while waiting for it’s release I continued researching other smartwatches and smartbands. My fitbit flex died a couple months back and my first goal was finding a new fitness band that had (gasp) a clock! I had considered the Pebble at one point, but it had two things working against it. One, it had a price tag of $149 and two, it didn’t do continuous monitoring, which made it’s usefulness as a fitness band much less attractive. But then one day the news came to the tech blogs that changed everything. The price dropped to $99 for the original model, and the device now supported continuous monitoring, with only negligible impact on the 7 day battery life. My excuses gone, I plunked down the cash and picked up a Pebble Smartwatch. I’ve been using the device for over a month, so here are my thoughts.
The Cup Half Full
This device does everything I wanted it to do when I bought it. The pebble app has a ‘’store” offering a wide variety of watch faces, and using them I now have a few different faces telling me the time, date, and weather. I find it fun to switch between my standard watch faces to more fun ones like my Superman watch or my Dr. Who watch (12 doctors means each hour they show you a face but no hour – so you gotta know which Doctor it is!) So the “telling me the time” piece was handled.
The app store also offers a fitness band app from the makers of Misfit (which has it’s own hardware if you’re interested in a fitness band). This app allows me to track my steps just like my old Fitbit Flex. It seems pretty accurate, so I’m happy with that piece.
The set up to receive notifications of text messages and emails was seamless, and very user-friendly. The watch will even alert me of incoming calls and I can reject them from my wrist if it’s not a convenient time to talk. I find these features to be very handy, as much as I expected it would be.
Beyond those three features that were requirements for purchase, I have found several other apps that I use regularly on the Pebble. One is a multi-timer, which I have set up to open with a hard press of one of the buttons on the right hand side of the watch. This give me access to a timers, stopwatches, and alarms all with one press. It works from everything from cooking to timing my child’s daily reading. Another app is the “music” app, which comes standard on the device (no store required). This app allows me to control the music playing on my phone from my wrist. This comes in handy when I’m using a bluetooth speaker at home and want to change tracks from across the room. It’s also handy when driving, as another way to leave my phone in the seat next to me, and decrease distracted driving opportunities.
Beyond these main apps, I haven’t found many other uses for the Pebble. I installed the Pebble version of Tetris (Pebtris) for a kick of nostalgia, but I found the controls very cumbersome (big surprise!).
Two final things to point out, and they can’t be understated. First, unlike the majority of Smartwatches currently on the market (or coming soon), the Pebble is compatible with both Android and Apple products. This is very important. While Android has been pumping out some very cool devices lately, iPhone owners are out of luck. And no matter how much they want to use that new Apple Watch come January, Android users won’t have that option. The Pebble is truly one of the few smartwatch options that works on both. Android connected watches will have a few more options than their Apple counterparts (with their open system approach), but both systems will support all primary functionality, seamlessly.
And finally, the Pebble is waterproof. Meaning you can submerge this thing in water and you will have no issues. I have tested this (nervously), and it works great. If we are moving into an era of wrist computers, it is imperative that they be waterproof, because that’s a pretty big risk to be taking, just to wash your hands, with a computer strapped to your wrist!
The Cup Half Empty
For all the things a Pebble can do, it is still a limited device. It is an extension of your smartphone, and really nothing more. Aside from the clock (and a few select apps), the device requires a connection to your phone. I am hesitant to include this fact in my “half empty” section because I’m an advocate for our wristbands not being “wrist computers”. I am not a fan of having another device that pulls us into the internet and away from what is going on around us. So I should be happy that the Pebble’s functionality is limited (versus the higher functions found in Android Wear and the forthcoming Apple Watch). But as I’ve used this device for a while now, there is one thing I wish I could do that I cannot do, and that is respond to text messages.
I experimented with an app that allows you to create five preset text responses, to select individuals, but I’ve found that difficult to work with, to put it nicely. I think it’s great that I can see my texts on my wrist without pulling out my phone. But it would be an enhancement for me if I could make a quick response. Something as simple as “OK” or “On My Way”. But to do that I still have to pull out my phone, and I find that is often the case when I receive texts from people. Email notifications are great because they don’t call for immediate response, but texts are not always that way (rarely in my case). So to be able to speak a text response to the smartwatch would be great. You can do that on the Galaxy Gear, Moto 360, Apple Watch, and many others, but you can’t on the Pebble, and that is the one major piece that I only discovered was missing after I used the device for a while.
The Whole Cup Summed Up
The Pebble isn’t trying to be what the other newer smartwatches are trying to be. It doesn’t have a mic or speaker. It’s doesn’t even have an LCD type screen (eInk is the approach with backlight). What this device does is keep you up to date on the things that are important throughout the day, and it keeps that smartphone in your pocket or purse. Want to know the time, date, and current temp outside? It’s got you covered. Text and email notifications on your wrist? Done. Add to that a few bells and whistles like music control, timers, pedometer, and games, and you’ve got yourself a pretty nifty little gadget for only $99. Try to find any Android competitor that is even close to that! But the Pebble is missing that mic and speaker and, like me, you might find that you miss that once you are using it. It’s not a deal breaker for me. I just pull out my phone and send my responses. No biggie. The positives far outweigh the negatives at this point. And the fact that the watch fits on any standard watchband meant I could transplant it to my favorite Fossil band!
While it’s not the fastest, or the most stylish, the Pebble is still relevant for the type of user who doesn’t want another phone strapped to their wrist. So give it consideration if you’re in the market. And if the standard Pebble seems a little to boring, with it’s plastic case, there is always the Pebble Steel, which is much more visibly appealing, while offering very similar functionality (and a higher price tag). This smartwatch has enhanced my life, and kept me focused on what’s important. Hopefully it could do the same for you.
Review Links – Apple Watch, iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, and Apple Pay
By now you’ve probably heard all about the new products that Apple announced on Tuesday, and you want to learn more. The internet can be a daunting place when you go looking for good reviews of new consumer technology.
Below you will find links to some of the product reviews I’ve read for each new Apple product and service, so you can evaluate any future tech purchases you might be considering. Enjoy!
APPLE WATCH REVIEWS
Apple Watch Hands On – The Verge
Apple Watch Hands On – Engadget
Apple Watch Hands On – MacRumors
iPHONE 6 REVIEWS
iPHONE 6 PLUS REVIEWS
iPhone 6 Plus Hands On – The Verge
iPhone 6 Plus Hands On – Gizmodo
APPLE PAY REVIEWS
Apple Pay Hands On – TechRadar
Apple Pay (How It Works) – Digital Trends
Apple also announced the release dates for the iPhone/iPad operating system iOS8 on Wednesday, September 17th. It will be compatible with iPhone 4S, iPhone 5C, iPhone 5, iPhone 5S, iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, iPad 2, iPad with Retina, iPad Air, iPad Mini, and iPad Mini with Retina. If you have an iPhone 4, you’re out of luck. There’s no cost for the upgrade.
iOS 8 REVIEWS (BETA VERSION)
iOS 8 (everything explained) – iMore
September Big Consumer Tech Announcements
If you are considering a new smartphone or phablet (i.e. giant smartphone), or if you’re interested in being an early adopter of the smartwatch industry, this September has several new products you’ll want to consider. Motorola, Samsung, and Apple are all releasing new smartphones and smartwatches. There’s sure to be a lot of competition, so do your homework before jumping into any device. Each company has pluses and minuses to consider. And smartwatches are probably going to be clunky for a while, so don’t slap down cash for those unless you’re prepared for the headaches of an early adopter (I know from experience!)
It’s going to be an exciting first couple weeks of announcements, and I’m looking forward to reading all the “hands-on” reviews afterwards. Will the iPhone be a major update (bigger screen, different body style)? Will there be an iWatch? Will one of these smartwatches be priced at anything other than premium rates!? $200 seems to be the lowest price so far. All these questions and more will be answered in the next two weeks! Stay tuned for some “first impressions” here at “Have a Cup of T(ech)”!!
|Galaxy Note 4 (phablet)||ZenWatch||Moto X+1 (smartphone)||iPhone 6 (smartphone)||Nabu(Smartband)|
|Galaxy Gear S (smartwatch update) ANNOUNCED 8/28/14!!!||Moto 360 (smartwatch)||iWatch (smartwatch)|
|Moto G (smartphone)||iOS 8 release date|
|OSX Yosemite release date|