Finding the Perfect Smart Watch: Part 2

Here is the second installment of my journey into being an obsessive wearable user. If you missed Part 1 where I discuss all things Jawbone you can read it here.

Fitbit Charge HR

Charge HR

By the fall of 2015, I had started to narrow down the options for a new tracker and was ready to move on from my Jawbone. I was drawn to the Fitbit brand, as I had always understood it to be the flagship of wearables, and it seemed like everyone who had one (which was everybody) enjoyed theirs. So I checked out the latest features being offered by Fitbit and was delighted to see that their newest tracker, the Fitbit Charge HR, now featured continuous heart rate monitoring and specific heart rate monitoring during exercise. This was a big step up from the UP3. I ordered one with a Black Friday deal and was impressed straight away with the features of this tracker. It was a comfortable size and weight, and it also had a small display where steps and other activity stats are displayed along with the time.

This is also around the time I stopped wearing a traditional watch and opted instead for using a tracker to tell time. This was a big switch for me, as I had never considered smart watches as a viable option. The Charge HR didn’t have much to offer with its tiny display, but it was efficient. Fitbit also had a great app to pair with on your phone. It wasn’t as good, pretty, or user friendly as the Jawbone app, but it did a great job displaying basic stats like steps, sleep, and workouts in a readable way.

All was well and good with my Charge HR until the Spring of 2016. I looked down one day to notice that the plastic display screen was cracked on the side, and part of the plastic screen had been sheared away. I had not dropped, hit, or damaged the device at all, so I looked up this particular fracture on the side of the screen and saw that many, many people online had experienced the exact same issue. Chalking it up to a design flaw, I contacted customer service, and while they spent a fair deal of time trying to assert that I had caused this crack, eventually they agreed to send me a new device. I will note that, unlike Jawbone which sent me a brand new tracker, Fitbit sent what looked like a refurbished tracker in a small plastic bag without any original packaging. But it looked new enough, and I was very thankful to have a replacement, as the crack in the screen would have quickly made the device susceptible to water damage.

I enjoyed the new tracker until the middle of June when my new replacement device started to get the tell tale Fitbit defect of the time. The plastic band started to detach itself from the casing of the screen and tracker. It wasn’t as bad as some of the photos I saw online that others had posted of their failing devices, but it was enough to make me forever doubt the structural integrity of the Charge HR. It still worked well for tracking activity and sleep, but I wasn’t sure about Fitbit anymore.

Samsung Gear S2 3G

Gear s2

My first foray into a legitimate smart watch was actually an accident. I had still been using my Charge HR without any major issue (apart from cosmetic) when I went to get a new phone at the AT&T store in August of 2016. AT&T was running a special on the Samsung Gear S2 with 3G connectivity. You could get the watch for free with a 2 year commitment to the 3G service for the device. I decided to give it a chance, even though I was still skeptical about my need for a smart watch. I ordered the white/silver combo and waited patiently for it to arrive. When it finally came, I spent a long time going through all the set up, apps, customization options, and features. I was simply blown away. I wasn’t sure if I’d need the standalone connectivity of the 3G service, but I figured it would be great if I lost my phone or found myself in an emergency and out of reach of my phone. Luckily the nightmare scenario of having to make a 911 call without my phone nearby never came, but sadly I didn’t find much use for the 3G LTE power of this device. It was always nice to know I could get notifications and calls without my watch, and I occasionally enjoyed the novelty of taking a call from my wrist, but the device’s tiny speakers didn’t make for great phone calls, and when I did answer from my watch in times I didn’t have my phone close by, it was hard to switch to my phone once I tracked it down.

Hardware wise, this device was fantastic and very good looking. The rotating bezel made it effortless to swipe through menus, and coming from trackers without any display features, I was blown away by how much I could do from my device. I’d pull up my calendar, look through messages, check the weather, all on my watch. This experience really sold me on smart watches, but one thing that drew me away from the Samsung was the battery life. I could get a few good days of use out of the Gear S2, but if I used it in standalone mode or kept the location services on, it would deplete the battery in less than a day. I ended up using the device with basically all the cool features turned off and never used the device without my phone nearby despite its vast capability for standalone use.

The one issue that eventually led me away from the S2 was its size. The pictures of the watch face above show off its good looks while concealing its bloated underbelly. The picture below shows the massive thickness of it. The watch was bearable to wear, but for someone with small wrists, I felt like I had a hockey puck tied around my arm at times, especially while working out. The Gear S2 regular edition without 3G was much slimmer, and I found that I had accidentally picked one of the thickest smart watches on the market. After much contemplation, I decided that I really didn’t need the standalone features and could trade some of the tech for a smaller watch, so my search for a new wearable began again. And that’s where I’ll pick up next week!



Product Review Reflections

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