Smartwatches have been around for a long time but they still seem like a rather niche product. This is likely due to a number of reasons. Price could be a major factor, as smartwatches can sometimes rival the pricing of some mid-range smartphones. A perceived lack of necessity could be another reason, as many people may not see a smartwatch as something they need. Lastly, the abundance and relative affordability of fitness bands may make smartwatches seem even less appealing to the general consumer. And yet here I am, wearing a Galaxy Watch on my wrist as I’m writing this article. I’ve been using this smartwatch for around a month now, and I think I better understand why it can be considered very practical for some, but also an unnecessary piece of tech for others. I won’t exactly be reviewing the Galaxy Watch per se, nor will I be trying to convince you that you should get a smartwatch for yourself, but I will be sharing my experience using it, and perhaps that will give you an idea of what it’s like to own a smartwatch, and whether or not you could benefit from owning one yourself.
A smartwatch wasn’t an instant buy for me. Google’s Wear OS platform has been around since 2014 (back then it was called Android Wear) and though the idea of a smartwatch greatly intrigued me, I could never convince myself that I needed one, or to spend the money to buy and try one out. Price was one issue, but Google’s constant issues with the platform was another. We are now in 2019 and many reviewers are still reluctant to recommend a Wear OS smartwatch to the general public. But the desire was still there in the back of my head. I still wanted a smartwatch, and so I did a little experiment. In July 2018 I got a Mi Band 2. Not exactly a smartwatch, but it performed most of the same features that a smartwatch was supposed to, and most importantly it was extremely affordable. So the deal was to try it out for a prolonged period of time and if I enjoyed it enough, I would get a smartwatch. This was kind of like a pilot study, a proof of concept. After a few days of use I mused that I would actually be quite happy to own a smartwatch, but it was still too early to make a conclusion. I continued to use it for a whole year, contemplating its pros and cons and keeping an eye on the smartwatch market before finally deciding to get myself a Galaxy Watch. And you know what? I have no regrets with this purchase.
There are two main uses for a smartwatch. The first which is the most common use, is notification management. While using my Mi Band 2 I learned to appreciate being notified on my wrist of incoming notifications, and notifications on the Galaxy Watch work really well in my experience. I receive the most notifications from messaging apps (as you would expect), and the user experience is really good. As soon as I feel a vibration I lift up my wrist and I’m first shown which app the notification came from (either WhatsApp or Telegram) with the name of the sender underneath the logo of the app. After about a second the message is displayed as a notification. Tapping it will open the full message, under which you’re given a number of methods to reply - with an emoji, a preset short reply, voice dictation, a T9 keyboard, or using handwriting recognition. Getting notifications on my watch is extremely useful for handling those pesky group chat messages that require no action from me. Previously whenever I got a group chat message, I had to take my phone out of my pocket or pick it up off the table to see the message and 9 times out of 10 it would be a message that I didn’t need to reply to. Now all I need to do is look at my watch and dismiss the notification. It’s so practical and convenient. It’s also good for individual messages as well. I can check my watch, read the message, and either give a short reply directly on my watch, or just leave it if it doesn’t require my immediate attention. I get notifications for incoming calls as well, which in itself is already useful since I don't need to always grab my phone to see who's calling, but more than that, the speaker and mic on my watch allow me to answer calls directly on my watch. Though I don’t use this feature often (don’t wanna take a call on loudspeaker in public), it has proven useful when I receive a call while lying in bed and my phone is at my desk.
The second main use case for smartwatches is fitness tracking. Back when I had my Mi Band 2 I never really cared much for tracking my fitness. And when I was researching the Galaxy Watch, its fitness tracking capabilities weren’t a major concern for me. But after using it for just a month, I’ve come to really appreciate what the Galaxy Watch can do in terms of fitness tracking. In fact, I even believe that because of this watch I actually make more of an effort to stay fit than I previously did. When I reach home at the end of the day and I’m just a few minutes short of my daily goal for being active, I’d go up and down the stairs a few times just to meet my goal. At work I’d usually take the stairs to move up or down one level, but now I take the stairs even when I need to move two or three floors. Another good thing about the watch is that it automatically tracks certain activities as well. After driving to work, I actually need to walk about 15 mins to my office from the car park, and that walk is automatically tracked by the watch. I was mopping the kitchen floor at home once too and the watch tracked it as a dynamic workout. Samsung’s Health app is quite robust as well. It tracks all your physical activity daily, prepares weekly summaries, keeps a record of all your personal bests, and even compares your stats to the average stats of other Samsung Health users (I assume this is par for the course, but I don’t have any experience with other platforms). Having daily goals to achieve, like 6000 steps a day, being active for 30 mins, and going up 10 flights of stairs is a really good motivator, especially for a gamer like me, who’s all too familiar with grinding to get achievements. The fact that I actually want to stay active because of the watch is probably the best example of how such a product can influence our lives in a positive way.
And then there are all the small things which make the user experience very enjoyable. The rotating bezel is a stroke of genius. Rather than constantly swiping across the screen, I can rotate the bezel to move between widgets, to scroll through notifications, to navigate apps, and to set timers and alarms. Some watches come with a rotating crown which serves the same purpose, but as a lefty who wears his watch on his right arm, a rotating crown on the right side of the watch would be a nightmare for me to use.
I also love having a Spotify remote on my wrist. There have been many occasions where my phone was either in my pocket or out of reach and I used my watch to control my music playback. Be it while I’m walking to the office, while I’m eating, while I’m doing house chores, or doing lab work, I just rotate the bezel while in the Spotify app on my watch and I can skip to the next track. Love it.
One of the arguments that many detractors have is that a smartwatch is yet another device that you need to charge. And that’s true. Between my phone, wireless earphones, and smartwatch, I now have three devices that I need to charge regularly. Thankfully though, battery life on my Galaxy Watch has been great. As I’m writing this, my watch has been off the charger for 40 hours and is still at 50% capacity (of course, this depends on how you set up your watch settings). When it comes time to charge, I just place it on the wireless charging stand (that came in the box) overnight and then I’m good to go for another two or three days. And if I ever get in a pinch and the battery is about to die, the battery saver mode can provide a few extra hours while still mirroring notifications, which is great, since that’s one of the main reasons to own a smartwatch.
Another important aspect of smartwatches, possibly one of the most important, is the voice assistant that comes with it. With a tiny screen to work with, you can get a lot done a lot easier with your voice rather than navigating menus or fiddling with touch inputs. In this area, the Google Assistant is regarded by many to be far superior to any of its competitors, and since the Galaxy Watch has Bixby, the experience of using voice commands is somewhat lacking. It mostly works, but voice recognition isn’t that accurate and it can be a little slow too. There is a workaround to get the Google Assistant on the Galaxy Watch and I’ve done it on mine, but you still don’t get the full Assistant experience. If there’s one thing I could change about the Galaxy Watch, it would easily be replacing Bixby with the Google Assistant.
There’s a lot more I haven’t touched on. Like the custom watch faces, swapping out the watch strap (which I did), and third-party app support, so if you have any questions about any of that, or anything about smartwatches in general, just leave a question below and I’ll try to answer. And if you’re interested to read more of my thoughts on the Galaxy Watch, you can scroll through my Twitter thread where I shared my thoughts and a plethora of photos as I was using it. As for this post, I’ll end it by answering the question in the title. Are smartwatches a necessity of the digital era or just a redundant accessory? In my opinion, neither. Smartwatches are not a necessity, nor are they redundant accessories. You can live without one as I’m sure many of you know, but if you do own one (or want to), it will complement your smartphone really well. In fact, I think more and more people are warming up to the idea of using a smartwatch. Not only have smartwatch shipments in North America gone up recently, but globally the amount of smartwatches shipped has also increased. It may have taken a while for the market to mature, but if you ever wanted to own a smartwatch, now's a good time to give it a go.