Hannspree Smart Sports Watch – can budget prices drive the Smartwatch market?

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The Smartwatch market is waiting with bated breath to see if Apple’s new number can help jump-start an industry that has been idling along rather more slowly than many manufacturers would like. There could be any number of reasons why people haven’t put this down as the next must-have gadget – conflicting style, bulky designs, the fact that nobody’s sure whether respect or revulsion will be afforded to them if they’re caught out in public with a miniature Smartphone on their arm. Or it could be the expense – for what a Smartwatch gives you is it really worth splashing the cash?

Hannspree wants to find out the answer to that question and has released its Smart Sports Watch for the low, low price of just £29.99. It’s inspired in no small part by the Misfit Flash, with a minimalist look that’s predictably devoid of bells and whistles but also comes across as quite unassuming, which should help you test the water. Inside the little disc that fits into the rubberised strap is a range of technology that’s actually pretty impressive considering the current “budget” market for this sort of accessory. There’s exercise tracking with a Pedometer and distance calculator of course, which also tells you roughly how many calories you’ve burned, sleep monitoring, plus call and message notification, an alarm clock and a decent battery that’ll last 5-8 days.

The 0.68” OLED display, while basic and monochrome, seems to offer just enough clarity to tell the time and work out what notifications you have pending, and reminders set on your phone can also be transferred to the watch via Bluetooth to give you an audible or vibrate alert. It can store 20 days worth of data before it needs to be synced, which should be plenty, and it’s also quoted as splashproof, which usually means you’re fine for rain and washing your hands, are taking your chances in a shower and probably shouldn’t use it in the bath or while swimming.

If you were to be totally accurate about this device it’s more of a cross between a smartwatch and a fitness tracker, but with notifications and alerts from a phone at least provides some of the more basic advantages that are supposed to form the appeal of the more fully featured models, and as such should be a nice compromise between the two.

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Available in either black or blue and supplied with an optional necklace band if for some reason you don’t want it on the wrist, “soon” is the most accurate release date we can find for the Sports Watch touching down in the UK.

Visit Hannspree to find out more.

 

Garmin Forerunner 920XT – best fitness “smartwatch” on the market?

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At first glance you’d be forgiven for classifying the Garmin Forerunner 920XT as “just another smartwatch”, albeit on with more of a sporty twist. This is another category of “wearable” entirely though – best described as a multisport GPS watch it offers a massive range of data for various exercises and delivers far more than your average gadget when it comes to monitoring and managing your fitness.

Running through just some of the features you’ll find running dynamics including cadence, vertical oscillation and ground contact time, swim distance, pace, stroke type identification, stroke count, drill logging and rest timers and a whole bunch of support data such as race predictors, a recovery advisor and smart notifications to let you see alerts from your smartphone via the device. It’s also very much embedded in the Garmin Connect community for planning and sharing workouts, and promises to be a one-stop solution for those more serious about their fitness.

We’ll get straight down to business and take a look at how this high-end device fares.

Wareable gives the 920XT 4.5/5 and lauds its capabilities as an all-rounder, calling it “the most fully-featured multi-sport watch on the market right now”. These features include tracking seven types of activity including biking, running and swimming, both indoor and outdoor, and triathlon along with the ability to track general movements like your less versatile fitness accessories. This does come at a cost though – “The Garmin Forerunner screams function more than beautiful form” and what this means is there are some design compromises to be made to have all this functionality on your wrist. This isn’t a fashion accessory and is described as having a chunky face “that’s about half the size of a standard business card and about 13mm thick, it’s at the larger end of the scale among its rivals and might not sit so well on small wrists.” It’s fairly light, but this doesn’t really work for it as weighty timepieces can add a feel of sophistication, but if you can get over these issues there’s plenty to like.

Techradar describes the Forerunner as a “a powerhouse of a watch that’s like a coaching team that sits on your wrist”, rating it an impressive 4.5/5 and though it has similar issues with the rather large design points out that this does make the buttons very easy to access. The only other problem it has is the phone connection is a little inconsistent, and can take a bit of time to establish if there are a large number of buildings around. Otherwise the range of functionality is impressive and it seems as though there’s enough data provided to keep you motivated in the long-term –  the “VO2 Max lets you know how much fitter you’re getting, and over time the watch becomes more adept at working out your abilities”. The battery was also very impressive at 4-5 days between charges, and that’s even with all-day activity tracking, and it concludes that while better for more serious users, “The Garmin 920XT delivers on nearly all fronts”.

We’ll turn to Bikeradar for a more in-depth look at how it works. It highlights the range of connectivity options (Bluetooth, ANT+, GPS, Glonass, Wi-Fi, USB) and real-time measurements alongside estimates for things like VO2 max (maximum oxygen consumption) and recovery time. Though it is very configurable, you needn’t get bogged down in trawling settings menus.

“The Garmin 920XT delivers brilliantly right out of the box, providing good data on the fly and a plethora more for post-exercise analysis, with automatic wireless uploads to Garmin Connect, Strava and TrainingPeaks via your home Wi-Fi network or your Bluetooth-enabled smartphone.”

It’s also very fast to connect and immediately uploads data to a smartphone without prompting once you’ve finished an exercise. This works in the other direction via Bluetooth, displaying texts and notifications as they arrive, though some may not want to be bothered during a workout and there seems to be limited management of what types of data arrive. Other little tricks like allowing friends and family to see your location and follow your workout in real-time could be handy.

Bikeradar puts the watch through its paces in each of the core exercises. For running it notes a few novel readings such as “cadence, vertical oscillation and ground contact time for running, captured via the HRM-Run monitor that also provides distance and speed estimations when running on a treadmill”. It recorded a 95% accuracy when running on a treadmill and it does a good job of staying involved with a recovery advisor that “pops up a few minutes into a workout, and lets you know how your heart is doing”, also advising you how much time to take off at the end.

Indoor swimming did reveal some issues getting a GPS signal but the accelerometer can kick in here and capture total distance (after setting the pool length) which seemed to work very well. After you swim a neat graphic appears with data such as stroke count and speed, it had a 90 to 95% accuracy detecting stroke type, though as with most other watches it isn’t possible to record heart rate while swimming.

For cycling it points out that this is no substitute for a dedicated handlebar-mount unit, both in terms of accuracy and “If you want to do power or heart rate-based intervals and closely monitor the data, twisting your wrist is definitely a second-rate option to just staring”. Detailed GPS and heart rate information is very good though, and a wide range of cycling metrics include “such power-based fields as current, 3sec average, left/right output, normalise power and Training Stress Score.”

It rates the 920XT at 4.5/5 and concludes by saying that it’s “the best multisport device we have tried”, so it’s another fairly glowing review to round off the impressions so far.

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All signs seem to point to the fact that if you’re serious about your fitness, particularly if your favourite exercises include running, cycling or swimming, this is just about the best device on the market right now. It’s not cheap by any stretch though – at £419 it’ll cost around the same as a mid-high end smartphone, so will need a serious fitness and financial investment to justify a purchase.

Asus’ ZenWatch delves into wearable tech: what do the critics think?

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Not content sticking with laptops, tablets and smartphones, Asus is broadening its horizons and is moving on to wearable technology, starting with the ZenWatch.
The Asus ZenWatch pairs with an Android smartphone to serve as a personal wellness manager. Despite its high-tech capabilities the ZenWatch resembles a rectangular-faced and traditional-crafted watch and even comes with a premium, stitched-leather strap.

It might look like an elegant piece of premium watchmaking, but how does Asus’ bold move into wearable tech fare with the tech press?

An Apple Watch likeness

According to Tech Crunch, the ZenWatch is the closest the Android camp have come to resembling an Apple Watch. It is however, you may be pleased to learn, by no means a clone.
The ZenWatch’s pros are, according to Tech Crunch, its great design which is “among the most striking and unique Android Wear devices available.”
We have to admit, with its curved face with Gorilla Glass 3 surrounded by a polished rectangular stainless steel rim, clasped together by a quality leather strap, the ZenWatch possesses retro appeal.
Latest Gadgets is not however a fashion review site and whilst it might look good what can the ZenWatch actually do?
Well you can get notifications from your Android smartphone. Something Engadget refers to as an “incessant flow of information in the form of Google Now cards and notifications.”
The Engadget review of the ZenWatch is also quick to highlight Asus’ wearable device boasts “impeccable voice recognition”, has a tap-and-swipe friendly navigation and all the other bits we’ve come to expect from a smartwatch.

The ZenWatch Manager

Though it’s from a separate Android app known as the ZenWatch Manager which all these “other bits” lean on. As Engadget informs, from the ZenWatch Manager you can customise the colours on the watch face and fire up extras, such as a warning alert that warns you when wondered too far from your phone.

The Wellness manager uses a built-in bio sensor which enables the phone to measure relaxation levels and then report back a relaxation score to its user. Based on that score, the watch then proceeds to provide the user with tips on how to reduce stress and increase relaxation and wellness.

Via the Wellness app, you can set activity goals, such as a target number of steps each day. The ‘wellness’ stats are then presented to the user in a weekly summary.

And the downsides?

One downside of the ZenWatch, according to Pocket Lint’s review, is that there is no direct charging available. Instead, it needs to be attached to a “limpet-like charging base that connects to the back.”
The Verge is also quick to point out the ZenWatch’s lack of wireless charging capabilities. Not only this but, like most Android Wear devices, it needs to be charged pretty much every day.
Whilst on the whole The Verge believes the ZenWatch performs as well as any other Android Wear Watch, the tech review site is certainly not shy in mentioning the watch’s annoying attributes.

According to The Verge’s review, the Asus smartwatch can be “annoyingly slow” at times, isn’t as responsive to voice commands as the Moto 360, and has a poor response to the wrist motion to wake up the display.

Though The Verge has to admit, despite its faults and imperfections, if they had to choose an Android Wear watch to wear every day, the would choose the ZenWatch.

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And being this feature-rich and well-designed, for £199.99 we might be inclined to agree.

The Zenwatch is available now. Visit Asus to find out more.

 

 

Motorola 360 – best looking smartwatch to date?

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With Apple confirming that it will be releasing a smartwatch, the battle is well and truly on to see who can produce the most popular timepiece. While functionality isn’t a problem for Android devices, one area in which Apple hopes to get one up on the competition is a familiar one – aesthetics. One of the biggest problems with these devices currently is that they are too large, unwieldy or just plain ugly, so producing something that your average Joe would wear with pride seems to be of the utmost importance.

This rather laboured introduction to the Motorola 360 is there for a reason – it’s one of the best looking smartwatches we’ve seen yet and importantly (and unlike Apple’s entry), it’s round. This makes it far more “watch like” and therefore, in theory, far more likely to replace an actual watch.

Motorola sets the 360 up as an accessory – it’s doesn’t offer 3G, for example, or even wireless – it’s more similar to the Apple Watch in that it’s really intended as an accompaniment to a Smartphone via a Bluetooth tether. There’s a 1.5” (320×290, 205ppi) display here with Gorilla Glass 3, 4GB of internal storage and wireless charging with purported “all day” use, plus the usual bells and whistles when it comes to tracking your exercise routines.

The big question is – has the 360 just gone for looks or does it have enough under the hood to deliver?

TechRadar rates it at four out of five and confirms that it is in fact a bit of a head turner, and something you could wear all the time: “Its stainless steel housing and genuine leather default wristband make it appropriate for almost any occasion.” This could be partly down to the range of attractive fascias – it notes that while there aren’t many, those that do exist contribute nicely to the overall impression.

“In fact, Motorola’s enterprising circular screen is so attractive it instantly became the antithesis of the “smartwatches look like a miniaturized cell phone worn on your wrist” argument when Google first announced Android Wear in March.”

Other nice touches here include being the first watch to have an ambient light sensor that can help adjust for sunny or darker conditions, attractive leather or stainless steel bands that aren’t much bigger than you’d use with a regular watch and a range of effective activity trackers. Unfortunately there’s an elephant in the room here and that’s the battery life – quoting “all day” use did leave us a little concerned initially, and it seems as though you may struggle to even achieve that in the real world.

Considering the importance of battery there’s obviously a lot else to like about the 360 because reviews do seem fairly good across the board. Engadget awards it 76% and while it does criticise the battery (specifically it says “terrible battery life”) is similarly enamoured by the beautiful design, comfortable and lightweight build and useful light sensor. Looking at the display it discusses the reason why the 360 isn’t a “truly round” watch – there’s a black slice at the bottom you see, which houses the display drivers and light sensor to help cut back on the thickness of the body and bezel.

“If that is indeed the trade-off, I agree that the edge-to-edge chamfered glass is a better option. But if you’re even the slightest bit of a perfectionist, that tiny, little black slice might be difficult to un-see.”

It also asks how well Android Wear is suited to round faces – text occasionally gets cut off at corners and the circular border can look a touch jagged at times, so Motorola will be hoping Google gets busy optimising the software for round faces. It finishes by claiming that:

“The Moto 360 is the most attractive Android Wear device you can buy right now, with a design that’s more reminiscent of a regular watch. Even so, it suffers from poor battery life, just like other early smartwatches, and it has a higher price, too.”

Let’s finish up with Gizmodo and a take on what it’s actually like to use the 360. Of course it’s capable of all the things you’d expect of a smartwatch – raising your arm to wake the screen, using “Ok Google” to activate voice commands and swiping around to access functions and dismiss notifications. There are some interesting additions here though. The aforementioned ambient light sensor seems to work quite well, with a fluid operation that should really become more standard.

“It’s also the first smartwatch that charges wirelessly. The watch comes with a cool little curved dock you simply drop it into, without having to futz with lining anything up. It just falls into place and starts charging.”

And another unique feature is that it’s the first smartwatch that has a sensor to continuously monitor your heart rate, along with feedback on how you’ve been doing and (if you want them) motivational messages to help get your recommended daily amount of “active time”. Unfortunately it has the same issues with battery life and notes that the rather ancient Texas Instruments OMAP 3 processor was a strange choice – though this didn’t appear to affect operation it’s relatively poor efficiency won’t be doing that battery any good.

Overall the 360 seems to be a bit of a hit – in fact most are saying that it’s the best (or their favourite) smartwatch to date. After a bit of an iffy start it’s nice to see more companies getting involved with more interesting designs, even if there are still clearly some issues to resolve.

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Having said that we’re still waiting for a true game-changer. Android effectively has six months to sort out its Wear software and Motorola et.al have the same amount of time to dream up a design to end all designs before you know who arrives, so it should be interesting to see what develops.

The Motorola 360 will set you back a fairly reasonable £199 in the UK and is available now.

 

Samsung’s New Smartwatch, It’s The Year Of The ‘Wearable’

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Surely the worst kept secret leading up IFA was the launch of Samsung’s smartwatch, the Galaxy Gear.  Everyone knew it was coming, but what exactly would it look like, and how many features would they pack in? Well, these questions and more have now been answered. The Gear, available in Europe from the end of this month (September 25th) is designed to work with the new Galaxy Note 3 and an update will be available later in the year make it compatible with previous versions of the Note.

The Gear is available in six colours, has a stainless steel bevelled face with a shape reminiscent of the beloved 1980s Casio and features a 1.9MP camera on the outward facing strap, which can also record video at 720p HD. All of this makes you feel rather like James Bond, being able to take relatively covert pictures with a simple swipe and tap of the screen via the device’s “Memographer feature”. It is aimed at taking quick visual memos – the sort of shots that are gone by the time you’ve taken your smartphone out of your pocket.

Another feature of the Gear’s camera was its ability to take advantage of augmented reality applications, presumably aimed to rival the Google Glass, but unfortunately this wasn’t something the company expanded on or demonstrated during the launch event. Instead they cited an example where you might take a picture of a wine bottle  and then discover more about the vineyard, grape type and price. It could also be used when abroad to help quickly translate signs, menus etc.

The Gear has a built in speakerphone which means to answer calls you just raise your wrist as if you were answering a hand held phone (or scratching your ear!). This appears to be a nice, instinctive movement, but we did wonder how well it would work if you were in the middle of a task, such as driving.  Users can also draft messages, create new calendar entries, set alarms, and check the weather, all via S Voice functionality.

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Other software features include the ability to browse, play and pause music (stored on your Galaxy devices) via the watch. The Gear also comes with Find My Device which helps users find the location of their smart devices by making them beep, illuminate and vibrate. Another application is the pedometer which uses a built-in sensor to monitor users so they can track key personal data such as calories burned, steps taken and distance covered.

Something that we don’t recall being mentioned during the company’s Unpacked Event is that in case of emergency, you can press the power button 3 times continuously and then your location information is sent to a nominated contact with a message.

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In terms of technical specs, the Gear uses a 800 MHz processor with 512MB RAM and 4GB of internal memory. The display is a 1.63 inch Super AMOLED with a resolution of 320 x 320 pixels. The watch is powered by a 315mAh Li-on battery which provides up to 25 hours battery life. This revelation certainly caused quite a murmur from the packed audience.  It has also been suggested elsewhere that ‘heavy users’ of the Gear’s features may need to end up charging their watch more than once a day.

The Galaxy Gear is touted by Samsung as the first in the new market of ‘wearables’. With the launch of Sony’s Smartwatch 2 earlier in the day, it appears that we’re going to enter a period where a lot of ideas and concepts are thrown at the wall to see what sticks. Assuming that ‘wearables’ are indeed the future, the next question is whether consumers will want to wear their tech on their wrist or on their face.

Samsung’s Smartwatch: What We (Might) Know So Far…

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Speculation, rumours and tech-entrenched chatter: recent leaks of Samsung’s possible smart watch patents have triggered gadget gossip on a scale last seen in late 2009 when talk of the iPad first surfaced.

But while Apple stormed the tablet race, the only evidence to suggest it’s making any ground in the wearable-tech race is the fact they’ve registered a trademark for the iWatch in Japan in June. In fact if this month’s rumour mill is anything to go by, Samsung may just clinch the win.

Granted, Sony Smart Watches, Pebble, I’m Watch and myriad sports watches have already hit the market… But with sales of only 330,000 worldwide in 2012 none have really made a big impact. And as Samsung have made serious headway in the mobile, tablet and TV markets in the past two years, they’re possibly the safest bet on who will take smart watches to the next level, too.

Official revelations are suspected to be announced at the IFA 2013 tech mecca in Berlin on September 4, but rumours first began in March when Samsung’s executive vice president Lee Young Hee revealed to Bloomberg that Samsung have “been preparing the watch product for so long.”

Developments then occurred in June when Samsung applied for U.S trademark for the Samsung Galaxy Gear, then again in late July when Indian logistics firm Zauba listed a SM-VL700WATCH on a shipment order from South Korea to Samsung’s Bangalore office. Listed with the description of “R&D purposes” its value was marked as 24,442 Indian rupees which – thanks to Revision3’s Rumour Roundup – is approximately $410, although in mass production this price tag is likely to decrease somewhat.

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Let’s hope so. If these speculative designs are anything to go by, it looks rather desirable indeed. Based on vague patent sketches revealed on Korean tech portal Moveplayer, money saving website Vouchercodespro commissioned a ‘patent and trademark insider’ to explore what the Samsung smart watch will look like.

With its flexible OLED gorilla glass screen that curves around the wrist, and the potential to personalise it with coloured strap, these concept images are certainly striking. What’s more, they answer the one concern that’s been mooted about smart watches all along… Can a potentially cumbersome smart watch design look good on the wrists of both male and female gadget freaks?

The Philippine Star states that the U.S trademark application described the device to be “capable of providing access to the internet, sending and receiving phone calls, electronic mails and messages and keeping track of personal information”. And if the name Galaxy Gear is anything to go by (also mooted to be called Altius in the earlier Bloomberg report) the Android-based operating system will be based on the existing system used in Samsung’s successful Galaxy Note tablets.

Roll on IFA 2013 to find out how much of the speculation is can truly be verified, but one thing is for sure… Smart watches are about to explode onto the market. Tech analysts Canalys predict a 900 per cent rise in forecasted smart watch shipments in 2014 taking smart watch sales up to 5million units globally. Will Samsung take the market share? Time will tell. Expect plenty more speculation, rumours and tech-entrenched chatter in the meantime…