Why we need to call time on jack-of-all-trades smartwatches

Opinion: The lines are more blurred than ever - and it's not always for the best
Wareable blurred lines smartwatches
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There was a time when we were positively greedy for do-it-all smartwatches. As features have become more readily available, however, the balance between form and function has gone awry - and very few true all-rounders have emerged.

It's difficult to remember now, of course, but devices didn't always try and offer all things to all people.

At one stage, the market was full of 'serious' sports watches and activity trackers that failed to include a heart rate monitor or GPS, and even more that were propped up by very basic app stores.

Since then, the standard of features has gone through the roof; serious health monitoring is now commonplace, as are advanced workout insights and wellness features like sleep tracking. 

Along the way, though, as the biggest companies have sought to offer the ultimate spec sheet, form factors haven't really matched up.

Hybrid watches were once never overly concerned with your gym workout, and sports watches shied away from true smartwatch features.

We now have almost everybody trying to produce the ultimate all-rounder.

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The problem is that there are plenty of features that require a specific form factor. And with the wearable industry's next generation of health features progressing slowly, we're seeing less innovation and more amalgamation. 

This tactic may work well for health-focused features, say, but we're not convinced that activity tracking or wellness features will really ever translate well to certain devices. 

We've seen the likes of Fossil poorly attempt to pack in sports and wellness tracking into a classy-looking hybrid range, while Garmin has recently unloaded the entire breadth of its features and metrics onto a luxury toolwatch priced in the region of $2,000 / £2,000.

We've seen plenty of similar out-of-place devices from the likes of Tag Heuer, Montblanc and Hublot over the years, as well.

Would you catch me using a $3,000 smartwatch in the gym? Hell no. If I could afford to, I'd have a perfectly excellent $400 sports watch for those moments – and it would do a significantly better job.

All of these flashier watches feel like totally bizarre fits for workout tracking, particularly, despite their looks - and it leaves us struggling to imagine who the target user is for these devices. 

As we've explored in some reviews, we're also seeing plenty of inaccurate data from companies operating out of their comfort zone.  

With this mismatch between form and function, and very few companies actually producing a convincing all-rounder, it can be very hard to recommend certain devices - even if, on paper, they're very proficient ones. 

When there are also very capable cheap fitness trackers or budget smartwatches that can still offer some sense of style, the ability to truly offer something different and better than the competition also feels more important than ever.

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Plenty of brands do get this balance right, obviously, and deliver a clear message. 

Withings has consistently remained at the top of our hybrid smartwatch rankings because of its clear focus on health tracking; never getting too bogged down with the idea of trying to turn the ScanWatch into a sports watch or smartwatch. 

And Apple, too, after very briefly flirting with the idea of its watch being a luxury timepiece, has been able to neatly present a versatile device to beginners, intermediates, and advanced exercisers.

Is it a replacement for a Swiss luxury timepiece? Not to anyone that can afford one, but it is much more functional.

We'd suggest that Garmin has so many fringe devices in its collection that it can probably afford one or two releases that don't entirely make sense.

However, in the race to offer all things to all people, some companies have begun to offer nothing to nobody. 

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Conor Allison


Conor moved to Wareable Media Group in 2017, initially covering all the latest developments in smartwatches, fitness trackers, and VR. He made a name for himself writing about trying out translation earbuds on a first date and cycling with a wearable airbag, as well as covering the industry’s latest releases.

Following a stint as Reviews Editor at Pocket-lint, Conor returned to Wareable Media Group in 2022 as Editor-at-Large. Conor has become a wearables expert, and helps people get more from their wearable tech, via Wareable's considerable how-to-based guides. 

He has also contributed to British GQ, Wired, Metro, The Independent, and The Mirror. 

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