In the first instalment of our new weekly #Trending series, we dissect a trend in wearable tech and pick out three devices that are WEAR, SQUARE and NEARLY THERE.
Chances are you can last about two minutes without knowing where your smartphone is. And the ten seconds of rummaging around pockets/bags/desk/sofa before you find it are panic city. But wearing a smartwatch means we check our phones less and waste less time scrolling through Facebook than ever before.
Enter smartwatches with their own SIM cards – 'no smartphone required'. Smartwatches that don’t need to be tethered to a handset via Bluetooth to take calls, send and receive messages and yes, post to Facebook.
At first glance, it seems like exactly what we’ve been waiting for. An end to all that time bent over the screen in our hands. Picking up and putting down. Patting pockets. In this dream scenario there's a SIM in a smartwatch that’s good-looking enough to be strapped to your wrist all day everyday (we’re getting there..) then for composing messages, watching video and making calls without looking like a berk just grab your second screen - your smartphone. The smartwatch becomes the device we can’t live without.
Essential reading: First look Samsung Gear S review
We're not there yet (and we might never be). For starters, no-one wants to pay for a second contract for their watch. If this is going to work, the networks need to give up their current schemes and agree to one phone number with multiple SIMs, charging an additional monthly fee for the privilege. Either that or do what Opening Ceremony did with its MICA bracelet and chuck in a free two year AT&T contract with its $499 device.
Sure some people want to get alerts on a morning run without a phone in their pocket. Others want to wear a swanky smart bracelet for an evening out with no need for a phone or, ultimately, a purse or wallet once wearable payments take off. But for most people, the smartphone will continue to be the hub of their personal network.
If the rumours are true, 2015 should see the launch of a 4G LG G Watch R. But before every wearable manufacturer rushes to make existing smartwatches 4G capable, they need to remember it’s about choice. Here’s three approaches to the no smartphone required strategy. They don't all work.
WEAR - Samsung Gear S
It’s the current ‘no smartphone required’ poster boy but we actually reckon most people who buy a 3G Gear S won’t bother making calls with it. Why? For one, in the UK only EE has really got into the multi/family SIM game leaving most of us with the prospect of having one phone number for their phone and one for their smartwatch. Or switching their SIM between phone and watch.
Neither of those sounds like much fun to us.
In our hands on time with the Gear S, we rather liked it otherwise - the curved AMOLED screen won’t be for everyone but it is big and brilliant. It has GPS, over 1,000 compatible Tizen app and a smartphone-style OS makes more sense on a 2-inch display. The only real downsides are that price and the fact you need a Samsung device.
£329 / or free with contract, samsung.com
SQUARE - Will.i.am Puls
Anyone in the market for an expensive, bulky smart cuff that has a tiny on-screen keyboard, a charging claw and needs a separate data contract? As Will.i.am himself says, the $399 Puls isn’t a watch because “watches don’t need SIM cards.” But he hasn’t made a case for the extra connectivity. So what is it for?
That’s difficult to make out. It runs on Android, serves up notifications and has music functionality from … 7Digital. And rather than rely on Google’s pretty decent Voice offering, Puls has its own ANeedA personal assistant powered by Nuance’s less accurate recognition tech.
It’s hard to get hold of, you have to register why you want to buy one via the Make It Great program and as Wareable revealed, a Puls 2 is due in early 2015. We haven’t even seen a Puls up close yet but this first gen device seems almost impossible to recommend.
$399 (if you’re worthy enough), Will.i.am
NEARLY THERE - Blocks
That’s a bingo. This modular smartwatch concept, on track for release in October 2015, takes all the pain out of the smartwatch SIM debate. The strap is made out of separate ‘Blocks’, which include tech such as heart rate monitors, a Barclays bPay module or an Orange SIM.
This makes gadget sense in two ways. First, if you don’t want a 3G/4G-connected wearable and your smartphone is always in your pocket, you don’t need to pay more for the device or for a separate contract. Secondly, if you do decide you like the idea then you can buy the Orange module and slot it into your watch as and when you need it.
If Blocks can keep the price of the main display module down and get more third party players involved, it could avoid making the same mistake as the big tech companies: second guessing what smartwatch functionality we’ll actually pay for.
How we test