I've just got back from a sunny Barcelona covering Mobile World Congress and as our features editor already so eloquenty put it, there really weren't a lot of wearables to talk about. There were a few nice ideas and concepts being played around with, but it was a pretty quiet show on the whole.
The biggest story came courtesy of the Huawei Watch 2, the company's second generation Android Wear smartwatch that now comes in two versions. There's the Sport and the Classic, so it's pretty much matched Samsung's strategy with the Gear S3 Frontier and Classic, or more recently LG with its Watch Sport and Style smartwatches.
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It's pretty obvious to see what's happening here. These companies are covering the bases by appealing to two very different types of watch wearers. One that's obsessed with style and the other that actually doesn't mind wearing something a bit more bulky as long as it's packed with sports tracking goodies.
This is of course what Apple did with the Watch Series 2, making a big fitness play with its built-in GPS and swim tracking features. Huawei's move makes a lot of sense to me simply because I still believe fitness remains a driving force for wearables in general and smartwatches in particular, simply because you still need to glance at your stats when you're in the gym, out for a run or going for a swim.
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Biometric sensor systems, whether that's delivering continuous heart rate or VO2 Max readings like the Huawei Watch 2 Sport can, are also being better implemented into smartwatches without compromising too much on the size of the device. So companies are not doing this half heartedly, and things are starting to improve on the accuracy front too.
That being said, having been up close with the Watch 2 and surveyed the specs, I could quickly see myself thinking there was no way it was going to replace my dedicated sports watch that I already rely on. Yes, it does tick a lot of the most important boxes, like built-in GPS, heart rate monitoring and some advanced analytics, but ticking a key feature off is one thing, executing it all so that it works seamlessly and with minimal fuss is another thing.
Battery life remains major gripe for smartwatches in general, but for sportier ones it's an even bigger deal. If you told a Garmin, Polar or TomTom watch owner that you have to charge your watch every couple of days, they'd laugh in your face.
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It's not just the battery problem either though. Software has to improve vastly too. Granted, things are not perfect on that front for most of the dedicated sports watches, but it is getting better. Google Fit, Apple Workout and the integration of third party apps need to get better t00.
It's not just me that feels this way towards the sportier smartwatches we've seen in recent months. Contrary to my good experience, I've had friends who use the Apple Watch Series 2 tell me that they just can't get along with it when they work out or go running. If you read James's Strava Apple Watch app piece this week, he touches on some of those similar concerns.
Don't get me wrong, I'm by no means writing all of these smartwatches off. You only have to look at something like the Polar M600, which is looking to improve on those areas with regular software updates, or the Strava intergration in the New Balance RunIQ, and you'll see things are moving in the right direction. Until I can effortlessly get up and go like I can with a Polar, Garmin or a TomTom, these smartwatches will remain as something to wear during the day and ditch when it's time to get sweaty.
Would you dump your sports watch for a more fitness-focused smartwatch? Let us know in the comments below.
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