I've been wearing and testing smartwatches for more than two years and the sight of me wearing them still elicits chuckles from tech reviewers. These smartwatches were just not designed for me, an early adopter, geek girl with normal sized girl wrists who wears dresses and hoodies and needs accessories to match.
But a year or so into mainstream smartwatch launches, we're on the cusp of something special. A noticeable shift. Karlie Kloss is advertising the Huawei Watch, shot by fashion legend Mario Testino. Beyoncé wore an Apple Watch at least twice. And companies like Samsung are realising that diamantes and studs aren't always the answer.
Smartwatches are now being designed by women and tested by women. For spec comparisons, in-depth reviews and head to heads, check out our smartwatches hub. Read on for hands on impressions and interviews with the companies behind the devices we think will actually be worn by women.
The hidden gem: Moto 360
Motorola's new Moto 360 smartwatch is the Android Wear smartwatch I'd be most likely to wear, based on first impressions. The watch runs Google's operating system and comes in two sizes of 42mm and 46mm, with two different sized lugs either side of the watch body and slimmer straps available.
With Motorola's online Moto Maker tool, users can customise their device down to accents on the bezels. And yes, there are gold finish models and pale pink straps but that's not what's important. It's the range of choice on offer.
"The smaller size was a clear outcome of our research since our first smartwatch last year," Oliver Ebel, Motorola's general manager for EMEA told Wareable at IFA 2015. "Female designers were specifically put on to the project of designing models aimed at women."
And it worked. Despite performance and battery issues, I had a soft spot for the Moto 360 - as did many male reviewers - as we felt the design work was headed in the right direction. Display tech, processors and sensors are much easier for big smartphone manufacturers to work out than an iconic design.
This year's Motorola smartwatches are much more polished and look less like a circular device plonked on to a strap. And it's difficult not to forget this is technically one device and call them smartwatches. Each model would suit a different personality and look.
Read this: Hands on with the Moto 360 at IFA
Ebel confirmed that getting more sizes, colours and straps into retail stores for people to try out is "something we're looking at" and that Motorola is "contemplating bringing Moto Maker into stores". This would be expensive to roll out but if Motorola even offered this in one or two stores, it would be a start in showing how far ahead of its rivals its customisation offering really is.
The new Moto 360 will sell in O2 in the UK, as its predecessor did, but the danger is that one, 46mm, black smartwatch with the cheapest strap is all potential customers, women included, see when they walk by. Go to an Apple store and you can drool over the Milanese loop strap and soon the Hermès collection before figuring out what you can actually afford.
The surprise: Samsung Gear S2
Compare the Gear S2 Classic to the original Galaxy Gear smartwatch, launched way back in September 2013, and you'll see that Samsung has come a long way. The round Classic and the cheaper regular Gear S2 are not only innovative with a genius ball bearing-based, rotating bezel, that shames the Apple Watch's Digital Crown in terms of easily moving between alerts, watch faces and apps, they are also lovely to look at and feel weighty and expensive to wear. Especially the Classic.
This is a big moment. We definitely have the right product.
I don't say this lightly. This is the first Samsung smartwatch I would personally wear day to day, beyond the need to test it. Gear 2, no. Gear Live, still no. Gear S, hells no. The Gear S2 is well made and desirable, a real leap, and the body and display are both smaller in real life than it appears in press pics. As a Samsung rep says, it hits "the sweet spot" to suit both men and women. It's still masculine but in a more 'boyfriend watch' style than just plain bulky and ugly.
A side note - my colleague James Stables found the model he used at IFA to have a few stutters, I didn't encounter this at all in my hands on time. But I do agree that Samsung's UI aesthetics leave a little to be desired - I actually liked it in power saving. The latest hints suggest a price around £322.
Samsung only has nine leather and rubber watch straps for its stainless steel watch available at launch but if you choose the Classic, you can attach third party straps. Plus the regular smartwatch has straps that are smaller in length to fit smaller wrists. It's not as as customisable as the new Moto 360 but we'd be very surprised if it isn't the smartwatch we see on the most wrists by Christmas. This is Samsung, remember, and finally it has a wearable to throw its marketing might behind that's exciting and - no minor detail - does certain things better than the Apple Watch.
"We've launched six wearable devices since 2013 and we've learned a lot since then in terms of different form factors," Conor Pierce, Samsung's UK VP for Mobile, told us. "This is a big moment. It's obviously much smaller, much lighter and let's say, much more stylistic. We definitely have the right product but, more importantly, the market is ready for it.
"It's not one device, as you can see with the two variants, multiple wrist straps. Personalisation of a fashion accessory is very important. And maybe, in due course, there will be other strap options coming through to refresh it."
Read this: Hands on with the Samsung Gear S2
Unsurprisingly Samsung isn't going after geeky, male early adopters who crowdfund ten wearables a week, it wants everyone who owns an Android phone to consider buying the Gear S2. Pierce refers to research that claims that 25% of 25 to 34 year olds would buy a smartwatch.
"A lot of people may fear, or have feared in the past that this is a techy smartwatch," he said. "Actually this is an incredibly simple experience. Samsung doesn't do small or niche. When we build a category, we build a massive category, just look at phablets.
"There are 8.5 million Android devices in the UK compatible with the Gear S2 - running Android 4.4 and above and with the required RAM - and 6 million of those are Samsung phones. That's a massive base and we'll put a lot of marketing effort behind building awareness."
The potential: boutique watches, smart jewellery & more
The fact that any woman with a smartphone is a potential smartwatch owner has finally bitch-slapped wearable tech manufacturers right in the face. The potential is clear from both interest in smart jewellery like Ringly, fitness trackers like the Misfit Shine and existing smartwatches like Olio Devices' Model One which offers bespoke UI styles too, something Samsung could learn from.
"45% of our website traffic at launch was women," said Steve Jacobs, Olio's CEO. "That's a phenomenally high percentage for any product, especially one that is typically trending towards technology. But we were elated to see that.
"Now the purchasing was much higher skewed towards men. Traditionally that's to be expected, men are traditionally more early adopters and to be fair, the Black and the Steel are more masculine in the look. That being said, now that we're introducing the Gold and the Rose Gold models, we're hoping that a lot of those same women and new women are interested."
Design is a big factor that needs to be considered when building wearables for women because different use cases can be catered for by thousands of very specific apps. But that doesn't mean manufacturers can build a pretty bit of hardware and sit back.
Ringly's CEO Christina Mercando told Wareable that she has asked users which apps they would use most with her company's smart ring. The team adds 20 to 30 new apps per update to cater for a range of users.
"Some of the apps are ones that we didn't consider when we first launched - there's a lot around parenting," she said. "There's apps with names like FeedBaby which tells you when you need to feed your baby so more of these important reminder apps."
The Apple Watch will no doubt continue to be the biggest selling smartwatch for both men and women. But with the Moto 360, Samsung Gear S2 and Huawei Watch all launching within the next month or so, women suddenly have a lot more options when it comes to buying their first smartwatch.
A piece of press release puff from photographer Mario Testino, referring to the fairly expensive Huawei Watch, actually nails it better than most: "Most times the speed that technology goes at is not hand-in-hand with aesthetics." Right you are, Mario, but now aesthetics has caught up.
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