It says a lot about the direction of the wearable tech space that we felt compelled to create a separate award for sportier devices this year. The fact is, 2017 marked the year when sports wearables truly outgrew our run-focused smartwatches and began to flourish. And our shortlist for Speciality Sports Wearable of the Year reflected the range on offer.
This year across Team Wareable, we've golfed with the TomTom Golfer 2 SE, boxed with Hykso, ran with Lumo Run on our shoes and the Whoop Strap 2.0 on our wrist, and performed pretty much every other form of exercise with the Moov HR Sweat on our heads and the Halo Sport in our ears.
But despite the fun we've had adding some tech to our favourite sports, Playertek was one of the few devices we would routinely want to go back and use - even outside our usual testing. For those unfamiliar with the smart sports vest, it essentially allows anyone, from amateurs playing five-a-side to professional athletes, to track the distance they cover, where they covered it, how many sprints they bolted and their top speed. It's pretty basic stuff, all powered by the tracking pod placed in the back of the vest, but the end result has been enough to change how we approached our game.
For the past decade, the company and its Catapult parent have been weaving into the professional and collegiate sports realm. This year, though, the same vests we'd seen Leicester City players and Senior Bowl participants don finally came to the rest of us, giving us real-time data to act upon and heat maps to delve into - making us feel like pros.
And, yes, while it's easy to pass off what Playertek provides as basic, it's for this very reason why it's so appealing: you put the vest on, press the sensor's button, put it in the slot (if you own enough arm flexibility) and run around doing your best Lionel Messi impression. And that's pretty much it. Even selecting your pitch for accurate tracking is easy to pinch through Google Maps. It all just works. And in a world where syncing issues and half-baked features are still too common, just getting what's promised from the outset can't be understated.
Even Playertek co-founder Kevin McDaid told us back in October that this isn't especially groundbreaking technology, but instead Playertek was about bringing this to everyone. And in doing so, it's also been careful about which metrics it includes. Instead of scaring people off with complexities or making this seem like a piece of kit only tech-savvy footballers can adopt, it instead placed an emphasis, we feel, on the kind of thing you'd chat about in the pub afterwards and also be quietly competitive with your friends about. Who doesn't want to show they can still sprint faster than anybody else, after all?
Read this: We talk to Playertek co-founder Kevin McDaid
Its social hub is another area that backs up the kit. The word 'community' is thrown about a lot by different brands - everyone has a thriving one, it seems - but Playertek lends itself to this by operating in a team-based environment. You're held accountable, since friends on the platform can see your metrics, and it's something different to even what Strava provides for avid runners.
It's not perfect, of course. While much of its beauty lies in simplicity, power users will quickly thirst for more. Thankfully, though, all indications point to this kind of progression in metrics ramping up over the next year. Maybe that's even added to with the likes of AI coaching or real-time prompts. But what it's already provided has been enough to outlast the rest and become the best speciality sports wearable we tried in 2017.
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