8 weeks with wearables: our findings

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Posted by George Gabriel on 03 Aug, 2015

We compare our experiences after wearing both the Apple Watch & Android Wear

As with the smartphones they’re tied to, Android and Apple wearables represent the two main choices for consumers looking to buy a smart watch. We’ve been using both in our office for a few months, and have put together some impressions. Insight on Android Wear comes from Marketing Executive George Gabriel, while Managing Director Adam Croxen has been wearing Apple Watch.

A selection of Android Wear screenshots showcasing Citymapper, Spotify, Hole19, Gmail, WhatsApp, Twitter and Instaweather

As with the smartphones they’re tied to, Android and Apple wearables represent the two main choices for consumers looking to buy a smart watch. We’ve been using both in our office for a few months, and have put together some impressions. Insight on Android Wear comes from Marketing Executive George Gabriel, while Managing Director Adam Croxen has been wearing Apple Watch.

Apple have opted for their own device with Apple Watch, while Android Wear operates on five different manufacturers’ devices (with more to come). We’ve been using the Moto 360 for our research, and it probably looks more like an actual watch than any other device currently on the market (the Huawei Watch is set to change that).

Battery Life and Hardware

Much has been made of battery life being the key blocker to market penetration, and both the Apple Watch and Moto 360 leave much to be desired in terms of charge time. Using a 12-hour commute as our window of observation, we found a fully-charged Moto 360 would typically arrive home with between 20-30% of charge remaining. It’s worth noting that this is with typical use, consisting mainly of responding to notifications and reading emails. Showing off the voice search functionality or practicing Duolingo flashcards, however, would almost guarantee an alarmingly low level of charge, if not emptiness, by the day’s end.

Apple Watch was finishing the day at roughly 50%, seemingly a big win over its Google counterparts; unfortunately, it proved to be a hollow victory once we realised it wouldn’t make it through the night and next day without another charge anyway. Both devices come with their own unique chargers as well, and the lack of a universal solution means not thinking ahead can leave you with a dead watch on your wrist.

UX, UI and Functionality

Actually using the devices reveals two fundamentally different experiences, at its simplest making Android Wear a card-based notification system and Apple Watch a suite of apps. While in theory apps should be able to do more than notifications, our experiences with Apple Watch often left the user journey feeling incomplete and unintuitive. Uber wouldn’t let us choose which type of vehicle we wanted, while a trip to the cinema became frustrating when Passbook made it unclear how to display a ticket. With different developers making different apps of varying functionality, the result is a muddled user experience that has very few set rules in terms of UI or expected behavior.

This is where Android Wear excels majestically, and its card-based notification system powered by Google Now is a dream to use. Navigable with a swipe or a wrist flick, standard cards show weather, sports scores, and calendar events, with app-specific cards coming and going at opportune moments. Responding to LinkedIN requests, reading emails and replying to messages is quick and simple, and is done in the same way for every app.

Developers have slightly less freedom in how they can create “apps” for Android Wear than on Apple Watch, but the result is a much more unified and efficient user experience. This extends to the phone too, and there is a smooth transition between our Android device and smartwatch. Apple Watch, contrastingly, has struggled with transmitting data between the two, losing email notifications and taking up to 45 seconds to display an SMS that was delivered to the connected iPhone.

Activity tracking has been billed as a big feature of both devices, but neither does an impressive job at keeping an accurate eye on our fitness. Apple Watch has proved annoyingly inconsistent, sometimes saying we’ve done significantly more exercise than we actually have, other times significantly less than we have. On Android Wear, we’ve seen up to as many as 2,000 steps’ difference between the watch and our Fitbit activity tracker, and heart rate readings have fluctuated 20 beats per minute on a whim.

Closing Thoughts

Clearly, both Apple Watch and Android Wear devices do offer some impressive features, but there is a strong sense of incompleteness on both platforms. While it’s proving handy to delete an email from our wrists or draw emoji replies, the numerous shortcomings we’ve experienced regarding battery life, aesthetics, and user-friendliness are inhibiting how useful either watch can be at this point in time. While we’d say Android Wear is currently leading the way, it’s a race between two horses that aren’t yet sure where they’re heading, and there remains a great deal of improvement to be made if either of these products are to dominate the market in the future.

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