Name: Mike DiGiovanni
Neighborhood: Fanwood, New Jersey
Smartwatches were the first wearables I really bought into. The concept seemed neat: They’re like a smartphone, but tiny and always accessible.
At first, I wasn’t quite sure what need they would fill, but I decided to give the Sony Smartwatch, which I first read about on Engadget, a shot back in early 2012. I quickly realized devices like this were very good for getting notifications and having your calendar easily accessible. I was suddenly taking my phone out of my pocket a whole lot less. That meant fewer chances to drop my phone and crack the screen, and fewer chances to drain its battery. I also noticed that I was the person at work who wasn't constantly distracted by his phone.
I was hooked, and started picking up every smartwatch I could. I’ve gone through about eight of them and am planning on picking up at least two more in the near future.
What I Used to Wear
After the Sony, I picked up a WimmOne from a friend. It had great outdoor visibility, and didn’t even require a phone to work. But its battery life was terrible and it wasn’t very useful as a day-to-day device. I had better luck with my next two devices.
The Pebble and the MetaWatch Strata
The Pebble I first read about on Engadget, and the MetaWatch Strata I stumbled upon on Kickstarter. Both were originally funded on Kickstarter, and both had similar premises: Battery life that lasted longer than two days, sunlight-readable displays, and actual buttons instead of a touchscreen.
I got the MetaWatch first. It was really nice not having to charge my smartwatch every day, and I really appreciated how the buttons let me interact with the device without looking at it. Unfortunately, it was pretty bare-bones on the software side. This was a problem, since all but the most basic notifications and widgets required third-party developers to actually build them. I made a few widgets and apps for personal use — things like a better calendar, better notifications, and an alarm clock — but the device never seemed to gain real traction.
The Pebble came next. At first glance, it didn’t seem that different from the MetaWatch, but just about everything about it was easier. It could be used without a phone nearby, makes it much easier to load custom watch faces, and generally just does a great job with notifications — which are probably the most important part of a smartwatch.
I actually still wear the Pebble when I’m using an iPhone, as it’s the best smartwatch currently available that works with the platform—at least until the Apple Watch arrives.
I got my hands on Google Glass in April of 2013. I started off by wearing it with my Pebble, but eventually Glass was updated to a point where there wasn't anything that the Pebble could do that Glass couldn't. And Glass was definitely more convenient for notifications, reminders, and calls. Once Glass hit that point, I ditched the Pebble.
Glass proved to be a great travel companion. When I got off the plane, it gave me directions to my hotel. When it was dinnertime, it gave me directions to my favorite places to eat. In the airport, I could check my gate and flight delays completely hands-free. Glass also provided a voice-activated way to respond to messages. This was something that smartwatches weren't providing yet.
I wore Glass as close to 24/7 as possible until the following April when a software update seriously destroyed the reliability and battery life of the device. Glass still fits in my life, but only under specific circumstances. I find myself returning to it when I know I'm going to want an easy way to take photos. Being able to take a photo just by winking is so frictionless. I also wear Glass if I'm going to be traveling.
Beginning in May of 2014, I started picking up a bunch of smartwatches that run Android Wear — a platform that gives the devices really good integration with Android phones. The Samsung Gear Live had a heart-rate sensor and higher-resolution screen, and the Moto 360 was the most conventional-looking of the devices, but I eventually settled on the LG G after I got one at the Google I/O conference. Its screen was the most readable, battery life was solid, and it was easy to change wristbands.
What I Wear Now
The Xiaomi Mi Band
For fitness tracking and waking up, I love the Xiaomi Mi Band, which I first read about on various Android blogs, Because it is waterproof and incredibly lightweight, it rarely leaves my wrist. I use it for step counting, sleep monitoring, and, most importantly, silent alarms that wake me up with vibrations that don’t disturb my wife. It also has stellar battery life: It goes two months without requiring a charge. There's practically no chance for me to forget to charge it once every two months.
Jabra Revo headphones
I’m not sure most people are ready to consider headphones a true wearable, but these solve a lot of related problems. I had been looking for a new pair of wireless headphones when some friends on Google+ suggested this. It has seamless multi-device connectivity, so I can be listening to music from my phone and easily switch over to my computer without pressing any buttons. It also provides one-button access to Siri and actually shows how much headphone battery life is remaining right on my phone. I have yet to see another Bluetooth headphone do that.
How I Research
Tech blogs like Engadget and the Verge are great for breaking wearables news and sometimes have reviews of products before they hit the market. And since so many wearables tie into the Android ecosystem, Android blogs such as Phandroid.com and Androidpolice.com can be helpful. I also get news at conferences like Google I/O and directly from other developers. I even run a small Google+ community that people post wearables news to.
But if you really want the scoops, you have to check the crowd-funding sites directly. There are a ton of wearable devices that never really get any press. I crowd-funded the original Pebble, the Ringbow, MetaWatch Strata, L8 Smartlight, Mio Alpha, Oculus Rift, RingBow, and the upcoming Pebble Time. Of course, there are risks here, as crowdfunded wearables can be disastrous. This especially seems to be true for ones involving rings. The Ringbow was a mobile gaming controller you wore on your finger. It sort of just faded away, and the founder won’t update anybody on what’s going on. There was also one called the Ring that proved to be unusable as it was oversize and did not maintain a solid Bluetooth connection.
What I'll Use Next
I think it's the device that has the best chance of pushing wearables into the mainstream. I'm planning on ordering this as soon as you can preorder it on April 10. However, as a developer, the closer we get to release, the more disappointed I'm getting. The capabilities exposed to third-party developers are very limited. We can't use the gyroscope or accelerometer data in real time, and we can only tap into features like the Digital Crown and Force Touch in ways that Apple has approved. Disappointing, but I'm still willing to give it a shot.
It has an update to the tried-and-true Pebble smartwatch. I already preordered it on Kickstarter. It promises great battery life, a screen that's easily readable outdoors, and a great community of developers and users already on the platform. I was at Wearables Tech Con in early March and got to try it on and play with it for a few minutes. I quickly knew I made the right choice by Kickstarting it.
I'm also keeping my eye on this. It's an ambitious vision of what the next stage of personal computing is. It's a series of devices, screens, and dongles that connect to your watch, turning it into the central hub of your digital life. Things like your phone and tablet are simply turned into screens that provide views into this hub. Still, I’m skeptical. Neptune’s previous product was underwhelming, and the Kickstarter campaign left a lot of people in a bad mood. I’m not going to crowd-fund it, but if it turns out well, I’ll be picking it up.
What I Want Someone to Invent
As a frequent attendee of conferences and tech meetups, I would love to have a way to exchange business cards with a simple handshake owing to the proximity of our smartwatches. And I want to see every smartwatch use a sunlight-readable screen. It's laughable that only a small minority of smartwatches offer something that can easily be read during a sunny day. The Sony SmartWatch 3 offers this now, and the Pebble Time is going to prove that you can have long battery life, be sunlight-readable, and include color.