In search of the perfect Wrist-Wearable

You have two wrists – (well, one or none in some cases – see I don’t generalize.) and there are a lot of corporations out there, who seem to be vying for the real estate on them. I have no interest in comparing the offerings, or suggesting what might or might not work for you. I just like to think about what I might like, and think out aloud sometimes – that way, like minded people can resonate with me and there is this cosmic resonance… (ok, that’s a lot of bull, so I’ll cut it.) Anyhoo, here are my thoughts,

  • What do I need and what don’t I need ?

This is a difficult one – let’s see what I would actually want.

  • An ABC watch with Solar charging, and Atomic time syncing. It should be able to measure changes in altitude, temperature, barometric pressure and record the same, and be able to export it into fitness apps …etc. Currently my Casio Protrek, comes pretty close, although it has no way of showing a trend graph, (except for the small barometric change graph it displays) or exporting the data. It also has a compass and temperature sensor. This should never have to be charged, and the protrek series is indeed like that, not to mention it looks brilliant. The compass might be useful if you are into trekking. (But I’ll be honest and admit, I don’t know how to get my bearings 😀 (pun intended) )
  • To this, add a triathlon watch (like many Garmin offerings, or the Suunto offerings) – GPS, ability to sync to a tracking website – can differentiate between cycling, swimming and running. (or, you have to explicitly choose a mode) Also, has a HR strap, (or a wrist based HR tracker if it is sufficiently accurate) a foot dongle (or whatever else you call it) and cadence sensors for the bicycle with which it can sync. There are watches like these – and they are getting better, although a common complaint seems to be – they don’t last an entire triathlon with GPS on. Maybe with the tracking granularity turned way down, they do. Did I mention “to this add” – meaning, I want only a single device that can do ABC + this, and more. See a GPS takes care of the altitude information at least. so that becomes redundant in an ABC. I am not too sure about the digital compass. I would assume this device needs to be charged before every serious workout.
  • An activity tracker that can track my activity throughout the day and track my sleep if it claims so. I wouldn’t mind a heart rate tracking sensor in there either. I have read the heart rate sensors in activity trackers are tuned to normal activity and don’t do well in extreme conditions i.e., when you are actually exercising. That’s ok – we have the heart rate monitor strap from (ii) remember. This device should also be able to sync it’s data wirelessly and hold charge at least for a week. Water proofing is always good – especially, if I don’t have to take it off in the shower. The aim of this is, to perform the function of a pedometer, when my phone is not on my pocket – for instance in office my phone is almost never in my pocket – at home, my phone is almost never in my pocket – it’s always on a desk somewhere. Also, sleep tracking is a nice feature I’d like to try out. One thing I am kind of worried is double counting – i.e., if I track a run with my GPS watch, and sync that to a site, I don’t want this double counting my steps for that workout. I’d then  have to take it off when performing actual runs, or at least turn it off. (considering the HR data will be junk anyway, who cares.) Of course, if a single device has things integrated, I’d assume it would automatically complement the run data with this step counting, and not double count things.

Now if someone can make a device that does all of the above, and for base minimal functionality – you never have to charge the device, for the activity tracking, you charge it once a week, and for the workout tracking (GPS based), you charge it before every workout, even if it costs $500 – consider me sold. So, in essence even if you device cannot track GPS data, it should still perform ABC functionality based on the battery that is solar charged. I don’t see why the solar charging can’t be efficient enough to also include the activity tracking functionality, but maybe it isn’t yet.

  • Now on to what I don’t need:

I definitely don’t need a device – no matter how fancy, that needs to be charged once a day or once in two days. I find it hard enough to charge my phone once or twice a day. It would be a tremendous pain to keep including devices that run out of charge. Yes, I’m talking about a smart watch. Also, if it needs to sync to my phone and my phone runs out of charge it is redundant anyway. 

I am also wondering if I need the triathlon watch at all. Sure, if I did a lot of swimming- which I don’t – I might. But if I am going to carry my phone, which I do for running and cycling anyway, I’m not sure I need a GPS device inside a watch to do that – considering it drains battery pretty quickly. Plus, I’ll use my phone to listen to music as well. I use a BT headset which I pair with my phone, and it gives me voice feedback when I use apps like Endomondo on it. Now, there are specialized headphones which can play music without the need for a phone (Sony has some offerings – but I’d get bored of listening to the same music over and over again.) There are also other bluetooth headsets that come with a FM radio – which might actually be pretty useful in case you’re not carrying your phone. This is one scenario where you might need a GPS chip in your watch – and can leave your phone at home. Or if you feel you are not used to running professional events with a phone, then you might need GPS in your watch.

I also don’t think I have any use for the smart watch functions – looking at texts on the watch, answer phone calls with the watch, change music tracks on the watch (that might actually be useful on the runs, but I can do it on my headset as well.) Did I mention I don’t want to charge it every day. However, displaying workout related metrics on screen is always nice to get instant feedback while running or cycling.

Now, since no single device exists that can do all I want it to do – not today at least. (maybe not in the near future either), I think from the above, since I already own the Protrek – which I think will soon be going away as a useful device, I think the only other device that makes sense is an activity tracker. Fitbit’s new ones looks like a good one. I’d be interested in both the Charge HR and the Surge – especially if the Surge’s battery can last the same as the Charge HR. (5 days is the claim)

As a footnote, the recently released Microsoft Band is supposed to have a host of sensors, but I don’t know what it does with it anyway. (apart from the HR monitor and the accelerometer that is.) What would you do with a UV sensor and a galvanic skin temperature sensor ? (The ABC watch has a temperature sensor anyway 😉 ) Some people say the UV sensor can tell you the UV index. Well, you should be able to tell that by the place you live in, and how sunny it looks. For instance, in Arizona, that sensor might be stating the obvious. Even otherwise, the most this can probably tell you if you should use sunscreen. In the larger scheme of things, maybe it can be used to study skin cancer in athletes or something like that based on the exposure levels and duration of exposure – now, that would definitely be useful.

There are other activity trackers out there – from Polar, Garmin, Basis, Jawbone and so many more. You should check out the DC Rainmaker website if you haven’t – especially if you are looking for meaningful comparisons and looking at buying something.

Update 11-17-2014

After some consideration and thought, I decided to buy myself a Jawbone Up. (Ver 1.0) I thought I could use the continuous step tracking for the times I don’t have my phone, and don’t want to necessarily track it as an activity. I am pretty meticulous about tracking any outdoor activity or any activity on the treadmill, but this was to get an idea as to how well I was doing otherwise. The band itself is pretty un-obtrusive, and I like the sleep tracking function it has. I also like the idle alert. However, I need all of my data to be exportable, and to be viewed on a computer, and not just on a phone. I love Endomondo for this. I hope Jawbone will come up with a web interface sometime soon. I don’t mind waiting for that. But if they don’t I have no qualms about jumping ship to someone else that does.

As an interesting afterthought, I wonder if having a smartphone in your pocket while cycling gives you pretty decent cadence data compared to wearing something on your wrist. I feel it does, when your leg moves up and down, I think the accelerometer can register it, and count it as a step.

Also, I read about the fact that using it on your dominant vs non-dominant hand is supposed to make a difference. I currently thus use it on my non-dominant hand.

Another big consideration for me is that if a GPS tracker claims to do sport based tracking, it has to handle at least running and cycling, even if not swimming. I almost bought the nike+ watch a few months back, but then read that it doesn’t support a bicycling mode. Bummer! I like the foot pod though – but I guess the wrist based trackers myst be just as accurate if not more.

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