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Impressions of Android Wear in everyday life

All readers of this blog know I’m a gadgeteer, by now. I have been buying technogizmos at first chance if I had the money for it, and I was thus an early adopter of ebooks back in the days. I have, though, ignored wearables for various reasons.

Well, it’s not strictly true — I did try Google Glass, in the past year. Twice, to be precise. Once the “standard” version, and once a version with prescription lenses – not my lenses though, so take it with a grain of salt – and neither time it excited me. In particular the former wouldn’t be an option due to my need for prescription glasses, and the latter is a terrible option because I have an impression that the display is obstructing too much of the field of vision in that configuration.

Yes, I know I could wear contact lenses, but I’m scared of them so I’m not keeping them in mind. I’m also saving myself the pain in the eye for when smart contact lenses will tell me my blood glucose levels without having to prick myself every day.

Then smartwatches became all the rage and a friend of mine actually asked me whether I was going to buy one, since I seemed to be fond of accessories… well, the truth is that I’m not really that fond of them. It just gives the impression because I always have a bag on me and I like hats (yup even fedoras, not trilbies, feel free to assassinate my character for that if you want.)

By the way, the story of how I started using satchels is fun: when I first visited London, I went with some friends of mine, and one of the things that we intended on doing was going to the so-called Gathering Hall that Capcom set up for players of Monster Hunter Freedom Unite. My option to bring around the PSP were pants’ pockets or a cumbersome backpack — one of my friends just bought a new bag at a Camden Town stall which instead fit the PSP perfectly, and he had space to make the odd buy and not worry where to stash it. I ended up buying the same model in a different colour.

Then Christmas came and I got a G Watch as a gift. I originally wanted to just redirect it to my sister — but since she’s an iPhone user that was not an option, and I ended up trying it out myself. I have to say that it’s an interesting gadget, which I wouldn’t have bought by myself but I’m actually enjoying.

The first thing you notice when starting to use it is that its main benefit is stopping you from turning on your phone display — because you almost always do it for two reasons: check the time and check your notifications, both things you can do by flicking your wrist. I wonder if this can be count as security, as I’ve been “asked the time” plenty of times around Dublin by now and I would like to avoid a repeat.

Of course during the day most of the phone’s notifications are work-related: email asking me to do something, reminders about meetings, alerts when I’m oncall, … and in that the watch is pretty useful, as you can silence the phone and rather have the watch “buzz” you by vibrating — a perfect option for the office where you don’t want to disturb everybody around you, as well as the street where the noise would make it difficult to hear the notification sounds — even more when you stashed the phone in your bag as I usually do.

But the part that surprised me the most as usefulness is using it at home — even though things got a bit trickier there as I can’t get a full coverage of the (small) apartment I rent. On the other hand, if I leave the phone on my coffee table from which I’m typing right now, I can get full coverage to the kitchen, which is what makes it so useful at home for me: I can set the timer when cooking, and I have not burnt anything since I got the watch — yes I’m terrible that way.

Before I would have to either use Google Search to set the alarm on one of the computers, or use the phone to set it — the former tends to be easily forgotten and it’s annoying to stop when focusing on a different tab/window/computer, the latter require me to unlock to set up the timer, and while Google Now on any screen should be working, it does not seem to stick for me. The watch can be enabled by a simple flick of the wrist, and respond to voice commands mostly correctly (I still make the mistake of saying «set timer to 3 minutes» which gets interpreted as «set timer 23 minutes»), and is easy to stop (just palm it off).

I also started using my phone to play Google Play Music on the Chromecast so I can control the playback from the phone itself — which is handy when I get a call or a delivery at the door, or whatever else. It does feel like living in the future if I can control whatever is playing over my audio system from a different room.

One thing that I needed to do, though, was replace the original plastic strap. The reason is very much personal but I think it might be a useful suggestion to others to know that it is a very simple procedure — in my case i just jumped into a jewelry and asked for a leather strap, half an hour later they had my watch almost ready to go, they just needed to get my measure to open the right holes in it. Unlike the G Watch R – which honestly looks much better both on pictures and in real life, in my opinion much better than the Moto 360 too, as the latter appears too round to me – the original G Watch has a standard 22mm strap connector, which makes it trivial to replace for a watch repair shop.

With the new strap, the watch is almost weightless to me, partly because the leather is lighter than the plastic, partly because it does not stick to my hair and pull me every which way. Originally I wanted a metal strap, honestly, because that’s the kind of watches I used to wear — but the metal interferes with Bluetooth reception and that’s poor already as is on my phone. It also proves a challenge for charging as most metal straps are closed loops and the cradle needs to fit in the middle of it.

Speaking of reception, I have been cursing hard about the bad reception even at my apartment — this somehow stopped the other day, and only two things happened when it improved: I changed the strap and I kicked the Pear app — mostly because it was driving me crazy as it kept buzzing me that the phone was away and back while just staying in my pocket. Since I don’t think, although I can’t exclude, that the original strap was cause for the bad reception, I decided that I’m blaming the Pear app and not have it on my phone any more. With better connectivity, better battery life came, and the watch was able to reach one and a half full days which is pretty good for it.

I’m not sure if wearables are a good choice for the future — plenty of things in the past thought they were here to stay. This is by far not the first try to make a smart watch of course, I remember those that would sync with a PC by using video interference. We’ll see what it comes down to. For the moment I’m happy for the gift I received — but I’m not sure if I would buy it myself if I had to.

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