Archive for July, 2019

Smartwatch/Fitness Band Hunting

Monday, July 15th, 2019

I have been on the market for a new fitness band/smartwatch since my Microsoft band was discontinued and it finally broke (bracelet tore off). I have had both the Microsoft Band and the Microsoft Band 2 as well as a Wear OS device in between. I really loved the MS Band (original version) since it is very durable and it does all I needed. Battery life was also great, averaging more than 2 days. However, the band wasn’t that durable and only lasted for a little more than a year. I have exchanged it in for a brand new pair and that was why it lasted me longer than it should. I got the Microsoft Band 2 shortly after it was released but that lasted me less than a year (bracelet broke). The main problem with it is that the bands weren’t replaceable.

Like I mentioned earlier, I also owned a Wear OS device which was fun to play with but did nothing else. I didn’t find it useful enough as a smartwatch or a fitness wearable. Wear OS just isn’t that good to begin with… I have always thought of Google as a masterful software company but this is one product where they clearly dropped the ball. The UI is horrible, the apps are useless and the built-in mechanism for fitness such as steps, calories and such are just very, very basic. It doesn’t even have a built-in sleep tracker. The accompanying app isn’t up to par with competitors such as Fitbit, Garmin, or even Samsung Health. Needless to say, I was very disappointed and sold that device in just a few months of owning it.

So with that long introduction done, I will now list the watches/fitness bands that I considered.. I have always wanted a Fitbit and the only ones that I really liked in their line of products are the Versa and the Ionic. If I had truly just wanted a fitness band, I think this is a no-brainer, I would have gotten a Fitbit Charge HR. I have also heard great things about Garmin, and being a runner, I looked into the Fenix line, specifically the Fenix 5. I didn’t really like the Samsung brand (totally different story) so I only reluctantly looked into their line of smartwatches, which at the time was the Galaxy Watch. Upon looking deeper into the smartwatch category, I also found a Wear OS smartwatch, the Ticwatch Pro.  Initially, I was leaning towards either a Versa or an Ionic, so I was watching a lot of video reviews on these 2 products. I then almost settled on the Fitbit Ionic but wanted to see what its competition was… so I looked into Garmin Fenix 5. I learned that the Garmin app isn’t as good as Fitbit’s and while the Garmin does look very attractive, it costs considerably more than any of the other watches I was looking at. I then stumbled upon the Ticwatch and quick brushed that aside because of Wear OS’s lack of native sleep tracking. I’m also wary of chinese manufacturers as there may be backdoors to these products and I knew that the risk of being spied on or my info being harvested for the chinese government was pretty high. So that left only one brand that I despised… Samsung. I reluctantly looked at reviews and videos of the Galaxy watch and was quickly intrigued… First of all, they were attractive (as all Samsung products are) but then I looked at the features and found out how unique their line of smartwatches really are… they use the rotating bezel as a navigation tool which is utter genius! And since they rely on their own OS, the experience is very fluid and intuitive. I decided to buy one from Costco to test it out, since I thought the 46mm might be too big on my wrist, I purchased the 42mm version. I quickly loved how well it worked and found out about additional apps that I may be able to make use of… mainly, Samsung Pay.  Since they run their own OS, the list of apps is not that extensive… but then again, I’m really not looking for apps, I only needed the basic fitness tracking (steps, runs, cycling, heart rate, sleep) and smart notifications (text, calls, instant message notifications, alarms, calendar, reminders, etc.).

The Samsung Galaxy watch delivered on everything that I needed it to do and it packaged all of this in a very sleek and intuitive interface that is a joy to use. I have despised Samsung as a brand/company (I still do!) but noted that the team working on the TizenOS and the smartwatch are probably the exception as I’m a believer in exceptions. As I watched more and more reviews and videos, I quickly learned that there was a predecessor to the Galaxy Watch that works quite as well as the Galaxy watch with only a few differences. The Gear S3 frontier look almost similar to the Galaxy Watch and it is almost $100 less. The only difference that I can see is that you can swim with the Galaxy Watch but you can only shower with the Gear S3, I can totally live with this as I’m not a swimmer anyway… apart from this, the Galaxy watch also tracks REM sleep where the Gear S3 does not. I can live with this as well as I don’t think this is a useful metric for me. As long as I know how much light to deep sleep ratio I have each night, I’m good. The only other differences are better battery life (+1/2 days on the Galaxy watch) and Samsung Pay, which is NFC only in the Galaxy watch… the Gear S3 uses both NFC and MTS. Weighing all these, since I was leaning towards a 46mm watch anyway (I was about to trade in my 42mm for a 46mm), I decided to try out the Gear S3 Frontier which was coincidentally on sale at Best Buy ($280 CAD).

After a week of use, I’m convinced that this is the best watch for me. It’s very competitively priced for the amount of hardware/software you are getting. The best value in my opinion, maybe only the Ionic ($240 CAD) matches it in value.  I have set up Samsung Pay and while it’s a hit/miss… I have used it enough times that I will know which terminals it will work on. There was an instance when phone call notifications weren’t coming through and that was a bit worrisome but after a reset, it’s been back to normal but will keep an eye on that. One surprise feature is that it can control my Spotify app (on my phone) acting as a remote which is useful when I’m driving as I drive an older car which doesn’t have bluetooth connection to my stereo, I connect it to the AUX jack. Another surprise is that making/answering phone calls on the watch is a pleasant experience… I can hear the caller very clearly and the other party swears that my voice is so crystal clear, it’s almost studio quality. They must have some background noise-cancelling stuff going on there. Needless to say, I’m very happy with my purchase.