Top 10 Best Android Smartwatches Buyers Guide: April 2015 Edition

17 Apr 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Alcatel OneTouch SmartWatch looks smart for the price.

The Apple Watch may be upon us, but us Android users know better, we know that there are more affordable options out there, and with Pebble and Android Wear offering us much, much better value and more features it’s a very good time to be an Android user.Cons: Limited apps selection; Doesn’t alert you to incoming iPhone calls ; Inconsistent heart-rate monitor; No voice control; Screen doesn’t light up or automatically pull up preview when notification arrives Verdict : The Alcatel Onetouch Watch is an affordable color smartwatch and fitness tracker in one that works with iPhone and Android, but it’s held back by limited features. But at only $150, it’s one of the cheapest smartwatches you can buy—and that might seal the deal if you’re merely smartwatch-curious instead of smartwatch-confirmed. With LG’s Watch Urbane and the Huawei Watch on their way, the Android Wear landscape is getting better and the Pebble Time is soon to hit shelves as well.

Consider it Baby’s First Smartwatch, a disposable purchase that can that give you a taste of what a $350 Apple Watch or $300 Android Wear watch is like to use. The Pebble has come a long way since its inception, and it’s now available for just $99.99 along with some much improved software with nifty fitness tracking from Misfit and more. I’m not sure if it makes a whole lot of sense to launch a new smartwatch at the moment, given the understandable excitement over Apple’s Watch launch. Yet that’s exactly what Alcatel is doing with their new OneTouch Watch, which is available for preorder now, for $149, and starts shipping later this month. The Alcatel Watch—which pairs with any iPhone from 4S to 6 Plus, and any Android phone running 4.3 and later—can put you in the smartwatch game without a major investment.

Alcatel’s metal case is unremarkable but inoffensive, and from 10 feet away, its circular design doesn’t read “nerd” as loudly as the square-shaped Apple Watch. Neither Apple nor Google’s partners have had much success with it so far though, which makes things that much more interesting for the wearables industry.

Instead, it asks a different compromise: are you willing to give up the best in either category for something that’s cheaper than most smartwatches and better looking than most fitness trackers? The problem with the Gear 2 is that it only works with Samsung devices and the Tizen platform isn’t exactly populated with oodles of apps and watch faces. Something about them just feels futuristic, whether it’s how cleverly the classic timepiece form factor has been adapted or how great analog watch faces look on them.

As an owner of the $100 Pebble (the original Kickstarter Edition) I’ve grown accustomed to the square, plastic, and – dare I say it – cheap look of my smartwatch. Editors’ Note: After this review was published, we discovered issues with the Alcatel Watch’s notifications system, and have revised this review and rating accordingly. On the other hand, Motorola’s Moto 360 has great momentum going for it in the form of design, but the LG G Watch R is the more well-rounded smartwatch from the Android side of the industry. The ZenWatch’s enclosure, a two-toned sandwiching of materials – a metal band of “rose gold” (Asus’s term) ensconced by stainless steel on either side – inoffensively pairs with dress both casual and bespoke.

Most notable about the smartwatch’s body, though, is its sturdiness – it feels vastly more durable than the similarly metallic Samsung’s Gear Live, my closest point of reference. It’s round, much like a traditional watch, isn’t as thick as most Android Wear devices, and has a design that can work with a wide variety of outfits or personal styles.

I dig smartwatch simplicity, but Alcatel’s approach feels underbaked, especially because trivial, lightweight utilities like a brightness selector and airplane mode switch are given just as much U.I. weight as built-in weather and activity-tracking apps. This amazing Smartwatch can detect different levels of pressure sensitivity, and the technology behind it called ‘Forced push,’ and can be used distinguish between hard and soft touches. Having said that, some people like the fact that this is so simple and unassuming, plus you can easily attach whichever 22mm watch band you like to make the most of the overall design. It’s not a full circle — there’s a flat area at the bottom just like on the Moto 360 — and you can certainly see pixels, but it’s bright and vibrant with great viewing angles. That’s mostly because of Alcatel’s decision to incorporate the USB-charging tip into the end of the strap, where it lies concealed under a rubberized plastic tab.

Facebook notifications merely report the highest-level activities (e.g., a friend has commented on your status), and email notifications only render subject lines once you have a few stacked up. This design is very convenient, as it prevents you from having to carry around a charger or worrying about losing a proprietary charging plate or dock. With more memory than the original Pebble and a choice of either leather or metal watch straps in the box, this is a good product for those in need of something a little smarter, and it also has the same sort of fitness tracking elements from Misfit, too. Sony’s SmartWatch 3 got off to something of a rough start, with people questioning those rubber bands and why Sony needed to break away from the pack.

That means plugging your watch into a computer, which you hopefully don’t keep near your bed (right?), or plugging it into a spare USB wall charger since the OneTouch watch doesn’t ship with one. Colored a neutral tan, its stiffness and exposed stitching may not quite evoke the luxury brands Asus is clearly attempting to emulate, but it comes closer than others. The sapphire glass should help you prevent scratches in most situations and the stainless steel should not only stand out, it should also help your device to last longer.

You can set goals for all these activities, and the data seems sufficiently accurate for a $150 watch that’s not being marketed as a health and wellness platform. The steel version however, is a great smartwatch to wear with a suit, or whenever you want, it adds a new level of class to an otherwise fairly strange design. That said, the watch charges fully in an hour and only needs to be plugged in every couple of days under normal use. (Take that, Apple.) My only other complaint with the strap is the rubber retaining loop.

It’s slightly tricky to accurately hit the back button, which is defined as the bottom third of the screen, but it works consistently if you make sure to tap exactly on the 6. Again, Alcatel opted for a simple, bare-bones approach, and the sum-total vibe it exudes is, “Yeah, it can do activity tracking too,” instead of, “We’ll show you every nook and cranny of your quantified self.” Other built-in apps include weather (which shares a simple five-day forecast); a heart rate monitor (good for only moment-in-time spot checks); a stopwatch (meh); and remote controls for your smartphone’s music player and camera shutter (meh and meh). I didn’t find it bothersome enough to swap out – a process made easy by the ZenWatch’s 22mm quick release bars – but it was a definite annoyance, especially when typing. You can read our review here, and while it’s certainly expensive, if you have the money and are into chunky watches then this is worth taking a look at.

The 14 apps available are Weather, Heart Rate, Fitness, RunMode, Stopwatch, Compass, Music Control, Remote Camera, Watch Face, Alarm, Find Phone, Airplane Mode, Display Brightness and Color. Even if you’ve never used an Android Wear device before, it’ll probably come as no surprise that interactions primarily take place on the touchscreen.

But the Watch’s display does not light up automatically when notifications come in, nor does the notification drawer pop up by itself, requiring me to touch the watch with my other hand to see what just made it buzz. The ZenWatch is about average on that front – its 1.63-inch, 320×320 resolution display is par for the course, and just about matches the Gear Live and Sony SmartWatch 3. I really liked getting my phone’s notifications on my wrist; it was very handy to just glance at what that buzz was about instead of having to pull out my phone. Powering the screen is hardware adherent to the unspoken formula established by Android Wear’s debut devices, the G Watch and Gear Live: a 1.2Ghz Snapdragon 400 processor with three of four cores disabled, 512MB of RAM, and 4GB of storage. Further, the Watch only supports notifications from select apps (calls, messages, email, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook Messenger, Google+, Google Hangouts, and Gmail), so there was no way to configure it to see alerts from my email app of choice (Outlook) or get alerts from Google Now.

Alcatel tells me that it will add support for more app notifications in the future, but it will be relying on feedback from users for what apps to add. Indoors, Android Wear’s many colorful backdrops really pop, but seeing them in direct sunlight is pretty much impossible on the default brightness (P-OLED it is certainly not). Whenever I wandered out of Bluetooth range from my phone — for instance, when I went to the bathroom — my watch would buzz and remind me not to leave the handset behind. They just disappear on their own after a while, and if there’s a way to manually control dismissal, it’s not shared in the Android and iOS app help menus. Alcatel’s “turn wrist to wake” motion performed inconsistently, forcing me to wake the display with a press of the watch’s physical power key.

With its limited support for notifications and lack of these extra features, it’s better to think of this as a fitness device with some smartwatch features rather than a smartwatch with fitness features. It’s just a shame Asus couldn’t cram an ambient brightness sensor in the ZenWatch, but the heart rate monitor’s odd placement presumably made that impossible.

Even after an active work day and a half hour of installing and uninstalling apps, the indicator read close to 50% when I plugged it in to charge the first night. I much prefer Android Wear’s robust notification engine, and while I’m concerned Apple’s approach will be too busy and complex, I’m excited to try out all its surprise-and-delight Digital Touch features. You’ll have the option of dictating the apps from which you want to receive notifications, and when you want some downtime, you can activate Airplane Mode. And who knows, if the Alcatel Watch drops below $100, it might be just too cheap to pass up—assuming aesthetics and deep functionality just aren’t your thing.

Once the display is brought to life via the power key or movement detection, you use a series of taps and swipes to navigate through the watch’s on-board options. You tap once in the middle of the face to select an app or confirm an action, while a tap on the bottom of the face immediately below the display area but above the “6” numeral acts as the “back” function. I do like that the notifications stay on the watch until you get rid of them on your phone, unlike on Android Wear, where notifications disappear after you see them. Unfortunately, the screen doesn’t automatically come on when alerts come in, unless it’s a calendar event reminder, so you’ll have to lift your wrist or press the button on the side to turn the screen on.

Google limits the degree to which vendors can customize Android Wear, but Asus has worked around that restriction by creating a small catalog of apps for the ZenWatch. The ZenWatch Manager, the device’s companion Android app, recommends no fewer than three Asus-made, ZenWatch-exclusive apps: ZenWatch Wellness, ZenWatch Camera, and ZenWatch Music.

A note on the OneTouch Watch’s water resistance: Rated as IP67, the watch can certainly withstand casual dunking like having a shower, but oddly, when the accelerometer detects sufficient movement, it activates the watch face. It can perform simple tasks like customizing the colors of pre-installed watch faces, reporting battery life, find a lost watch, and alert you when the connected phone is out of range.

That measurement seems accurate, as that day, I walked from Times Square to SoHo, then up to the Flatiron District, before trudging back to Chinatown for dinner. It’ll record and graph your steps, calories, and exercise intensity over time, but also attempt to infer your “relaxation” level from simple vitals like heart rate. I beat all of my set goals that day, but the Onetouch never congratulated me, nor did it alert me when I was falling short of my goals or encourage me to meet them. The Pebble’s biggest draw for me was the ability to keep my phone in my pocket and be able to see who’s calling (or that I’m getting a call at all!) or texting or emailing.

I wish it synced with Google Fit – it’d be nice to have my fitness data viewable on a single dashboard rather than spread out across multiple services – but that’s my only real complaint. I’d much prefer to have a choice over how these notifications work so that I can tell the difference between a calendar reminder and an incoming call.

The cynic in me thinks the offerings were an ill-conceived attempt to rope ZenWatch users into the Asus ecosystem, but perhaps future updates will make the apps more compelling. This distance is remarkably short — as little as 12 feet, by my reckoning, a much shorter leash than the one that Pebble uses (often the full 32 feet Bluetooth is capable of). If there’s one word I’d use to describe the ZenWatch, it’d be “imperfect.” The design is beautiful, but imperfect, because the band isn’t as comfortable as it should be. While you swipe up from the clock face to see notifications on both platforms, the Onetouch simply collates all of your messages in reverse chronological order, grouped by app.

There is no progress bar or timer to show you where you are in the song’s timeline and no information about the album — just track title and artist. Using five screens (Steps, Calories, Distance, Duration, and Sleep) plus a dedicated heart rate area, you can quickly see how you’re doing against your goals. Alcatel’s Onetouch Watch delivers notifications, tracks your activity, controls music playback and reminds you not to lose your phone — all for just $150.

Its bright touchscreen display is easy to read in all conditions, but activating it can be troublesome and could frustrate people who check their watch frequently to tell the time. With too few customizations for how notifications work and how watch faces are displayed, potential buyers may want to wait until revisions to the code make these more usable and reliable. Finally, if you’re hoping to see regular updates to the watch’s feature set, you might be disappointed because of the lack of a third-party app development ecosystem.

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