(Daniel Bean/Yahoo Tech)
Some inside baseball: Most of the tech experts who have reviewed Google’s new smartwatches were either shipped loaner units to try or just handed devices at the Google I/O developers conference, where Android Wear was officially launched in June. But me? I pulled my wallet out and forked over my own green for a brand-new LG G smartwatch.
My friends and colleagues don’t understand. Most of them, I think, believe too much of what they read, in particular all the tech experts dishing out their usual “no reason to jump on this gadget bandwagon at launch” spiel.
And it’s not like I’m a rabid “early adopter.” I don’t spend every penny Yahoo pays me on each new gadget that hits the shelf. I’ve been around. I’ve seen (and avoided) enough weird trends and overpriced, one-off gizmo duds. There’s no Google Glass on my face. Not now and maybe not ever.
So why the watch? I have my reasons.
A new gadget platform doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and nobody wants to buy into a system that looks like it will flop. For the new Google smartwatches, support is built in. At launch, most Android app notifications already show up on the Wear watches. And a fair number of companies, like Runtastic, MediSafe, and Delta, have already begun developing specialty smartwatch functions into their own apps.
ESPN’s SportsCenter notifications appear on my wrist now. (Daniel Bean/Yahoo Tech)
And with Android Wear, I like that Google is taking a firm-grip approach. The platform is not so open that it will fragment, like Android phones have, into dozens of gadgets that all work somewhat differently. In fact, every Android Wear smartwatch will act like a veritable Nexus smartwatch, meaning that the software will be pure Google on every Wear watch, despite the hardware maker it’s coming from.
That last part also means that the watch I just bought, much like a Nexus smartphone or tablet, will get software updates straight from Google. So unlike Android smartphones, there will be no need to relearn a proprietary version of Google software each time you buy a device from a different hardware vendor. You can basically grab any Wear watch and know exactly how its software will work.
Price and focus
The best part of the Android Wear product is the Google ecosystem, and that’s essentially free, once you’re in the door. I opted to get onboard with the LG watch, which is the first fully Google-backed smartwatch. It cost me $229.
The other option was Samsung’s $199 Gear Live, a Wear version of its Tizen-based Galaxy Gear 2 Neo. It’s a bit less money than the LG, but I wanted a pure Google watch; the Samsung still feels a bit like a reworked version of its former product.
The non-Apple approach
Google’s gadget price points are typically reasonable enough to hook me into new, somewhat experimental devices, like a Chromebook, a Chromecast, a Nexus 7, and other gizmos. That’s the opposite of how Apple operates. I expect the Apple watch to be similarly dear. That makes buying in early a higher risk. Apple’s stuff is too expensive to experiment with.
The iWatch could look something like this, which might be expensive. (Mindspi Vision)
With new gadget types, I am OK to dip my toe in with a device in the few-hundred-dollar range. Throwing down for $499 (the 2007 price of the iPhone) doesn’t work for me. Don’t get me wrong, I love my expensive MacBook, but that product line is well established. The smartwatch isn’t there yet.
Even early products are worth a shot
I do not expect that next season’s smartwatches will pack doubly fast processors or uber-improved screens. So I didn’t have a problem snagging the mostly basic LG G Watch when it launched. I’m betting that some Wear watches will soon surface with nicer, sleeker aesthetics (the Moto 360, for one), but those luxuries will no doubt come with a higher price tag.
We saw what Samsung tried to do with the original spec-packed Galaxy Gear (it even had a camera), and because of that misfire, the Android Wear devices we have seen so far are scaled back both hardware-wise and feature-wise. My guess is that things will stay this way for a while. The smartwatch, at least for now, will be an understated, streamlined augmentation for a smartphone. It doesn’t need its own camera; it doesn’t need a speakerphone; it doesn’t need gobs of onboard storage space.
A cool toy that actually works
In the first days with my LG G Watch, I’ve already experienced a few “that was cool” moments — reading texts on my watch while washing the dishes, easily toggling through music while on the treadmill, smiling ear to ear when I received my first Yo on it. And, for me, that initial “cool” part is why I grab gadgets early.
Yo. (Daniel Bean/Yahoo Tech)
And beyond the “cool toy” part, I do see a greater potential. The place where I part from my skeptical colleagues is that, instead of waiting for some arbitrary time in the future when the smartwatch idea is “ready,” I think it’s ready enough now.
Prices for these gadgets are already fairly cheap and unlikely to drop much more. The ecosystem is already well on its way. And take it from me: It’s a cool toy.
I don’t think I’m wrong for placing my (small amount of) money on the bet that, if any company can accomplish great things in the smartwatch realm, it will be either Google or Apple, with Google traditionally being the first to get it mostly right at a reasonable price.
That’s one of the reasons I’m in the Google camp when it comes to gadgets. And the Wear line shows me I was right to choose this option.
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