I've had a love affair with high-tech watches for as long as I can remember. I still recall with fondness my beloved Casio Marlin W-300, which I cherished as a tot. I've also proudly worn some truly laughable devices out in public, much to my friends' annoyance and eventual entertainment. Remember the Pimp series from Tokyo Flash? On second thought, perhaps it's better that you don't.
That's why I was beside myself with shock when I decided to put down the robust Samsung Galaxy Gear smartwatch in favor of Fitbit's new Force fitness tracker. I know it's no true smartwatch, but the Force efficiently doubles as both powerful health device and futuristic timepiece.
My freaky wrist gear fetish
When Samsung officially gave birth to the Galaxy Gear I practically vibrated with excitement and anticipation. And when the company was kind enough to drop one of its latest gizmos into my eager hands, along with the excellent Note 3, I was overjoyed. I should have known better, though. My history with the nascent smartwatch product category (wrist-borne devices that tell time and talk to smartphones) has been a rocky one.
Both the Motorola Motoactv and Sony Smartwatch had lots of potential but didn't quite deliver, whether in terms of design, functionality, or runtime. That said, they came a heck of a lot closer to being devices I'd actually use regularly than other clunkers I've seen. I mean the Metawatch and I'm Watch are particularly flaming trainwrecks (sorry guys, nothing personal) I wouldn't inflict on my despised enemies.
Power and style without purpose
The Galaxy Gear, however, is another story entirely, which makes it all the more tragic a tale to tell. It's practically a microcomputer attached to your arm. Running a modified version of Android driven by an 800MHz processor and 512MB of RAM, it has the chops to run full Android apps. The Gear is a well-crafted hunk of mobile hardware, too, with a bright OLED screen and metal construction.
Sadly, despite its power, the Gear fails utterly at what a general-purpose smartwatch is supposed to do. That primary task being to screen all your digital communication so you touch your phone less. With no way to see at a glance the contents of e-mail and social-media alerts, arguably the bulk of what most people grab their handsets for in the first place, the Gear essentially becomes a geeky and expensive $300 conversation piece.
The watch's 24-hour battery life, while longer than say the Sony Smartwatch's running time of 6 to 8 hours, still means you'll need to charge it every day or so. Lastly, the fact that the Gear works with just one phone, the Note 3, is the final straw. Frankly I find the whole Gear situation a sad state of affairs, because I really wanted to like this device and I still believe it has tons of potential.
A force I can't resist
Now enter the Fitbit Force, which for $129.95 is sleek, small, light, and functional as an advanced pedometer and fitness tracker. It also can log your sleep, sync via Bluetooth with iPhones and select Samsung handsets, and connect users to the vast analytical tools Fitbit has built online.
Next throw in its bright OLED screen, which displays the time and allows the Force to function as a watch, and you begin to see its strong appeal. The Force is water-resistant, too, so jumping into the shower with it or wearing the gizmo in a tropical downpour won't give you extra stress. I also prefer committing to something that can run for 7 to 10 days as opposed to the Gear's short 24-hour battery life. The Force's promised caller notifications (on iOS only) are icing on the cake. Let's hope these capabilities will extend to Android phones once KitKat comes calling.
Of course this doesn't mean that I won't be tempted to grab the Galaxy Gear and strap it on in the future. Far from it. If Samsung, or more likely the clever hacking community, bestows on the Gear the gift of universal Android support (regardless of phone maker) and support for real notifications (from your app of choice), well, count me back in.