The smartwatch industry is one that has been highly anticipated and has had a significant buildup so far, especially since the monumental success of the Pebble and it's record holding Kickstarter campaign. As consumers, we love our gadgets – and we love them to be smart. As an almost eerie premonition (or possibly inspiration) from fictional characters like Dick Tracy, Knight Rider, and the Jetsons, the smartwatch was a perfect next step in the realm of smart devices.
Although we've come leaps and bounds in terms of these devices, smart watches on the whole leave much to be desired, with a plethora of problems that are all too common across the entire smartwatch category. From untrustworthy batteries, to troublesome speakers and unresponsive voice controls (or no voice controls), to more obvious problems like screen notification issues and a serious lack of real estate – smartwatches share a number of problems in common, which lends to the notion that the space as a whole has some improvements to make across the board.
For the Fixya Smartwatch Report, we have culled data from over 6,000 Fixya users and their troubleshooting requests to find the most common problems with five of the most popular smartwatches in America: The Martian Passport, I'm Watch Smartwatch, Samsung Galaxy Gear Smartwatch, Sony SW2 Smartwatch, and Pebble.
Below, we dive into the most popular issues with these five smartwatch lines, but here were the top issues Fixya users experienced across smartwatch devices as a whole:
In general, smartwatches now are largely seen as an extension of your smartphone, acting as a notification system to check your phone – rather than being a new way for you to genuinely interact with the digital world. Not to mention, far too often even these notifications are lacking.
That being said, it's still a very exciting time in the smart device world, so let's dive into some of the common issues with each device.
Disclaimer: This is not a scientific report, but rather meant to show general trends across each smartwatch of the most common problems experienced by Fixya users.
As one of the more compelling examples of how crowd-funding can work effectively, Martian received their early funding from popular crowd-funding website Kickstarter in the summer of 2012, raising enough funds to eventually ship their first completed smartwatch to consumers and backers six months later in February 2013. The success of the campaign was based upon the promise of wireless smartphone compatibility -- seamlessly bringing together two forms of technology that consumers have been gravitating towards in heavy numbers over the past five years: wearable tech and the omnipresent smartphone.
By and large, the Martian has received praise for its execution on both branding and product. In 2013 the company was given CNET's "Best of CES Finalist" award, and was also selected for a CES 2013 Editor's Choice Award by Popular Mechanics. Although industry-level awards are not the end-all be-all of a product's offering, higher end awards like "Best of CES Finalist" offer a reliable starting point for consumers looking for a company that is able to deliver a strong product and an enjoyable UI.
But as with any gadget on the market, and especially in a space as new as smartwatches, the Martian still had its fair share of problems. Let's dive into the top issues Fixya users experienced below.
Speaker - Lauded as one of the most appealing features of the Martian Passport, the speaker system (which syncs to your cell phone via in-house Bluetooth connectivity) had some quality issues associated with it for a certain segment of Fixya users. Many Fixya users reported that the device doesn't have the highest in-call sound quality, causing difficulty hearing while on calls due to static. It should be noted that users should attempt to use the Martian Smartwatch speaker system in a quiet place and not in a crowded room - just like any speaker system, outside noise has the potential to effect a user's experience with the device.
Screen Notifications - Smartwatches require careful tradeoffs when going through the design phase. Since the device is by definition a blend of the aesthetic appeal of a wrist watch combined with the functionality of a smart device, finding a balance between the two core use cases of those differing (until now) product offerings is essential. Unfortunately for the Martian Passport, Fixya users found several issues with their screen notification systems when using the device.
Users expressed frustration with the size of the notification screen— an aesthetic choice made by Martian when designing the Passport. Emails on the device are essentially a small blurb that informs users that they have a message coming in, text messages are not particularly easy to read, and all other types of notifications are essentially a reminder to the user that they should check their phone to find out the details. Furthermore, users reported that some email notifications would sometimes not even be sent through their watch, with Fixya users going to their smartphone and finding that several emails were not even sent to the watch.
Waterproofing — Another common complaint Fixya users had with the Martian was the lack of waterproofing on the device. With so many types of watches now fully waterproof and able to be used underwater or even just be worn in the shower, the Martian Passport's "splash-proof" rating has caused concern for users who wish to keep their device in working order. It is not recommended you use your Passport in the shower and to make sure to keep it properly covered if you are walking in strong rainfall to avoid any issues with the waterproofing capabilities of the device. This could be a strong deterrent for some consumers, seeing as how a device that malfunctions and even breaks when exposed to rain could be a big problem.
I'm Watch Smartwatch
The I'm Watch Smartwatch has had a somewhat rocky start in its foray into the smartwatch market. With reviews running the gamut from positive to quite negative, the smartwatch has taken a backseat to smartwatches developed by bigger brands on the market. This in and of itself isn't a big issue, but as smartwatches become a bigger industry, even stiffer competition from larger companies will flood the market. All in all, the next iteration of the I'm Watch will need to improve on its product offerings or risk getting left behind.
At its core the I'm Watch provides a healthy offering of assets that can compete at face value with other smartwatches on the market. The device boasts a touchscreen, audio speaker for making phone calls, Bluetooth connectivity, and four GB of memory, all notable features that put it on par with other company's offerings. Furthermore, the I'm Watch has compatibility with a wide array of smartphone manufactures (iPhone, Android, and Blackberry compatibility are all here), making it useful for just about every device owner and standing out from smartwatches like the Sony SW2 and Samsung Galaxy Gear that essentially require you to own a smartphone made by that company.
However, as we mentioned above, the I'm Watch struggles at times with even these basic features. Those struggles can be found in greater detail below.
Bluetooth - Some Fixya users had difficulties setting up and using the I'm Watch Smartwatch due to the somewhat counter-intuitive usage of Bluetooth tethering compared to the common WiFi set up that the majority of smartwatches (and devices as a whole) have today. Tethering requires that user connects an external device (in this case, the smartwatch) to their cell phone and use that Internet service to connect to the Internet. Along with providing some potential monetary issues (some cell phone providers will charge for using tethering), the process is confusing and at times inoperable depending upon your device and cell phone Internet signal strength at the time. Other issues with the Bluetooth connectivity are also present with the device, including intermittent freezing during connection and the connection being randomly dropped when in the process of undergoing a system update, app, or any other number of functions that require a connection for that matter.
Battery Life - Fixya users reported some significant issues with the battery life of the I'm Watch Smartwatch. The battery of the device reportedly loses charge relatively quickly when in use and oftentimes won't make it through the day without requiring a recharge or dying completely. Furthermore, alerts received on the smartwatch appear to drain the battery life quicker than normal, which essentially defeats the purpose of owning the smartwatch at all. Since the smartwatch needs to stay connected in order to receive alerts from your phone, having a battery drain in this area poses a confusing and frustrating situation for users trying to get the most out of their device.
Speaker - Similar to the issues with the Martian Passport, the I'm Watch Smartwatch experiences some substantial issues with the speaker quality found on the watch during phone calls. But when compared to the sound quality of the Martian Passport, the I'm Watch Smartwatch appears to have more severe issues with the quality of the speaker—while the Passport had the user on the other end of the call complaining about quality, users reported that the I'm Watch Smartwatch has more complaints from both participants on the call struggling with the quality of the call. As we mentioned in other products, the speaker system of the smartwatches on the market today are definitely not ideal and will require some significant time to iron out in the future. However, it does appear that users feel the I'm Watch Smartwatch's speaker quality is one of the worst speakers found in this report -- as no matter the location the user is in, from a quiet room to a crowded subway, the issues with the speaker remain.
Samsung Galaxy Gear Smartwatch
The Galaxy Gear smartwatch is tech behemoth Samsung's take on the smartwatch. Featuring Bluetooth compatibility, audio speaker for making phone calls, touchscreen for text messages, and voice control that allows you to guide the smartwatch's actions, the Galaxy Gear is an admirable effort to get the smartwatch right and attempt to displace the cell phone in theory. In practice however, the device has some notable issues discussed below that hamper the user experience in some significant ways.
Much like Apple, Samsung has displayed a razor focus on keeping users within their ecosystem of products and services. This business strategy is a logical one, especially in a day and age when users jump at the next new thing at the drop of the hat unless they've become invested in a product line. Brand loyalty is an essential goal of any company, but the Galaxy Gear's inability to work with smartphones not made by Samsung hurt the device's ability to full penetrate the market.
The Galaxy Gear Fit, Samsung's new fitness band that dips its toes into the smartwatch market with traits of a smartwatch combined with the functionality of a fitness band, is another effort by Samsung to capture the wearable tech market.
It should also be noted that Samsung recently released the Galaxy Gear 2. This review is based off of the original Samsung Galaxy Gear smartwatch released in late 2013—whether or not the Gear 2 will be able to fix the below issues users had with the device remains to be seen.
Voice Control - Similar to other smartwatch devices, the voice control and speakerphone on the Samsung Galaxy Gear is a hit and miss affair, replete with issues that are to be expected at this stage of the smartwatch offering as a whole. Comparing the voice control and speakerphone issues with other products made by Samsung's core competitors makes it clear that this is a serious problem with the smartwatch market as a whole. These issues make it no less frustrating to the user however, and problems such as words being unrecognized by the voice control device, cause complications when trying to tap into the smartwatch's features. The voice control is akin to an early edition of Siri—something that works fairly well at times, but struggles with certain phrases.
However, it should be noted that the speaker system appears to be fairly good compared to other smartwatch devices, making conversations over the phone easier to successfully complete with the Samsung Galaxy Gear compared to other smartwatches with similar out of the box capabilities.
Screen Notifications - Echoing complaints with other similar devices, the Samsung Galaxy Gear has issues with screen notifications. Fixya users mentioned the size of the notification screen on their watch and how it hampers their ability to use the device to their liking. Although the text can be altered to be smaller (making reading texts and emails a little easier), the core issue of the smartwatch becoming simply a reminder to check your cell phone does significantly impact the utility of the device. Coupled with the voice control issues mentioned above when replying to incoming texts/emails and you have a situation where the device and market as a whole still require some improvement to find the balance between aesthetic appeal and functionality. Users also reported some issues with their social notifications—not receiving a notification for social updates that had been synced with the smartwatch appears to be a relatively common issue. More generally, this further underscores the point that smartwatches are struggling with the perception of being a notification system to check your phone to do anything substantial in your interactions with the digital world.
Music Listening - Although we would consider this a minor issue, users did express dissatisfaction with how listening to music was implemented on the device. Instead of being able to stream music from your phone, individual tracks had to be transferred to the device manually via Bluetooth connectivity with your phone before listening. After that transfer is made, the Samsung Galaxy Gear subsequently plays the songs locally. This decision was likely made to reduce the amount of data being pushed across a Bluetooth network that would likely be unable to handle such volume, causing stoppages in the song. It's hard to argue with that logic, but in future updates Samsung should look to improve the user experience with this aspect of their device and make transferring music an easier and less complicated process.
Sony SW2 Smartwatch
Launched in the fall of 2013, the SW2 is Sony's second crack at getting the smartwatch right. As we've hinted at throughout the duration of this report, the smartwatch market in general has a lot of products that contain similar features, and the SW2 is no exception. With a touchscreen, various customizable aspects of the watch that include apps, Bluetooth connectivity, and notifications from your phone when you have an email or message, the SW2 contains the core of product offerings that smartwatch owners have come to expect.
However, there are some key differences with the SW2 (both positive and negative depending on the user) from other smartphones. For starters, the device has NFC (Near Field Communication) connectivity, which means you can easily sync your smartwatch with a compatible smartphone without the hassle of using any cords. Furthermore, the smartwatch is able to send you an alert when you've gone out of range of your paired smartphone, a nice deterrent from accidentally misplacing your phone in a public place. One potential downside users is the lack of a speaker and voice control on the device—although this feature isn't uniform across all other smartphones, it still could be a potential downside for users looking to make the transition away from their phone when placing calls.
Let's take a look at the common issues with the SW2 below.
Battery Life — A fairly standard complaint amongst smartwatch owners across the board, the Sony SW2 Smartwatch experiences some problematic battery issues that plague users of the device. Since the device uses Bluetooth connectivity in a lot of it's applications and features, the constant connection taps into the battery of the device and causes it to lose juice far faster than the three days Sony claims the device remain powered. The same Bluetooth connection is used to push notifications from your phone to your smartwatch, and therefore, a phone that is constantly receiving notifications about emails, text messages, and social networking can drain quickly and cause users headaches when utilizing the device.
Compatibility - For those who are not using smartphones made by Sony, the Sony SW2 Smartwatch falls short. This means that Samsung, iPhone, Blackberry, Windows, and many other smartphone owners will be unable to fully utilize the SW2 Smartwatch to its fullest capabilities. Fixya users reported various issues in compatibility on the device when not using a Sony smartphone, including email being unable to be synced, being forced to download system updates to sync apps and features, having to download separate software to be able to use widgets, and disruptions in the setup (and, rarer, the actual application) of your smartwatch with your phone.
All in all, these issues make the Sony SW2 Smartwatch a good pick for users who own a Sony smartphone, but users of a different company's phone should be aware of the limitations the SW2 has when interacting with their device.
Screen Lag - Fixya users reported issues with the response time of the screen when using the Sony SW2 Smartwatch, as implementing actions on the screen often resulted in lag when switching between different apps and tools on the device. Furthermore, notifications pushed from your cell phone to your smartwatch (such as text messages and email updates) can also both be slow to process as well as difficult to read due to the lag inherent with the smartwatch. These issues make the SW2 a difficult proposition for users—since so much of a smartwatch's appeal is the convenience of having notifications on your wrist instead of digging around in your pockets for your phone, a laggy experience that causes more frustration that utility will understandably turn some users off on adopting the device into your everyday life.
Pebble has two smartwatches, the Steel and the original Pebble. Both devices have earned some lengthy praise in the media for the device's execution, winning awards such as Wired's "10 Best from CES 2014". Similar to the Martian Passport, Pebble got it's start on the crowdfunding website Kickstarter where it raised over $10 million dollars from interested consumers. This total still stands today as the most a single Kickstarter project has ever raised.
For all intents and purposes, both of these smartwatches have the same underlying software and functionality - the difference is in the hardware and construction of the smartwatch itself. The Pebble Steel has a smaller watch face and is made up of steel (as the name suggests), while the Pebble smartwatch relies on plastic for its design chops. Other than that, the devices are almost identical - although the Steel received a software upgrade as well as a dedicated app store before the original Pebble did, both devices were privy to a software and app store upgrade earlier this year that improved the user experience. Under the hood, both devices are now basically operating on the same playing field - the main difference for users being in how it looks on the wrist and the quality of the construction (the Steel holding the honors in both categories, which explains the $80 hike in the price tag).
No Speaker/Voice Control - For all of its accolades, one of the major downsides of the Pebble Smartwatch is a lack of a speaker and voice control. Somewhat of a standard feature on other smartwatches on the market today (and also a common issue for those devices), Pebble decided against implementing a speaker and voice control apparatus for some reason. What this means is that users are unable to make phone calls with the device or use their voice to implement commands to access apps or their notifications. Whether or not this is a game changer is going to depend on the end user and what they expect to accomplish with the device, but not having these features available did bother a number Fixya users who were looking for their smartphone to bring a more feature-rich experience to something that -- at this stage amongst all smartwatches -- is a supplement to their cell phone and not a full-on replacement.
Control buttons - The Pebble's watch face is of the non-touchscreen variety, which means all interactions the user has with the device are done through control buttons found on the side of the watch. Aesthetically these buttons don't appear to pose an issue for Fixya users—there were no complaints about the way the smartwatch looks on the wrist. However, the control buttons do pose issues from time to time—users reported having to sometimes press the button multiple times to get the smartwatch to display what the user wants to display, and the process of flipping back and forth between apps and other smartwatch functionality can be cumbersome when working with the tiny buttons on the side of your watch. It appears to definitely take some getting used to, especially in a digital world where touchscreens are almost a standard nowadays.
App Implementation - Make no mistake, the creation of a centralized app store to purchase apps on the Pebble was a welcome addition for users and put the Pebble into a spot into the market that gave users much more utility when using the device. However, much like the Sony SW2, there is a limit on the number of apps that can be held on the device on any given time (eight, in fact). With the addition of hundreds of apps in the new app store, this type of limitation can be extremely frustrating for users—although swapping apps in and out isn't an especially cumbersome process the majority of the time, the fact that users have to go back and forth to load apps onto their smartwatch does drag down the experience, especially when compared to the near limitless amount of apps that will likely be found on the same users smartphone at that exact moment. As we've mentioned fairly regularly throughout the report, that's a big drawback of the smartwatch market as a whole - it serves as a useful corollary to your smartphone, but doesn't do nearly enough to come close to replacing it.