Mobile and Emerging Technologies

Wearable Tech

Everything is getting smarter—phones, trashcans, scales that tweet (so cruel).  There are even implanted digital do-dads, like pacemakers, helping to improve life for those with particular medical needs.  So it seems inevitable that clothing would not be immune.  Digital novelty wear, such as kids shoes that light up with each step, or shirts that light up according to the noise around you, have been around a while.  But now the wardrobe and accessories are starting to provide more bang for your batteries.  There’s a nostalgic side of me that’s a little sad to think of our head, arms, legs, and digits being digitized—but I’m also incredulous at the thought of traveling without Google maps, GPS, and a smartphone to guide me in places where I don’t even speak the language.  So, with that perspective, here’s my guide to what’s worth going digital for, and what’s not worth the additional power cords on your nightstand.
Here are a few things to keep in mind:
1. Health-cessorizing or Geek-chic Bling?
There are two main types of wearables: those for fitness, and those for fun & function.  The lines are blurry, but devices tend to have a clear primary category, though they may dabble on the other side.  Which objectives you care MOST about is your first crossroads when digital accessory shopping.  Savvy shoppers pick a few necessary features they care the most about and shop based on those—that keeps the feature-vomit from exhausting you after two product pages.
2. Keep Syncing your Tooth into that Phone
For now, nearly all the rich features of the fun & function wearables require you to be in Bluetooth range of your phone.  So those excited by the prospect of being tech-tied but not phone-faced should remember that it will still be in your purse or pocket.
3. Price Point
While pedometer-type trackers are relatively mainstream, higher tech wearables are still in the early-adopter stage, with prices that will likely drop significantly over the next few years (and/or become a better value as capabilities are added and improved).  Depending on your needs, you may be surprised at how affordable techorating your body can be.
What you Want
I’m a cheapskate at heart, so I’m all for picking the budget-friendly option based on what you actually need.  Here are my picks based on some personality profiles.  Pick your best match, and I’ll tell you what you want and why.  Or if you are the type to research EVERY detail, hold out for the GIANT CHART OF WEARABLES.
Potatoes Leaving the Couch:  FitBit Flex  $100
FitBit Flex
Our first reco is for the couch potatoes, so if you are from Idaho or get more screen time than the Kardashians, the FitBit Flex is for you.  It helps you get a sense of how much you (don’t) move, and feel happy fuzzy when you start to.  This helps to get you past the hump of I’m-starting-to-exercise-but-it-seems-like-nothing’s-changing.  While weight loss or muscle definition can be slow to show, seeing a plot of your daily activity gives some near-immediate validation for improving your habits.  It also helps you gauge what really moves the needle.  Quick hint—walking to the break room DOESN’T, walking your dog DOES.  Here’s why this fit is a bit better than other options:
 
THE BIG THREE:     Monitors ACTIVITY and SLEEP & supports FOOD logging via app or their website
COMPATIBILITY:     Track stats via the web, Android, or iOS apps; plays well with other apps and services you might be using, like MapMyFitness
LOW MAINTENANCE:    Waterproof, no display to break, only needs charging 1-2 times a week
LOTS OF COLORS:     At 10+ options, it has the best selection on the sporty side of the wearables dial
NO FLASH DRIVE IN THE PAN:     FitBit is a major player—you don’t have to worry they’ll be off the map before you can smile and say CHARGE!
Rule out if:

  • You’re already a semi-serious athlete (not detailed enough metrics)
  • You expect saying “Go Go Gadget FitBit” to make it surf the web, read your email, or open a small helicopter
  • You insist any digital bracelet you wear 24-7 be court-ordered

Comparables:
Misfit Shine $100 (long lasting–180 days of battery life), Jawbone UP24 $130, Sony SmartBand $100
Official Site:  fitbit.com/flex
 
Smart Chic Trend Trackers:  Moto 360  $250  
Moto 360
Honestly, smart watches are not cool yet.  This guy is basically good for text messaging, checking your calendar, wrist-side calculator, and setting up reminders.  And oh yeah, you can use it as a watch.  For those things, it’s actually pretty handy, but I’m not convinced they justify the price tag or the title SMART WATCH.  For anything else, it basically gets you started, then sends you to your phone—which isn’t much more useful than just picking up your phone to begin with.  As a fitness device, it’s a bit of a let down; the heart rate monitor requires absolute stillness and the activity monitor is no better than using your phone to do the same thing (though it is definitely more size-friendly for taking on a jog).  The good news is, it’s GOING to be cool.  These puppies are still new; they will only get better as third party apps get clever about ways to maximize what it can do and the manufacturers figure out what is amazing versus what is annoying and gradually make some needed software updates.
SO BOND:     Okay, it doesn’t have a laser or anything, but it’s pretty Bond-like.  “Ok, Google.  Remind me to pick up champagne on my way to rescue a glammed up hacker goddess from communist spies.  No wait, I just need to get milk on my way home.”
HEAD OF THE BANDWAGON:     If the cost doesn’t make you flinch and you like the idea of being ahead of the game just as everyone else is starting to catch on, then go for it.  Unlike Glass, there is some degree of usefulness to Moto 360.
STRINGLESS FINGERS:     If the few things it does really well—like capture a reminder the moment it crosses your mind (and then tap and say it), convert 25 centimeters to inches, or text “don’t forget to feed the dog” to your sweetie—seem like they might save your sanity, then by all means, splurge on this and live the sane life.
 
Rule out if:
 

  • The idea of accidentally texting nonsense phrases like “Argos Inn” to a friend is mortifying to you.
  • Big, bold, and black as Johnny Cash is NOT your look.  It’s sleek and masculine,but not feminine or petite.  So for the ladylike, the fashion aspect is a bit of a drag.
  • You value your cash more than the convenience of not pulling your phone out of your bag.
  • Charging your watch every night is going to get your goat.  Then the goat will eat your watch and THEN where will you be?
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Comparables:
Pebble Time $200, Sony SmartWatch 3 $250, LG G Watch R $300, Garmin Vivoactive $250 (fitness pick—track your golf, run, swim or ride) 
 
Official Site:  moto360.motorola.com
 
iLovers:  Apple Watch  $349+
Apple iWatch
I’ll be brief because if apple turns you to sauce, you already know.  This watch—coming out in late April—promises to better hit the mark as a wearable that works the way you want it too.  On most points, it’s on par with the other smart watches as far as features, so the big difference SHOULD be simplicity and interface—if the hype delivers.  It DOES seem to standout when it comes to a few added social features—nudging someone, sending your heartbeat, or sending cat drawings (because internet).
THE FUTURE IS CALLING:     Answer calls right on your watch—so it is your mini spy phone—this is MUCH better than the Moto 360 approach of turning your phone on and calling that good enough.
PAY WITHOUT A CARD:     For terminals that are equipped to accept it, you can pay right from your watch.  This should minimize embarrassment at your next horrifying don’t-have-your-wallet moments at the cash register and let you purposely stroll in to get a bottled water while you cool down after your neighborhood jog, sans purse.
T-S-AIN’T A PROBLEM:     I’m a frequent flyer, so if the barcode actually scans, this will be SUPER handy compared to your phone or the Neanderthal approach of PAPER boarding passes.
Rule out if:

  • You DON’T have an iPhone (iHaters).
  • You are bothered by the idea of someone making purchases or unlocking your home or hotel room—DON’T WORRY!  THERE’S NOTHING TO FEAR.  Unless you lose your watch.  Or someone figures out how to hack it.

Comparables:
Samsung Gear S $300, Huawei Watch $1080, Withings Activité $450 (long lasting, tracks swim laps)
Official Site:  apple.com/watch
 
Techno Hipsters:  Google Glass  $1500 

Google Glass

 
Not to worry hipsters.  Now you can talk about how you totally liked Google Glass before it was cool—and after it was retro—since Google has stopped selling/supporting Glass—at least for now.  (An amped-up, re-hyped reboot is inevitable.)   Plus, keep yourself stylish with these 70s-car-interior-vibed woodgrain google glass skins. They’re totally VINYL, so your look will be as retro as your audio preferences.  For the non-hip, hold out for the smart eyewear phenomenon to actually pan out with something useful.  HoloLens may be another flash-in-the pan, but so far, I see one advantage: it doesn’t pretend to keep you engaged with the world while you use it.   With HoloLens on, whatever you’re using it to do IS your focus.  With Glass, you wear it all the time, order your coffee while looking up the difference between a cappuccino and a flat white and—SHAME—end up with a macchiato from an annoyed barista that you keep awkwardly nodding at.
PHOTOS & VIDEO:     Great if your life is so interesting that capturing what you see and do (in 10 second segments) is actually worthwhile.  And look, ma! No hands!
CASUAL ARROGANCE:     Walk that line by being at all the right events, while clearly being too busy to actually have a meaningful interaction with another human being—at least not one that’s physically in front of you.
GEORDIFICATION:     Glass is the closest the world has come to replicating the visor used by Geordi La Forge on Star Trek.  At least style-wise.  In function, this sunglass/retainer combo is a lot closer as it ACTUALLY HELPS BLIND PEOPLE SEE (life imitating sci-fi).
Rule out if:

  • You value your time or maintaining the appearance of sanity (Ok, glass…Ok, glass…tap…tap…Ok, glass…)
  • You thought these would be a practical choice for accomplishing tasks.

Comparables:
Sony SmartEyeglass $840, Windows HoloLens $TBD, Oculus Rift $350
Official Site:  google.com/glass
 
Epic Optimizers, Byte This Enchilada
Start googling and you’ll see the market is EXPLODING with fitness trackers and smart such-and-suches, so I can’t begin to claim this is comprehensive, but it includes the major players and will help you decipher the do’s and don’ts of each do-dad.  Some oddities worth noting: at $10, FastFox is by far the cheapest in the category, but it is not currently available in the USA; the Lumo Lift pin (like a tie tack or broach) improves your posture; there are a few RINGS to bling up the smartness.
DISCLAIMER; the facts here have been assembled from various official websites, FAQs, reviews, personal observations, screenshots and anything else I could find.  If somehow that scrupulous methodology has resulted in an error, please let us know and point to or provide some evidence and we’ll update the GIANT CHART OF WEARABLES that is itself a wearable because you can make a tube top out of it.
 
 

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