How does a watch guy fall for the Apple Watch?

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When I reviewed the series 4 Apple Watch a few weeks ago I was somewhat disparaging about certain aspects. The battery life was a big downside for me, but perhaps more than anything the fact it is not a ‘real’ watch stuck with me more than anything.

I returned the watch to Apple and was happy enough, but something was nagging at me. A sense that something was missing and this was enhanced by continuing disappointment with Fitbit’s latest products. The Fitbit Charge 3 has proved to be as poor as the Fitbit Versa in terms of accuracy and with fitness currently being very important to me it was time to give up on a brand that had helped me get to the weight I was at 21 years old and which made me fitter than I had been since that age.

My experience of Apple Watch fitness has been poor over the years for a number of reasons. I don’t like the rings idea and in particular the ridiculous stand ring which is a novelty at best. However, the hardware is very accurate and I have found much consistency in the step counting, calorie calculations and the heart rate averages. This builds confidence and has given me a platform to build a fitness setup that works for me – more on that in a future article, but it’s safe to say that I have replaced the Fitbit hardware and software with arguably a much better solution.

So, the fitness was covered, after much research, and I took a punt and bought another series 4 Apple Watch. In the first few days of use I realised what had been nagging at me previously.

It’s the little things that build up to create a solution that in time feels necessary. These two examples may feel incredibly pointless, but they exemplify things that the iPhone could not do in certain situations-

I was in a meeting with a senior manager at work and my wife sent me a message asking if I wanted to walk the dog after work or if I was happy for her to do it. Being that it was a cold day I didn’t fancy ending my day getting even colder and the senior manager was sat directly opposite me so I could get my phone out without it seeming too obvious. I caught the message on the Apple Watch and managed to scroll down and send ‘OK’ as a response. The result was an hour saved later in the day and I could stay a little warmer.

The next day my daughter attended her first night at Police Cadets and was very nervous about going. We dropped her off and she had to fill in some forms, but she did not know all of the details required, which would likely have made her even more nervous. I didn’t have my iPhone with me when I saw the panicked message on my watch asking for a list of information so she could complete the forms. I replied, she was happy and the nerves subsided a little for her. This may sound unimportant, but she has had a hard time of late and attending events with groups of people is a big thing for her, and in that instance the watch helped.

So that was some of the use case covered and after wearing the Apple Watch for two weeks straight it kind of became normal. Worryingly I wasn’t missing my Oris watch as much as I expected, but there was one aspect that still bugged me. The Apple Watch felt like a bit of plastic strapped to my wrist and offer zero personality to me which is a problem for those of us who have obsessed over watches as the only bit of jewellery we wear.

I am fortunate in that I could sell a watch which would pay for a stainless steel series 4 Apple Watch and that is what I did. The final part of the experiment was to see if it felt like a real watch on the wrist while offering the functionality that I had become used to.

With the addition of a few straps to play around with I found that I started to enjoy the look of the series 4 and to this day it has remained on my wrist as my main fitness tracker, time teller and assistant which ensure I miss nothing and that my iPhone gets less use than it did before.

My wife also bought a series 4 as she was experiencing the same Fitbit problems as I was and strangely she went for the gold 44mm version. She is tiny and has small wrists, but she felt that the bigger watch looked better proportioned and despite its size it really does look good on her. Big watches on petite women always look good in my view.

The next step for me will be to see how the cellular functionality changes my usage and when my contract is moved over in a couple of days I will write about that experience, but for now I find myself surprised at the fact I am not wearing a real watch anymore and just a little bit sad at the thought of it.

Fitbit Charge 3 first impressions

The Charge 3 is a step forward for Fitbit, a very small one.

First impressions show that it wears and looks extremely similar to the Charge 2 and that the physical advantages are at first glance not indicative of a big jump forward. It is slightly smaller which is noticeable for someone like me who wears it on his dominant wrist upside down, in deference to a real watch on the other wrist. I don’t like wearing something on each wrist, but needs must I suppose.

The screen is better than on the Charge 2 and is now touch sensitive whereas previously you would need to tap the device, physically, to achieve a response. The problem, however, is that the touch sensitivity is not particularly natural and I find myself often times having to tap and tap again to get a response. Technically this is an improvement, but in the real world it still feels somewhat clunky.

You do get more information than before and some nice animations, a glitter ball for example when you hit your step goal, but these are novelty aesthetics that do not actually add functionality. Overall it feels almost exactly like the Charge 2 with little extra information on screen at any one time which at this moment feels like a missed opportunity. Add to this the fact that there is only a handful of watch faces available at launch and that these are minimal at best. For example, I used to show the time, step count and floors on my Charge 2 watch face and that is now not possible on the Charge 3. Indeed, to see the floors you have to scroll multiple times to get to the data, when the screen accepts the scrolling gesture that is.

On the subject of floors the Charge 3 is displaying the same problems as the Versa. I managed 13 floors just by driving to work for 30 minutes – it is the exact same problem that many Versa users complain about in the Fitbit forums and they are already doing so with regards to the Charge 3. Fitbit has a serious problem with its floor tracking in the latest devices and is coming up with stock answers time and time again, and not resolving what is becoming a more evidenced problem by the day,

Oh, I should also add that the Charge 3 also counts too many steps, just like the Versa, and my step count is at least 10% up from all other trackers. This is not good enough for a company that makes fitness trackers. If there are obvious problems in the sensors why are they being continued on the latest devices?

The one good point is the battery life which is exceptional, but this does not offer enough of an advantage to make the Charge 3 a worthy upgrade over the Charge 2, and mainly because the Charge 2 is accurate while the 3 is not. It’s as simple as that.

The Charge 3 may offer more watch faces and apps over time. It may be fixed to resolve the floor and step tracking issues, but today it is not worthy. Sorry Fitbit, but you need to sort this out once and for all.

Related-

Charge 3 counting too many floors

Versa counting too many floors

Confessions of a FitBit addict

One of the great philosophical questions of our time is this: if a person goes for a run and there is no Fitbit on their wrist to record it, did it really happen? I have been struggling with said conundrum all week, having been forced to go for a lonely jog without my fitness tracker, which had run out of battery.

Good article, if you can read it all by subscribing. It is a conundrum and a habit that is easy to fall into. Once you fall into the notion, however, that actually doing things and eating less works the Fitbit merely becomes a tracker to articulate your progress.

Skagen Hybrid Smartwatch (SKT1113) review – master of none

Hybrid watches are by many accounts dominating the sales figures for brands such as Fossil, and by some stats in a way which means that they are seriously scaling back on traditional watches due to a lack of sales.

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This kind of makes sense because people who are used to purchasing a watch every few years, one at the lower end of the market, could be more tempted by a hybrid that looks and feels familiar, but which offers ‘safe’ new features that do not feel too technical in a proactive or reactive sense.

Hybrids potentially appeal to those who are not in the market for a full fitness tracker, who definitely would not wear a smartwatch and who are dipping their toe in the watery idea that the wrist is a space for more than just the time. In effect, this is the majority of people which would explain the popularity. In the world of tech, a small percentage of the largest market is worth more than dominating a niche because it’s all about the future. The future is everyone. It is not geeks who want a screen on their wrist, but I am not convinced that the watch world will not be dominated by screens in a few years.

Just like PDAs and the earliest smartphones were used by a niche, the iPhone breakthrough brought the idea to everyone and at some point the same could happen with the smartwatch. Until that time we have hybrids which represent a temporary middle ground that has a small chance of becoming permanent, a very small chance in my mind.

The reason for this is that hybrids currently do one this well, which is to tell the time in a stylish well, and one thing quite poorly, which is fitness tracking. When you download the app and check out what it can do it kind of feels like stepping back in time; step tracking and sleep. That’s it really, no heart rate monitoring, no exercise tracking, no food input, no real stats over time and a light touch that is squarely designed for beginners in the area of activity tracking.

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There is nothing wrong with this and it makes perfect sense which may explain the popularity, but in comparison to a smartwatch or a dedicated fitness tracker the difference is stark. The advantages to this, however, come in the manner of a six month battery life before you need a new one, simplicity of use and the ability to completely ignore the watch if you want to.

Notifications are present, to a point, but are somewhat lacklustre because you can only choose six contacts to receive notifications from. You choose a contact and assign a number at which point the hand will move to that number when a message or call is received. It’s simple, quite elegant actually and worthy of inclusion, but it would be nice to see notifications default to a different number from those outside of your favourite six people.

The three buttons on the side of the watch are configurable and in my case, for example, I have the middle one for the date (push and the hands move to a date on the outer ring), the top one for a second time zone (push and the hands move to it) and the bottom one to start and pause music on my iPhone X. They have all worked perfectly well and the connection to the phone has been rock solid so far, but I do have concerns about Skagen as a company.

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Without making this a true statement, there is a theory that this is a Chinese company making cheap watches to the level of a Daniel Wellington and that it offers practically zero support. This theory is sadly backed up by numerous customer reports so my review here will not cover the fact that it could fail at some point and leave the user stranded.

What I can say though is that the design is quite superb. From the case to the mesh bracelet to the dial, the consistency and elegant construction are really very good for a watch at this price point (shop around and you can pick it up for slightly north of £100). Build quality is harder to judge because only long term use can show that, but I do get the sense that it is built to a price point and that it will not survive many knocks. This is to be expected for what is essentially a dress watch, but overall I have enjoyed wearing it and do appreciate the design behind the watch.

Surprisingly the lume lasts through the night which is quite unusual. I would expect this from a Seiko or a Citizen at any price point and most certainly from Oris, but many watches I have tried fail dismally in this area. Longines is a culprit, no matter the price, and I find it unforgivable for any watch brand to include lume that does not last for more than an hour, and even more so for the likes of Longines who are happy to charge upwards of £2,000 for a watch with poor lume. This Skagen does lume very well and despite a dimming from, for example, 3AM you can still see the time if you happen to wake up at night.

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Back to the design, the only thing I would change would be the hands which could be slightly wider to make the watch 100% glanceable. It is decent enough for quickly catching the time, but there is a sense that the design overcomes the practical elements around the edges and at those moments when you want your watch to do something rather than to be a statement on your wrist.

Competition

There is much competition in the hybrid watch area, much of it from the same parent company, and the likes of Fossil, Michael Kors (shudder!) and Timex are pushing hard in this arena. Hybrids have grown from fashion watch brands looking to protect their businesses against smartwatches, but the fitness gang have started to join in. Garmin makes the vívomove® HR which comes in at £169 and for that you get a heart rate monitor, V02 max, fitness age, calories, intensity minutes, stress tracking, smart notifications, music controls and so on. It’s all backed up with a very good (maybe slightly complex?) app which easily rivals Fitbit in terms of being able to give you all of the activity and fitness stats you need. In my experience the Garmin trackers are more accurate than Fitbit and better built which makes the vivomove a candidate for the best hybrid watch on the market today. The premium version (£249) takes things further with stainless steel and a classier strap, and takes the idea of a traditional decent quality watch with some advanced features to the level we would expect in 2018.

vivomoveHR-family

You can go much higher in price through the likes of Kronaby (£445), Alpina (£575) and Mondaine (£650) up to Frédérique Constant (£2,980!). The problem with all of these brands though is that no matter how refined and well made the watch is, they still default back to very simple and light touch software to undertake the smart features. I am not saying that everyone wants sophisticated fitness tracking and super smart features, which are impossible on a traditional watch design anyway, but it seems to me that the most complete hybrid watch today comes from Garmin for well under £200 which is saying a lot. To complete properly, I believe that a decent watch manufacturer needs to get into bed with the likes of Garmin or Fitbit because otherwise we are looking at a fad and little more.

Conclusion

I like the Skagen a lot more than I expected to. The design is sweet, the fitness functions work to a point (pushing 10% more steps than reality for me) and the notifications are somewhat useful. The main problem is that it is not ambitious enough, like 99% of hybrids, and I would like to see more effort put into making this kind of watch more functional. For the price, however, I believe it to be excellent value and for most people it will serve them well over time, providing the worries about Skagen reliability and support do not come to fruition.

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Fitbit Versa after a few weeks: multiple problems remain

I posted the below on the Fitbit community yesterday in this thread

OK, I wore my Versa on my left wrist (synced to my iPhone as non-dominant wrist) and a Charge 2 on my right wrist (synced to my wife’s iPhone as dominant wrist)

22 floors on Versa / 8 on Charge 2
12.356 steps on Versa / 11,866 on Charge 2

I then swapped wrists the next day-

16 floors on Versa / 5 on Charge 2
9,328 steps on Versa / 9,112 on Charge 2

I then used my wife’s Versa instead of mine to see what would happen-

14 floors on Versa / 5 on Charge 2

So, my wife’s Versa is broken and needs returning and presumably so is mine?

Or maybe my Charge 2 is faulty. Although when I wake up and drive to work it will show 0 floors whereas the Versa can show quite a few at times when I have been driving or walked on flat surfaces.

I believe that the Versa is ‘broken’ at floor tracking and with steps at times as well. When I have the time I will post all of the results with screenshots to prove what is happening, but some of the excuses being made don’t make for a tracker that is accurate.

The obvious answer is that Fitbit needs to fix the Versa, and possibly the Ionic as well because that also over-counted floors for me.

Too many people are seeing inaccurate floor counting with the Versa and it seems to be over counting steps as well.

Add to this the quite dreadful setup for moving music to the device and the archaic way it handles watch faces (only one face stored on the watch at a time and various problems keeping registration intact) you start to believe that the company rushed the release of the product.

For all of the positive parts which include a great design, decent battery life and an overall good feeling there are areas where the company cannot compete with Apple.

It leaves me stuck using a product that does most of what I need in terms of fitness and of course it works perfectly with the Fitbit app, but having used an Apple Watch I feel that it could be improved somewhat.

Then again, that would be like expecting Microsoft, Samsung and the rest to match Apple in terms of hardware and software integration. It just won’t happen.

And sadly it looks as though Apple taking fitness seriously on the Apple Watch won’t happen either.

Fitbit’s possible way forward

Fitbit believes that by sending data from its smart watches directly to electronic medical records, doctors will gain a more comprehensive view of the patient’s status, leading to more personalized care. Fitbit and Google also want to help manage chronic conditions like diabetes and hypertension… More at Cult of Mac.

I am kind of torn as to the best way forward for Fitbit. On the one hand the Apple Watch appears to be dominating the smart watch market while the Fitbit hardware is seen as budget by many, but the Versa may be a much bigger hit than expected.

On the other hand, the Apple Watch is closed very much to iOS and the market for smart watches from the likes of Fossil and even higher-end watch brands is having an impact on traditional watch sales.

Should Fitbit be offering its smart watch software and tracking technology to the likes of Casio, TAG, Fossil and the rest to make their products MUCH more useful? It could be cutting their own nose off, but at some point it may be the only choice.

Fitbit Versa: two days in (vs Apple Watch)

I have been using the Versa for two days now and feel that this is enough time to start to understand the good points, the bad and the meh…

Overall I am very impressed with the Versa as a fitness tracker, which should obviously be expected considering that this is what Fitbit does. It is in no way of the same build quality as an Apple Watch, but the gap is not that small when it comes to comparing it with the non stainless steel models. The lightness causes an immediate negative impact in terms of how the build is perceived, but it is actually an advantage. With the standard strap it is simply not noticeable when worn. Also, there is nothing obviously wrong with the Versa in terms of fit and finish because it is well made and does what it needs to without trying to be something else.

This is my overriding impression of the Versa in these early stages. It is a fitness watch that will help you to understand what you do each day without the need to pretend to be luxurious or some kind of status symbol. The Apple Watch, on the other hand feels completely different. To me, the Apple Watch is for those who go to the gym to be seen at the gym or to tell the people at work that they went to the gym last night. The Fitbit Versa is for those who go to the gym to get fit, quietly.

That is obviously a huge tongue in cheek generalisation and smart watches are meant to be about more than fitness, but the fact is that they are about fitness and notifications, and telling the time. Nothing else at this time. Find me a third party app that works well enough on a smart watch to make it worth installing and I will still challenge it because (logically) I have found no apps that work on a watch better than on a phone or that benefit the user because they are on the wrist. With this in mind, the fact that the apps on the Versa are poor means little to me because I am unlikely to use them. Just as I used no third party apps on the Apple Watch.

As a fitness tracker the Versa is brilliant whereas the Apple Watch is not. Filling rings takes me back to the thoughts of gym people because it feels like dabbling with getting slightly more active than before. It feels as though Apple doesn’t quite get the true idea of fitness and instead looks at it as a lifestyle thing to do at the end of a busy day in the office. Don’t get me wrong, filling rings is nice and all that, but to me doesn’t offer a sense of improvement or the detail needed to truly understand how and why you can improve. Some of you may disagree completely, but I know of four people who owned the Apple Watch and who now use Fitbit’s because of the superior tracking. I can only go on my experience and those of people I know.

The battery life is an obvious advantage on the Versa which again offers a sense of ‘tool’ rather than ‘style’ and from a practical sense the Versa ticks all of the boxes. The Ionic almost did, but the Marmite design is a killer for too many people, and it’s also too big for most women.

It would be nice to be able to store more than one watch face on the watch and to not have to use the phone to change them, but I am hoping that I will find one I stick with so that will not be a problem. Seriously, I must have tried more than 30 faces so far and am kind of enjoying messing around with them. The whole clock face thing really is the majority of the customisation available on the Versa, unless you want to play around with the apps and games, but the less is more feeling is to me another advantage because you end up just using it and not thinking about it too much. In a grown up tech world, products that benefit you without the need to fiddle are what most people want.

The Versa is not exciting and it is not complex. It is not jewellery and it offers no statement about the person wearing it. It just works (a phrase Apple would do well to remember).

Fitbit Versa: a second opinion

Really am enjoying my Versa. It replaces my Charge 2 as well.

I like the size, the weight and I got the charcoal band, which I also prefer over the silicone one on my Charge 2. I don’t understand the criticism of the pin mechanism for the band. Seems to me that going to the standard watch pin system means that more bands are available for choice.

I am having to get used to finding things. I preferred the Charge 2 display which displayed the date, time, number of steps towards my hourly 250 step goal and my heart rate.

Right now, I can’t find a watch face with the hourly steps displayed. I have to scroll down to my Today screen and then scroll down to get my hourly steps. Too many steps (pardon the pun) to get to the info.

I also find a bit of lag in walking the steps and having the Versa catch up in displaying the count.

Apps are a bit of a hit and miss. Some don’t work. Others are quite good. Very sparse app store.

I do notice that the display brightness on mine tends to, well, swell for lack of a better word. It gets brighter and dimmer rhythmically, as if it were breathing.

Also, my first sleep analysis was a bit interesting. Setting up my watch in the afternoon, it added the rest of the afternoon to my previous night’s sleep. I know I have a sedentary job, but that might be a bit ridiculous.

And as to my full night’s sleep last night, it did a nice job of classifying my different levels of sleep, but it didn’t register any time. So I have a nice graph with a total of 0 minutes asleep. Never felt so rested for not getting any sleep.

The journey continues… Arnold

Some good thoughts by Arnold which I mostly agree with. The ‘0 minutes’ problem is a new software glitch on the Fitbit end affecting many users, no matter what device they own so is not a Versa problem as such. The strap system does work as it should- it is a little fiddly, but I find that I can use a variety of 22mm standard straps at very little cost which is a nice bonus.

The number of watch faces is almost too much and I kind of see where Arnold is coming from, but I don’t look at the 250 step goal which proves we all have different preferences.  I will add more in the next few days.

Buying the Fitbit Versa, twice

My wife and I are Fitbit converts. She used to wear an Apple Watch, but felt that the fitness aspect was too wooly to really benefit from and I am a (real) watch guy so have been happy to wear a Fitbit Charge 2 on my non-dominant wrist.

Since July last year my weight has moved from 285lbs to 205lbs and my wife’s has moved from 137lbs to 115lbs thanks to eating healthily, exercising every day and regular logging of everything from calorie intake and weight every other day using Fitbit products. In effect, together we have lost almost the equivalent of her entire weight between us in 9 months and we are chuffed with ourselves, we really are which is why I bang on about it… Life is easier when you are lighter and we can do much more than we ever did thanks to the change, and I credit Fitbit for helping us do that. There is something about the data on offer, and especially from the Aria scales, that helps keep the motivation high and so the Versa was always going to be considered.

Anyway, we wandered to the shops this morning. Yes, a real physical shop where you can buy things and see what they are like first. We spied one Fitbit Versa in gold in the cabinet and asked to look at it. The sales guy explained that they had received 10 this morning and that this was the last one left which was quite surprising. The shop opened at 8:30am and we were there at 9:15am which perhaps shows that there is some interest out there for the Versa. Actually, go to the UK Fitbit site and you are greeted with ‘On back-order. Ships in 2-3 weeks’.

We asked the sales guy to open the box so that my wife could try it on and he refused, politely. We asked why and he mumbled something about his manager saying that they could not be opened which was a shame as they had no display models. So I asked about the returns policy if it was opened and he said that they would give a full refund if she did not like it. I then explained that we would buy it, she would try it on in the store and if she did not like it we would ask for a refund. He opened the box.

She loved it immediately. The lightness was a real surprise and it fitted perfectly, the first Fitbit that my wife can wear without the lugs extending past either side of her rather small wrist. It was an instant sell and I really could not blame her. The oh so soft strap only added to the excitement as did the very bright screen with perhaps too large bezels for my liking, but she was happy and when she is happy so am I.

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Strangely, the first thing she said was “this is like the Apple Watch, but I prefer the design and it feels easier to use straight away.” We went for a coffee and she spent some time setting it up while I sipped on my cappuccino and her hot chocolate got cold. The process was not too long actually, much less hassle that when I first tried the Ionic, and her Charge 2 was dropped into her handbag to likely find its way to eBay in the future. Seriously, she was delighter with it and this is the first time I have seen her react to technology in such a way. Fitbit may have done something special here when it comes to females and fitness tracking.

But what about us guys? Surely we need the Ionic with its manly space age looks and angular form. No, actually we don’t because it’s pretty ugly and looks too much like a tracker and not enough like a watch to fit in to many people’s normal days.

I tried her Versa on in the coffee shop, the gold Versa with a pink strap, and I kind of liked it. I really did like it and was surprised at how quickly it felt right on my wrist, even in pink. It is so light and the strap so soft that it feels invisible on the wrist which is an advantage for a watch of any type. Being a watch guy, however, I would have to stick with the Charge 2 on my right wrist and my beloved vintage Bulova on the left.

Ten minutes later I bought a Fitbit Versa special edition from another store that also only had one left. To be continued…