The Dick Tracy Watch Revolution Begins: The Latest in Smart Watch Technology

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There have been many attempts to take the features of smartphones and transfer them to a wrist watch form factor, even way back in 1999 (remember this beauty?). Big players like Samsung and Sony, as well as several independent startups, have recently released a new wave of more seriously equipped mobile smart devices where the fashion and function are starting to overlap. But we're left to wonder, are the following devices truly worth the price for the features they offer currently or are these still luxury companion pieces with redundant smartphone functions?

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With a $300 price tag, the recently announced Samsung GALAXY Gear is jumping out the gate to position itself as the pace setter for a new generation of smart watches. Its 1.6" AMOLED screen packs in a 320x320 pixel display with integrated speaker and microphone. A 1.9MP camera captures still photos and 720p video, neither capable of replacing the smartphone, but can be handy for quick snapshots on the go. Swiping a finger on the screen navigates through the Gear's apps. The single button serves as the home button, S Voice launcher, and even an emergency notification system, and the watch is compatible with favorite apps, Evernote, Path, Pocket and RunKeeper. But despite all these features, the GALAXY Gear is really just a companion device to full-fledged Android mobile devices at this time.

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The Sony SmartWatch might be powered by Android, but Sony worked to add their own sleek and streamlined design layer, with hints of Apple's UI aesthetic throughout. E-mail, text messages, and calendar services are accessed from the SmartWatch's three-level micro display, capable of distinguishing between taps and swipes for easy navigation on such a small screen device. Downloading Smart Connect and other dedicated apps from Google Play allows the SmartWatch to interact with an Android smartphone in similar fashion to the Gear model above, limited by the same tethered requirements. Notifications from a paired smartphone cause the SmartWatch to vibrate in parallel. The Sony SmartWatch can also be further customized with 20mm wrist strap designed for standard wristwatches.

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The Pebble takes a technological cue from the Kindle and uses an e-paper display; the project began as Kickstarter and quickly met their goals, and is now selling for $150. The Pebble provides Bluetooth integration with smartphones, alerting the wearer with silent vibrations to incoming calls, e-mails, and messages. There are plenty of custom apps for the Pebble, including those for cycling, golfing, and running. Customizable watch faces allow for additional fashionable customization.

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The Nike Fuelband and Fitbit Flex might not be traditional smart watches (is there such a thing yet?), but they are both stylishly worn around the wrist and help track physical activity and nurture healthy behaviors. There's the likelihood both future iterations from Nike and Fitbit will see additional "smart" connectivity features integrated now the low energy Bluetooth standard is rolling out to current smartphones.


Bottom Line: At this time, it's hard to really recommend any of these smartphone companion piece watch devices except for the functional fitness bands for active individuals (ironically the least feature rich devices listed above). All of these smart watches are large, heavy, clunky in shape, and mostly mirror the features already easily accessible via smartphone or tablet. But just as the first few MP3 players were gigantic one-trick ponies, we expect future iterations of smart watches to be refined into standalone smart devices with their own unique set of features, with thinner and fashionable form factors friendlier to wrists of all sizes.

Many are waiting to see if rumors of Apple's entrance into the smart watch market come to fruition. This concept imagines the "iWatch" to offer a bracelet form factor with a large iPhone-style screen.

(Images: as linked above)

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