2017’s smartwatch heroes (& some disappointments too) : Looking back at the high – and low – lights
2017 may have been a dumpster fire of a year in many other respects, but in wearable tech it was a banger. Smartwatches in particular have really hit their stride this year, becoming more essential and showing signs of an even more interesting future.
From Android Wear 2.0 to the Apple Watch Series 4 and a host of others in between, 2017 brought us some great new smartwatches to play with as companies upped the stakes in both style and functionality. Smartwatches look better than ever, and features have started to stick.
With so much having happened, we’ve put together a little retrospective on all of the big moments in smartwatches through the year.
Android Wear 2.0 arrives (finally)
After much delaying, Google unleashed Android Wear 2.0 in February of this year, a needed coat of fresh paint for the ailing smartwatch OS. 2.0 didn’t just give Android Wear a facelift with a new material design, but supported standalone apps, complications and stackable notifications. It’s made Android Wear much more enjoyable to use and provided a stronger foundation for fashion brands like Fossil to build on.
It was the biggest update to Android Wear in its three years, and has helped Google bring the fight to its biggest rival in 2017 – the Apple Watch. Android Wear 2.0 also came with two new smartwatches to show it off, the LG Watch Sport and Watch Style. We reckon the former is still the best showcase of Wear’s abilities, even if it is massive.
More fashion brands get involved
With Android Wear 2.0 out the door, we saw more fashion powerhouses step in with smartwatches through the year from Movado, Diesel, Montblanc and even Louis Vuitton. Each one brought its own flavor to Android Wear, whether it be features like LV’s travel apps or simply a few custom watch faces. The Fossil army, made of watches of its own and its licencees, got even stronger in 2017 too.
Better smartwatches for women
In 2016 we lamented the lack of smartwatch options for women, but this year things have taken a turn for the better. From Alpina’s Comtesse to Michael Kors to Kronaby, smartwatch brands are building slimmer and more stylish options for women. We’ve seen a lot of smaller form factors this year, in both fully-fledged smartwatches and hybrids, which has also provided more choices.
Apple Watch breaks free
Apple’s 2017 smartwatch iteration didn’t change anything in its looks (maybe Series 4), but did add one key new feature under the hood: LTE. The Apple Watch Series 3 broke free with cellular, meaning we could now take calls, get messages and even stream music while away from our phone.
Apple was by no means the first to do, this but we reckon its LTE smartwatch is the best out there right now, with watchOS 4 demonstrating that tight integration of hardware and software Apple is so well known for.
Fitbit gets in on the action
Fitbit never considered the Blaze to be a smartwatch, even if, in many ways, it was. When Fitbit bought Pebble at the end of last year, its true smartwatch ambitions became known, and through 2017 CEO James Park continued to speak of Fitbit’s debut fully-fledged smartwatch, promising we’d see it before the year was out.
And we did. In August we got the Fitbit Ionic, a smartwatch that, while lacking in the design department, goes the distance in fitness tracking and has a four-day battery life.
Powerwatch proves unlimited battery life can be done
Four days might sound impressive, but what if you didn’t need to charge your smartwatch at all? That’s what Powerwatch proved this year with the Matrix smartwatch, a wearable powered by body heat. It’s big and incredibly limited in features, but as a demonstration of infinite power, it impresses. The company is in talks with some industry movers and shakers, and we’re hoping that it won’t be long before this technology is harnessed more widely.
Hybrids as far as the eye can see
It’s not all about the screen, you know. 2017 has gifted us some great hybrids, including a debut from Michele and new offerings from existing designer wearable brands such as Kate Spade, Michael Kors and Skagen. Perhaps the biggest of the year though was the Garmin Vivomove HR, a hybrid that proved it could still take fitness seriously, earning it a Wareable Tech Award for our hybrid of the year.
Samsung… doesn’t make the Gear S4
But it does launch the Gear Sport, a smaller, sportier (duh) take on its flagship smartwatch. We like a lot of things about it including the smaller profile, rotating bezel and long battery life, but the workout tracking doesn’t live up to the smartwatch’s name in testing. Samsung says it’s keeping the Gear S3 as its main smartwatch for now – maybe next year for the Samsung Gear S4 then?
Misfit Vapor finally arrives… and disappoints
When we first saw the Misfit Vapor in Vegas at CES, it had a bold vision. This was Misfit going all in, with its own operating system, suite of apps, and a watch packing serious fitness punch. Sadly, the final result was one of compromise as Misfit ditched its OS in favor of Android Wear and dropped the built-in GPS that was once promised. The Vapor touched down in November, with distinctly average results.