Wearable Products in 2014

While Pebble arguably resurrected the wearables market in 2013, the biggest year yet was 2014. Many products (and several whole platforms) became consumer available. Many of these devices bring new innovations to the table to expand wearables from simple pedometers to full blown smartphones on your wrist and comprehensive health trackers. It is impractical to do a full review of each launch in the past year, so here are some wearable product highlights from 2014 to lay the foundation for future device reviews in 2015.

Android Wear

Arguably the biggest wearable launch this year was its very first platform OS. Android Wear aims to be the Windows of the smart watch market, enabling device makers to create devices without significant software investment by loading Android Wear. This strategy clearly worked well for Microsoft with PCs and Google with smartphones.

Android Wear is a wearable tailored version of the base Android OS, not a new creation. This provides immediate benefits as device makers can bring up wearable hardware with all the knowledge gained from previous smartphone efforts. As Android (without heavy modification) is not an embedded microcontroller OS, Android Wear devices rely on full featured application processors such as the Cortex-A or MIPS variety, not Cortex-M. Android app developers can create and deploy Android Wear apps using nearly all of the same APIs from traditional Android development. Differences between traditional Android and Android Wear are detailed in the development assistance provided by Google.

Currently, the foundation of Android Wear is not running apps. Rather, it is pairing with an Android 4.3+ device and providing Google Now features. Activating your Android Wear device provides the same list of cards on your wrist that are available in the Google Now page of your Android phone, and they are acted upon and dismissed in a similar way. How much you like Android Wear comes down to how much you like Google Now. “OK Google” voice activated assistance is always on when the device is not sleeping, and bringing a device out of sleep is done via motion detection. Moving and twisting your arm from any position to the position needed to view the watch face activates an Android Wear device. If the device is already in this position and has gone to sleep, you can tap or press a button to wake the device.

Because the majority of functionality is provided by Google Now and the rest by loading apps, each Android Wear device launched provides a nearly identical experience. Thus, purchasing decisions between Android Wear devices fall entirely into the hardware camp. This is not something to be quickly disregarded or dismissed, as the selection of wrist hardware is a very personal choice. A watch’s band material, size, and styling can make or break a device.

For example, the Moto360 I have been using is entirely black with a black leather band. To be honest, I do not like the styling as I think it looks childish. The leather band also absorbs water which limits how I use the device. However, surveying my friends and family, many of them do like the all black and leather styling. To address this, Motorola sells many style variants. Personally, I would purchase the light shade stainless steel and wear that Moto360 a lot more.

Six Android Wear devices have launched and are available via the Google Play Store and some other retailers.

LG G Watch, Moto 360, ASUS ZenWatch

Samsung Gear Live, Sony SmartWatch 3, LG G Watch R

Android Wear launched focused on smart watch features alone. However, in an October update, Google added support for heart rate monitoring, Sensor Fusion / GPS, and music storage and playback via Bluetooth Audio. This provides the framework for the moving (running, cycling, etc.) use case, but Google relies on app support for moving software. In my personal experience, running app support is rough around the edges. For example, the premier running app highlighted by Google (Runtastic) does not support the heart rate monitor nor does it work disconnected from your phone, mostly defeating the experience.

New hardware has also launched since Android Wear’s introduction. The Sony SmartWatch 3 launched in October alongside the new GPS support. Additionally, there have been several OS updates including a Lollipop update landing on my Moto360 very recently (ironically before my Galaxy S4 has Lollipop).

This is possibly the strongest aspect of Android Wear. It is a full blown smartphone OS offering 3rd party app support, continually developed and improved by a company (Google) that is not the hardware vendor. Updates are frequent and quickly deployed. Google is building a foundation of software and hardware to foster an ecosystem. Right now it is far from perfect, but the good news is that if you buy an Android Wear device today, that device will likely be become significantly different and better over time via software and apps updates.


While Samsung is traditionally thought of as a huge Android smartphone vendor, Samsung diverges from Google when it comes to wearables with some interesting results. When Samsung was developing their first wearable, the Galaxy Gear, in 2012 and releasing it in 2013, Android Wear did not exist. Rather than wait for Google (as Samsung did when Google was rushing to release Android 3.0 for tablets to catch up to Apple and the iPad), Samsung went ahead and forked Android themselves. We reviewed the Galaxy Gear shortly after its launch.

This is important history, as it explains the state of things today and throughout 2014. As Samsung did not wait for Android Wear, their first device contained features Samsung defined, such as camera and IR support, without collaborating with Google. Thus, Samsung wearables were in an interesting position of being off-platform from Google and thus not benefiting from Google’s ecosystem efforts, while also containing features and innovations that could not be folded into Android Wear. For example, if Samsung updated the software on the Galaxy Gear to Android Wear, the camera would stop working.

This is both a good and bad position. Samsung has now transitioned most of their smart watches to their own operating system, Tizen, so they can innovate without needing to coordinate with Google. However, apps designed for Android Wear of course cannot run on Samsung’s Tizen smart watches. Thus, Samsung is currently in its own category. Samsung and Google are now in a race to see who can build an ecosystem faster.

If Samsung can win, they do not have motivation to transition to Android Wear. If Google wins and adds in features that Samsung’s smart watch build of Tizen has, then Samsung should likely migrate their devices over to Android Wear. This will be an interesting power struggle to observe in 2015. It should also be noted that Samsung does make one Android Wear device, the Samsung Gear Live, likely to hedge its bets.

Samsung’s devices and OSes are listed below in the order they were released:

  • Samsung Galaxy Gear – released as custom Samsung Android fork; upgradeable to Tizen
  • Samsung Gear 2 – Tizen
  • Samsung Gear 2 Neo – Tizen
  • Samsung Gear Fit – Low level embedded OS (Cortex-M4 CPU)
  • Samsung Gear Live – Android Wear
  • Samsung Gear S – Tizen

Every device other than the Gear Fit are smart watches. The Fit instead focuses mainly on fitness but also has some smart watch functionality. Technically the category is “Fitness Wristband”. In fact, the Gear Fit hardware is similar to the Microsoft Band that we will cover later.

In 2014 Samsung launched a very interesting device, the Gear S. This is effectively a smartphone on your wrist, as it is the first wrist worn wearable to include cellular (3G) and WiFi. It even has a SIM card slot. This is a clear example of where Samsung has diverged from Android Wear features. It also contains a unique curved Super AMOLED display. These curved displays have dubious value in a smartphone but are more obviously useful on a wrist worn device.

With cellular connectivity, the Gear S sits alone as the only wearable you can wear without a connected smartphone on a cycling, canoeing, or running trip yet still make an emergency call or sync up with friends. Samsung also collaborated with Nike to bring the very popular and feature rich Nike+Running app to their Tizen based smart watches. Therefore, from a checkbox perspective, the Gear S might be the most interesting fitness and smart watch wearable launched in 2014. However, a full review is needed to ascertain how well Samsung executed on the entire experience.

Wearable Use Cases Wearable Products in 2014: Microsoft, Apple & Others
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  • Stephen Barrett - Thursday, January 15, 2015 - link

    I agree there are plenty of problems with that idea, hence no one is covering it now, but its still an interesting idea. Throw enough technology (and different technology than today's non-mesh bluetooth pairing annoyances) at it, and it might work.

    I agree on wearables are most useful when they do most everything for you. Which is why, while the Push wearable is cool, I'm not super excited about it because of the manual data entry.
  • dullard - Thursday, January 15, 2015 - link

    In my opinion, the biggest thing holding back wearables is the assumption that you have a smartphone handy. That smartphone link requirement on almost all wearables really eliminates many use cases where wearables would have a definitive advantage. Essentially wearables have been turned into a device intended to shave a few seconds from the time needed to grab your phone. That's not much gain for a lot of cost and the hassle of carrying around and charging yet another device.

    Manufacturers need to think of a wearable without a smartphone. Obviously, that dramatically increases your sales base to those without smartphones. But also think about these uses:

    (a) Think about women at work who often don't have pockets, often don't want to carry their purse everywhere, and often don't have a belt to attach a smartphone to. Wearables would be perfect for these office workers since they often don't have a smartphone on them. But no, the wearables force users to have a phone AND the wearable at the same time.

    (b) Think about workers whose hands are often not available to reach for a phone or whose jobs prevent carrying around most phones (construction work, chefs, anyone who drives a lot, people working in wet environments, people working in information sensitive jobs where phones aren’t allowed, etc.) There are millions of people who can't have their phone with them, but of course, the wearables assume you have a phone right there.

    (c) Think about the people at the gym who really don't want to carry around a bulky phone AND a wearable. I have a Jawbone Up24 and it has so much potential, but it is underutilized since I need my phone in front of me to see my workout as I workout (which is difficult for most equipment). Or think about people going out on the town, who don't want to lose an expensive phone with all their valuable information. Or think about people who want to go into the country (such as mountain climbing, forest hikes, beach walks) where cell phones die a quick battery death unable to maintain a connection.

    I could go on and on for uses without a smartphone nearby.

    The best wearable for me would have wi-fi, e-ink style screen, and a couple of useful sensors. It would turn on once a minute to update the e-ink clock, turn on wi-fi to get notifications, and display any notifications. Then it would go to sleep for another minute using virtually no power for the next 60 seconds. No smartphone would ever be needed, certainly not one nearby. It would have a long battery life. You can get all the data you actually need in nearly real-time, such as last-minute meeting requests or room changes. Almost everyone could use it. Then if you want to type a novel, email, etc, go to a computer, tablet or smartphone--don't try to cram computer uses into a tiny screen.
  • Impulses - Thursday, January 15, 2015 - link

    I think a lot of the people in category B (minus the sensitive data/govt workers) still carry their phone all day long... They just don't wanna grab it because their hands are busy, dirty, etc. The current crop of wearables are perfect for them, I'm in that category.

    Truly useful wearables with built in data connections would strain batteries even harder and would require some cooperation with carriers as far as data plans etc. No one wants to pay a monthly fee for a wearable...
  • bodonnell - Thursday, January 15, 2015 - link

    I traditionally have always wore a wrist watch as I like being able to know the time at a glance. I first jumped on the bandwagon with a Nike Fuelband but found it wasn't quite for me and this Christmas was gifted a Pebble Steel which I discovered is pretty much perfect for my use case. With the always on display I can see the date and time as well as the weather at a glance, the notifications save me time as I can see texts, phone calls and emails at a glance and avoid pulling out my phone for things that I don't need to respond to right away (or calls I would prefer to ignore) and it does (basic) fitness tracking as well. It also only needs to be charged (on average) every 5-7 days and at $200 it's just as affordable as decent wrist watch anyway. I was originally thinking I'd jump onto the Apple Watch bandwagon when it comes out but now I think I have everything I want out of a smart watch for now and will wait to see what happens when the wearable market matures.
  • Impulses - Thursday, January 15, 2015 - link

    Yeah, I've actually never been someone that needs to read every notification on the spot and will interrupt a conversation etc to take out my phone and see what's beeping... But having a Wear watch lets me stay on top of stuff better and use the phone even less.

    I can certainly live without it, when I'm sitting in front of the computer at home I take it off... But it's a huge convenience most of the time, not having to look at the watch to see random texts, package delivery notifications, calendar reminders, music control, etc.

    I'm not sure there'll ever be a "killer app", just like tablets, it's a luxury. Convenient and possibly more comfortable at times, but a luxury nonetheless and either you enjoy it or you don't. With fashion playing a bit more of a role and the cost of miniaturization, I'm not sure how feasible a race to the bottom will be.
  • Impulses - Thursday, January 15, 2015 - link

    To that I'll add, I never used voice search on my phone because once it's on my hand it's almost always quicker to type... But I've found myself using it on a watch for quick simple answer queries.
  • MrSpadge - Thursday, January 15, 2015 - link

    "What do you desire from an AnandTech wearable review?"

    I'd like to know if there's any "killer application" which might convince me of their usefulness. I'm still using my Windows Mobiile 6.1 Dumbphone, so that would be pretty hard.
  • RT81 - Thursday, January 15, 2015 - link

    During the Apple Watch keynote, Tim Cook mentioned something about someone using the Apple Watch as a view finder for the camera. I'm sure that's probably not very interesting for most people, but it is for me. I've used my iPhone camera as something like a poor man's borescope. It would be interesting to be able to use the Apple Watch for that.

    I'm betting that some very creative and enterprising developer out there will come up with apps we've never thought of.
  • Impulses - Thursday, January 15, 2015 - link

    I thought the black 360 looked cheaper than the silver one too Stephen, at least when I first saw them in person side by side. I think any wearable evaluation is gonna require a degree of, well, wear-in testing...

    I know AnandTech has never been about rushing reviews, but there are issues that will crop up with these devices only after wearing them for a month (like my grey 360 band sweat staining, the aftermarket brown one I replaced it with has fared better and it's more supple).

    Further, there are issues only some users will experience (like the allergic reactions to some Fitbit bands), I know having more than one reviewer on any one product has always been tricky for AT but still...
  • Geoplace - Thursday, January 15, 2015 - link

    I think that is very important that voice recognition must be available when there is no Wi-fi or celular data. So you could still use it while driving for example. I have experience that android voice recognition is mainly for when you have data connection. Right?

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