The Vr2020 2015 Smartwatch Report covers common issues and their solutions from popular smartwatch manufacturers Sony, Samsung, Apple, and Pebble, delivering users a unique look into the state of the industry and the common problems associated with the most highly sought-after smartwatches on the market today. Overall, our report discovered consistent problems across all smartwatches with battery life, apps, and feature sets. However, we also found that each individual brand had varying severity of their common problems, as well as unique and specific issues with their products that could not be found with their competitors.
The wearables industry has rapidly increased in size over the past five years, with more and more individuals using smartwatches as a fashion accessory, health tool, and digital communication device. In addition, the smartwatch industry is at the forefront of a multitude of sectors and is helping consumers integrate a wide variety of their lives into the digital realm. Where the industry goes from here is anybody's guess, but the potential for some groundbreaking achievements and development of new paradigms is robust and filled with possibility.
This makes choosing the right smartwatch even more important, as they progress and are able to integrate seamlessly with all aspects of your life.
Which is where we come in.
Drawing from our unique and proprietary data found on Vr2020, as well as the Vr2020 Fixboard which provides unique actionable insight on today's top wearables, we will cover some of the the most common issues and solutions that each company has with their devices and give you the tools to find a solution.
Let's get started.
Samsung Gear S
Samsung Galaxy Gear Smartwatch Synopsis:
The Samsung Gear S is tech behemoth Samsung's most recent take on the smartwatch. Featuring Bluetooth compatibility, audio speaker for making phone calls, touchscreen for text messages, and voice control that allows you to guide the smartwatch's actions, the Gear S is an admirable effort. It's built-in 3G modem and extensive feature set allows it to function as a phone, and in theory has the potential to displace your entire phone in general. In practice however, the device has some notable issues discussed below that hamper the user experience in significant ways.
In other words, while it attempts to offer a replacement for your phone, the execution falls short.
Much like Apple, Samsung has displayed a razor focus on keeping users within their ecosystem of products and services. This business strategy is a logical one, especially in a day and age when users jump at the next new thing at the drop of the hat unless they've become invested in a product line. Brand loyalty is an essential goal of any company, but the Gear S' inability to work with smartphones not made by Samsung hurt the device's ability to full penetrate the market.
Let's take a look at the major issues with the device below.
Common Problems & Solutions for the Samsung Gear S
Similar to other smartwatch devices, the voice control and speakerphone on the Samsung Gear S is a hit and miss affair, replete with issues that are to be expected at this stage of the smartwatch offering as a whole. Comparing the voice control and speakerphone issues with other products made by Samsung's core competitors makes it clear that this is a serious problem with the smartwatch market as a whole, but one that specifically hampers the Gear S' ability on a micro-level.
These issues make it no less frustrating to the user however, and problems such as words being unrecognized by the voice control device, cause complications when trying to tap into the smartwatch's features. The voice control is akin to an early edition of Siri—something that works fairly well at times, but struggles with certain phrases.
However, it should be noted that the speaker system appears to be fairly good compared to other smartwatch devices, making conversations over the phone easier to successfully complete with the Gear S compared to other smartwatches with similar out of the box capabilities. In should be noted that while Samsung has made some improvements in this area compared to their latest iterations, there are still issues with voice control that make it a significant problem for users.
Remember when we said the Samsung Gear S has the ability to serve as its standalone phone? With features like phone calls, emails, and text messages all able to be performed natively and without the assistance of a phone, this selling point could be a powerful tool for Samsung to dive into the smartwatch market head on and make some big strides when it comes to creating an autonomous device.
However, the irony here is that the Gear S needs to connect to a Samsung smartphone for you to even activate the device. In other words, while it functions autonomously after that initial setup, the entire selling point of having an autonomous smartwatch do everything your phone can do is rendered moot almost immediately since it requires you to connect to a Samsung smartphone before you're ever able to use the device.
This oversight is a big barrier for Samsung, both from the fact that it requires a smartphone to set up its biggest and brightest feature sets, as well as the fact that it requires pairing with an existing Samsung device (and not an iOS, Windows, or Blackberry phone etc.). To the second point, as we stated earlier in the report, the idea that companies want to keep users within their ecosystem is a sound one and makes sense from a marketing perspective. However, the inherent downside in this strategy is that users who are maybe interested in the Gear S may skip out after they find themselves unable to sync with their pre-existing phone.
A fairly standard complaint amongst smartwatch owners across the board, the Samsung Gear S experiences some problematic battery issues that plague users of the device. As mentioned before, the Gear S has a built-in 3G connectivity which can be a possible cause of this drain, and if you connect to your phone, uses Bluetooth connectivity in a lot of it's applications and features. The same Bluetooth connection is used to push notifications from your phone to your smartwatch, and therefore, a phone that is constantly receiving notifications about emails, text messages, and social networking can drain quickly and cause users headaches when utilizing the device.
This isn't exclusive to the Gear S by any stretch of the imagination—from smartwatches to smartphones to tablets, connected on-the-go devices consistently get hammered with this type of feedback from users. However, potential customers should be aware of this issue before making the purchase.
Sony SW3 Synopsis:
Launched in the winter of 2014, the SW3 is Sony's third attempt to establish a stronghold in the smartwatch market and get their product correct. One of the benefits of this relatively long lead time that Sony had on their product is that, before Apple entered the market with the Apple Watch, Sony was already three generations deep with feedback and testing all influencing the way the product would go to give them the best shot at retaining and gaining market share before the Cupertino tech behemoth entered the market.
So did Sony deliver?
As we've hinted at throughout the duration of this report, the smartwatch market in general has a lot of products that contain similar features as well as downsides, and the SW3 is no exception. With a touchscreen, various customizable aspects of the watch that include apps, Bluetooth connectivity, and notifications from your phone when you have an email or message, the SW3 contains a core feature set that each and every potential smartwatch owner has come to expect from the devices.
However, there are some key differences with the SW3 (both positive and negative depending on the user) from other smartphones. For starters, the device has NFC (Near Field Communication) connectivity, which means you can easily sync your smartwatch with a compatible smartphone without the hassle of using any cords. Furthermore, the smartwatch is able to send you an alert when you've gone out of range of your paired smartphone, a nice deterrent from accidentally misplacing your phone in a public place.
In addition, the SW3 has introduced a built-in GPS that allows you track your travel and, if you're an exercise junkie, allows you to keep tabs on your market to see how much distance you have travelled. In addition, the device is waterproof (a massive upside for users who like to swim or go out on the water) and has a built-in USB port that makes charging without a pre-set cord a breeze.
Despite all these excellent features however, the SW3 does have some notable downsides that have frustrated users and fallen short on the third iteration, possibly opening the door for other companies to jump in and take away customers from Sony.
Let's break down all of the issues below.
Common Problems & Solutions with the Sony SW3
A fairly standard complaint amongst smartwatch owners across the board, the Sony SW3 experiences some problematic battery issues that plague users of the device. Since the device uses Bluetooth connectivity in a lot of it's applications and features, the constant connection taps into the battery of the device and causes it to lose juice far faster than the three days Sony claims the device remain powered.
The same Bluetooth connection is used to push notifications from your phone to your smartwatch, and therefore, a phone that is constantly receiving notifications about emails, text messages, and social networking can drain quickly and cause users headaches when utilizing the device. In addition, the new GPS feature (which, it should be noted, is a feature that users love) also has an impact on the draining battery life problem.
Vr2020 users reported multiple issues with SW3's screen that ranged from both minor problems to major functional issues.
One of the more common issues users reported with the SW3 was its uninspiring color scheme and use of different hues to bring your experience to life. The colors on the SW3 are relatively drab and don't “pop”, something that other smartwatch manufacturers have made a conscious effort to bring to the table in their devices. The fact of the matter is a smartwatch, especially one that's a third generation like the SW3, should recognize that the user experience is an important asset for consumers making the jump to a relatively niche and new market. The fact that the SW3 doesn't execute on this level is disappointing.
In addition, the SW3 has some issues with readability. Although the text size and interaction with the device is pretty strong when users are looking at the device head-on, the watch generally needs to be right in front of your face in order to be viewed properly. If a user is looking at it from a side angle or peeking down at it on their wrist, there is some distortion and a fuzzy look that disrupts the experience.
Users also reported issues with the response time of the screen when using the Sony SW3, as implementing actions on the screen often resulted in lag when switching between different apps and tools on the device. Furthermore, notifications pushed from your cell phone to your smartwatch (such as text messages and email updates) can also both be slow to process as well as difficult to read due to the lag inherent with the smartwatch.
Although Sony got things right by implementing a GPS tracker into their device (something that most competitors do not have), the SW3 does fall short in some notable features that have plagued customers with the device.
The first is the lack of a heart-rate monitor, a disappointing omission that many competitors have included in their device. What's especially strange about this (lack of a) feature is that the GPS functionality built in to the watch makes a heart-rate monitor a very good value proposition for the exercise aficionados that would potentially seek out the SW3. Runners and exercisers will enjoy the GPS feature, but the lack of a heart-rate monitor makes the device less appealing to that subset of customers.
Another disappointing feature is the band on the basic SW3 smartwatch, which is plastic and has the potential to irritate the skin as some users have mentioned. In addition, the aesthetic appearance of the watch takes a hit here, as the watch begins to look more like a fitness band than a smartwatch. Sony has alleviated that issue to some degree by releasing a stainless steel version of the watch that is an option to buyers, but the plastic version is still the standard and doesn't look as good as other options.
Apple Watch Synopsis:
The big player is here.
While that may not be what all other smartwatch players are saying publicly when Apple released its first smartwatch to the public, it's safe to assume that they're thinking it. Apple's massive following, proven ability to market and deliver a product that consumers love, and general buzz surrounding every single product the company puts out gives it a leg up amongst the vast majority of competitors in the industry. In addition, with an extremely well developed ecosystem of apps and developers on board, as well as a UI/UX team that knows and understands how to make a well-rounded and engaging product that flows seamlessly from one task to the next, Apple has the ability to cast an imposing shadow on the rest of the industry as a whole.
With a stylish design and solid interface, the Apple Watch is a very strong effort for Apple in its first foray into the smartwatch market. As users have come to expect, the device is well-integrated with its existing ecosystem. In addition, the seamless pairing with the iPhone (which gives it an emotional value proposition that can't be underscored) is solid and does an excellent job of seamlessly integrating a users experience with their smart devices into one core experience.
However, despite all of the positive points, the Apple Watch still possesses a variety of issues that have thus far held back the smartwatch industry as a whole. The device doesn't replace your smartphone, it merely accents it, and that can be a tough sell for consumers considering the price tag.
Let's dive into the most common problems with the Apple Watch below.
Common Problems & Solutions with the Apple Watch
A fairly standard complaint amongst smartwatch owners across the board, the Apple Watch has had users complaining about the amount of battery life you get out of the device since its release. Although its not an atypical issue in this market, the Apple Watch does have a few unique problems associated with its battery that users should be keenly aware of.
The first is that the battery oftentimes will only last one single day, a notable outlier amongst even the most troubled batteries found amongst its competitors smartwatches. Apple appears to have one of the (if not the) lowest amount of battery longevity on the market today, which makes it extremely frustrating for users who don't have access to a power outlet.
In addition, the charging experience with the Apple Watch isn't a seamless and carefree experience either. Users have mentioned the Apple Watch takes a significant amount of time to charge, and when you add in the amount of issues users have had with the battery life as a whole, this can be a potential issue. In addition, the watch also has the tendency to overheat (or at least think it's overheating) when charging the device, further prolonging charge times.
All of these issues come together to create a frustrating battery experience for users.
While it may come as no surprise that Apple would lock down its device and make it exclusive to iPhone users, it is nonetheless a frustrating restriction for users that the device is unable to be paired with other smartphones or even older iPhones. In order to use the Apple Watch, users must have an iPhone 5 or later in order to sync and use all of the features.
There is likely a wide variety of reasons why Apple chose to go this route—with a first-gen device, they realize early adopters are going to be the largest pool of consumers they are selling to, and those early adopters typically are always upgrading their phone for the newest device. In addition, Apple Watch early adopters are likely already Apple clients, which makes building out Android/Microsoft support an expensive and largely small use case for potential clients.
However, considering the strategic decision to release iTunes on a variety of devices after keeping it in the Apple ecosystem for years, it will be interesting to see if Apple opens up their compatibility with future devices to keep competitors at bay as they expand their ecosystem.
Another problem with the Apple Watch is its tendency to freeze, crash, and essentially give users a buggy experience when using the device. This is related to a wide variety of use cases within the experience of using the Apple Watch—as we've mentioned before, there are problems with charging the device that have plagued users. But it's not just limited to that.
Users have also reported intermittent freezing when switching apps, accessing different parts of the device. In addition, there are reported issues with the Apple Watch not recognizing your iPhone and stating it isn't close enough to be paired (despite the fact that users' iPhone's are right next to the device), as well as issues with the digital crown which is used to select and interact with the face of the device not registering clicks or being able to be spun to make your selections.
Essentially, it's a wide variety of problems where users experience this type of buggy behavior. And while we can chalk it up to some general first-gen issues that a lot of manufacturers have with their devices, it's something users should be intently aware of when considering a purchase of the new Apple Watch.
Pebble Steel Synopsis:
Pebble has two smartwatches, the Steel and the original Pebble. Both devices have earned some lengthy praise in the media for the device's execution, winning awards such as Wired's "10 Best from CES 2014". Similar to the Martian Passport, Pebble got it's start on the crowdfunding website Kickstarter where it raised over $10 million dollars from interested consumers.
For all intents and purposes, both of these smartwatches have the same underlying software and functionality - the difference is in the hardware and construction of the smartwatch itself. The Pebble Steel has a smaller watch face and is made up of steel (as the name suggests), while the Pebble smartwatch relies on plastic for its design chops. Other than that, the devices are almost identical - although the Steel received a software upgrade as well as a dedicated app store before the original Pebble did, both devices were privy to a software and app store upgrade earlier this year that improved the user experience. Under the hood, both devices are now basically operating on the same playing field - the main difference for users being in how it looks on the wrist and the quality of the construction.
The Pebble Steel has earned some lofty praise from users and media outlets for its execution, but with the Apple Watch now entering the market, it's going to be interesting to see how the device stacks up.
We take a look at the most common problems facing owners of the Pebble Steel below.
Common Problems & Solutions with the Pebble Steel
Smart devices are all about ecosystems when it comes to the app experience, and for anyone outside of the iOS and Android space, getting developers onboard with your product can be a chore. Despite these challenges, Pebble has done an excellent job of getting developers on board to create apps for the device. A centralized app store to purchase apps on the Pebble is a welcome addition for users and put the Pebble into a spot into the market that gave users much more utility when using the device.
However, a big concern with Pebble's latest offering is that the device is limited to eight apps on the device at one time. Consider the device has hundreds of apps listed in the app store, this type of limitation can be extremely frustrating for users—although swapping apps in and out isn't an especially cumbersome process the majority of the time, the fact that users have to go back and forth to load apps onto their smartwatch does muddy the experience. This is compounded by the fact that other competitors offerings have a much bigger set of offerings from an app implementation perspective as well as the fact that users have a wide range of needs that can be filled with existing apps in the store and will have to swap them in and out.
This issue is similar to others in the smartwatch market, not necessarily in the specific number of apps that can be housed on the device at a single time, but in the overall execution of the device—the smartwatch has evolved to be a useful corollary to your smartphone, but has some issues when it attempts to replace it.
For all of its accolades, one of the major downsides of the Pebble Steel is a lack of a voice control. Voice activation is absolutely a standard feature amongst smart devices today, and the decision by Pebble to forgo including voice control apparatus is a frustrating omission. What this means is that users are unable to make phone calls with the device or use their voice to implement commands to access apps or their notifications. Whether or not this is a game changer is going to depend on the end user and what they expect to accomplish with the device, but not having these features available did bother a number Vr2020 users who were looking for their smartphone to bring a more feature-rich experience to something that -- at this stage amongst all smartwatches -- is a supplement to their cell phone and not a full-on replacement.
Similar to Sony's SW3, the Pebble Steel is lacking some key features that competitors have utilized which will potentially give them a leg up in the eyes of consumers. The lack of a heart-rate monitor is a disappointing omission that many competitors have included in their device. One of the biggest upsides of smartwatches is their ability to tie into user's health—with a device placed around your wrist, there is a large amount of data people can glean in theory from a smartwatch, making it a natural and obvious pairing with data concerning your health. Pebble's decision not to include this type of feature is understandable—the device is geared more towards style and not necessarily data-heavy metrics—but is disappointing.
In addition, with Pebble rolling out a very strong fitness tracker that uses a pedometer to count steps and provide users with relevant data and goals, a heart monitor would have been a natural fit to grab more of the fitness-focused crowd which are flocking the smartwatch industry as a whole.