Digital Crave

Are ‘smartwatches’ a smart buy?

Digital Crave

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We've seen smartphones, smart TVs, smart cars and smart homes. So why not smartwatches?

You don't need to be Dick Tracy to see the appeal of adding extra functionality to your wrist — be it text messaging, video calling, GPS tracking or customizable apps.

In fact, it's already here.

Sure, it's been a few years since Timex first introduced Ironman with Data Link, the company's first watch to combine a personal digital assistant (PDA) with a multi-function sport timekeeping device. And then there were the Fossil SPOT watches that operated on Microsoft's wirelessly-connected Smart Personal Objects Technology. Ahead of its time, perhaps, as these technologies failed to gain mainstream appeal.

Today, however, there are many high-tech wristwatches debuting — though some seem more promising than others.

The Sony SmartWatch ($149.99), for example, pairs with a nearby Android smartphone via Bluetooth, through a free app downloadable from Google Play (formerly Android Market).

Setting up the color SmartWatch was straightforward enough, as was selecting what supported apps to download -- though be aware the 1.3-inch OLED touchscreen might be smaller than you realize. In fact, the screen doesn't fill up the entire watch face. And the screen can be somewhat hard to read in bright sunshine unless you cup the top of the screen with your other hand.

As you'd expect, this 0.5-ounce smartwatch lets you read texts, emails and social networking updates from sites like Facebook or Twitter. Plus, it supports about 60 other apps, too, including Google Maps, Weather and Gmail. To swap between installed apps, simply swipe left or right between them.

The smartwatch also vibrates to let you know when a call is coming in and you can control music on your smartphone while it's tucked away in a purse or pocket. Some of the apps seem a little ridiculous — for example, who wants to snap pictures with your Android smartphone via the watch? — but others are more appealing, like a quick glance at the weather or reading a text and tapping to reply with a preset message like "Call you shortly."

The dust- and splash-proof SmartWatch ships with a black silicone wristband, but five additional colors are available for purchase: white, pink, mint, grey and blue. Battery life lived up to its promise of up to an entire week between charges; a small USB cable is included with four "teeth" that clamp onto the back of the watch face.

BlackBerry users, on the other hand, might consider the inPulse smartphone watch (from $99). Also available for Android devices, this wireless smartphone accessory for the wrist lets you read emails and texts, see caller ID and calendar alerts. Smartwatch apps range from ways managing presentations (going forward and back through PowerPoint slides) and games (like Cavern) to world clocks, stopwatches and multiple digital clock skins to customize its appearance.

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In fact, the maker of the inPulse watch, Allerta, is also working on a new smartwatch, Pebble: E-Paper Watch for iPhone and Android. Due out later this year, the product has raised more than $10.2 million dollars from supporters via KickStarter -- the most money ever raised on the popular crowdfunding platform.

Check out the original KickStarter video pitch on the Pebble here: Pebble: E-Paper Watch

While the number of Pebble pledgers is quite remarkable -- roughly 69,000 in total -- some may question why we need an extra screen in our lives. That is, if the smartphone replaced the wristwatch, do we really need to reintroduce it again? Are we that lazy we can't pull out our smartphone? And in many cases, these watches require a nearby phone to work.

Personally, I do like how some watches let you control the music on a tucked-away smartphone, offered by the Sony SmartWatch and iPulse, as well as the now-defunct Sony Ericsson MBW-150 Bluetooth Watch. And I also thought it was a good idea products like the Helium Digital Wristband Communicator would vibrate if you walk too far away from your phone — ideal for forgetful types.

Not all smartwatches are wireless either. ThinkGeek has its stainless steel MP4 Watch ($89.99) that lets you watch videos, listen to music, see photos and read e-books. There's also the ThinkGeek USB Hidden Flash Drive Watch ($49.99), which holds up to 8 Gigabytes of files on a discrete USB connector hidden behind the face.

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Finally, those how own a 6th generation iPod nano might opt for an iWatchz accessory (from $24.95), which turns the square-shaped portable media player into a wristwatch. In fact, the iPod has 18 different watch faces to choose from, ranging from analog and digital options to Disney and The Muppets characters. This hands-free accessory is also perfect for those who'd like to exercise while listening to their music (with album artwork), plus there's also a built-in pedometer, FM radio, stopwatch and support for podcasts.

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