My dream smartwatch: Building a perfect wearable gadget from the best bits so far

There's no perfect piece of wearable tech, and everything out there has problems. But here's what I like from what I've seen in 2013 and gotten a peek at in early 2014.

Random smart watches everywhere at CES. But how do you make a great one? Sarah Tew/CNET

Wearable tech has a single large challenge: it's wearable. Many people don't want to wear their gadgets, and if they do, they want that thing to be perfect, stylish, useful, and non-annoying. Most wearable tech right now fails at being any of that.

And so, welcome to 2014. Can any gadget emerge that hopes to be that thing, that perfect little easy-to-understand and highly-desirable thing? Plenty of companies (AppleGoogle, coughcough) stand the best chance of offering one. Based on what I've seen so far, across dozens of devices, I can cobble together a dream gadget. This is what I'd want.

Oh, and it would be something for my wrist. Not my face, not my ankle -- but it might involve my ear, if I wore an earbud. Smart glasses are interesting, but they're not something I'd buy this year...or next year, either.

The watch comfort of a Pebble, or the sports-band comfort of a Nike Fuelband
I may not like all the things the Pebble Watch currently is, but what it does it does quite well. It's a very solid wrist-pager, it has fun watch faces, and most importantly, it's useful as a watch. It has a silent alarm, time can be adjusted even when in airplane mode, and it's waterproof. Oh, and its clever little shake-to-light backlight is incredibly addictive -- more regular watches should use it. It feels good on my wrist, too. The Nike+ Fuelband shares the comfort prize for a fitness band...if only its other features were as good.

Scott Stein/CNET

The battery life of a Casio Sports Gear watch
That Pebble needs recharging every four days or so, though. That's annoying. Casio's notification-receiving semismart upcoming Casio Sports Gear watch may not be the device you're dreaming of, but it promises one thing few can match: a real watch battery with a long lifespan. A year is what most people expect, at least. Some gadgets like the Misfit Shine and Garmin Vivofit have moved to coin-cell watch batteries and ditched chargers for that reason.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The awareness of Google Glass and Google Now
I don't know if I want something on my head. I probably don't, unless its an incredible future-lens that projects augmented reality onto my own glasses with no hassle. That may not exist for a decade. Google Glass in its current form is cumbersome, for me; a high-maintenance show-off oddity. But it does have a knack for clever aware pop-up notifications and interactions. I can snap a pic of what's around me, or ask it for directions and suddenly see them. Google Now is half the magic here, and this, or a smarter super-Siri, could offer something similar. I just want it to work better and not be so annoying, because right now this type of tech misunderstands me as much as it understands me.

Razer

The fitness-plus-extras of a LG Lifeband Touch or Razer Nabu
A lot of fitness trackers are starting to get smartwatch-style extras. But really, it'll be the other way around: smart little things should adopt the clever software services that some of the better fitness trackers are using. The iPhone 5s can already stand in for a Fitbit , thanks to compatible software. It's about the software, not the hardware, for future fitness tech.

The health software of a Jawbone Up
The best health app I've seen this year, Up -- the companion app for the Jawbone Up and Up24 -- meshes detailed charts, lifelogging if you want to go crazy, some smart home integration, and some of the coolest sleep-awareness smarts I've seen. I got a gentle suggestion one night to go to bed by 10:35pm. Because, based on when I was waking up, that would give me my proper night's rest. The Up buzzes every once in a while to give me a gentle nudge to move more. These little "awareness pings" are what a good wearable gadget needs. In moderation. And with a modicum of caution.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The futurism (and unisex minimalism) of Misfit Shine
I loved how weird and compelling the Misfit Shine seemed when I first laid eyes on it. The little coin-size disc's just an activity tracker, but its smooth shape and glowing, pulsing ring of LED lights make it look like a movie prop from the 22nd century. Some people I've shown it to think it's overdesigned, but it always starts a conversation. And it doesn't have the look of a big honking piece of fitness gear or a man's sportwatch, an aesthetic shift that's needed in wearables. Even if the Shine feels a little slight for my wrist, it's one of my favorite gadget designs of 2013.

The customized vibration notifications of a Martian Notifier
The next Martian Notifier watch drops a few features of the last one but has a really cool way of customizing any notification -- Twitter, a text, a specific phone call -- with its own pattern of vibrations. You could train yourself to recognize incoming info without looking. I don't know if I want Morse-code vibrations all day long, but playing with nonvisual ways of getting information in wearables is very smart.

The augmented audio awareness of 'Her'
Yeah, I saw the movie 'Her.' I had to, after CES and a year obsessed with the problems of wearable tech. 'Her' isn't a product, but it's one of the best visions of wearable tech I saw in 2013. The Spike Jonze film dreams towards a future of more invisible technology, and also hyperaware A.I. The jury's still out on how error-free that A.I. will be, or whether waistlines will creep that high, but an audio-based type of augmented reality feels a lot more plausible than a heads-up visual one. Context-aware audio could be so much more interesting and helpful than text messages in my retinas. It's also a lot more attainable.

Scott Stein/CNET

The design of a Pebble Steel...or better
I'd want to buy a Pebble Steel, just because of how it looks. It gave me the same aesthetic excitement that made me buy an iPod Nano and glom a wristband onto it . Now, not everyone likes that type of idea. Watches, or bands, or whatever form these things might take, need to be good enough to want to buy. Good luck with that. I can't see that being easy, unless real watch makers and big-ticket designers get folded in fast.

The dream-big magic of what the Galaxy Gear intended but couldn't deliver
I really don't like the Galaxy Gear . But I appreciate its attempt to think big. Nothing about the Gear really worked well at all, but crazy do-it-all devices like it and the Omate TrueSmart , which is a complete (if ridiculously small and hard to use) Android phone, at least are trying to dream bigger. Isn't that the point of wearable tech in the first place? I don't want a do-everything wearable. But I want that thing to be far more magical in its philosophy than practical -- because wearable tech isn't all about practicality. It needs to be a bit crazy. Just a bit.

A price that doesn't go over $199
It all depends on how amazing that wearable gadget is, but I can't see myself paying more for it than a top-end phone. The original Pebble, many fitness trackers, and the next Martian watch are aiming at that $100-to-$200 price range, and for the next year or so I think it's the safest range by far.

 

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