My wearable CES: What I did and didn't use during the show

Can today's wearable tech really make your life better? I wore some gadgets, but on my wrist, not on my face. Here's why, and what happened.

Scott Stein/CNET

At this year's CES, I didn't just wander through halls of half-baked Bluetooth-pinging little wearable things and write about them: I also wore them. Which ones? I kept it simple. Because, really, there aren't that many useful pieces of wearable tech in the world right now. And even the ones I wore weren't all that necessary. I was just curious what they would do for me. And once a fellow editor asked if I'd track my activity throughout CES, I grabbed what I had on my desk and charged up.

Fitness trackers: Fitbit Force, Nike+ FuelBand SE
If you saw me at the show, you'd have noticed one or both of my arms covered in three wristbands: the Pebble Watch, a Nike+ FuelBand SE , and a Fitbit Force .

I had two separate fitness trackers for no good reason at all, other than I was curious how each would perform, and I have no personal fitness-tracker favorite. The Fitbit Force is a superior step-counter and syncs better, but the band falls off too easily and it's not shower-proof. The FuelBand SE feels better and is easier to use as a watch, but I find its other functions lacking.

I forgot to bring the Jawbone Up24 , which does sleep tracking (the Fitbit Force does too, but I kept forgetting to start it each night). But I barely slept, anyway: three hours one night, three another, four and five the last two nights. I know I was sleep-deprived.

Scott Stein/CNET

On my best Fitbit Force day -- which turned out to be Sunday, January 5, before the show even opened -- I walked 12,738 steps, or 5.51 miles. That's small potatoes compared to serious show-floor walkers, but I was often sitting down writing or hopping into cabs.

Screenshot by Scott Stein/CNET

The Nike FuelBand SE said I only walked 10,224 steps that day. That type of conservative under-recording was common. And, oddly, the FuelBand had my best Fuel day on Wednesday January 8, when I only walked 9,123 steps but earned 3,408 "fuel points," Nike's algorithm for activity and fitness. Go figure.

All told, according to the Fitbit App, I walked 74,026 steps over my 7 days at CES, for an average of 10,575.1 steps a day. That equates, according to Fitbit, to 32.02 miles, or an average of 4.57 miles a day.

But if you asked the Nike FuelBand, it says I consistently walked less. So I went with the Fitbit Force data...I prefer extra credit. The FuelBand's daily activity breakdown, however, indicated I did the least walking in the morning, with afternoon, night, and late night splitting the difference.

Did any of this get me to eat healthier over those seven days? Not at all.

Scott Stein/CNET

Pebble watch: The perfect CES wearable
The Pebble watch -- last year's version, not the Pebble Steel -- stayed on my wrist the whole show. It turned out to be my most useful wearable. Why? Its battery lasted for over 4 days with Bluetooth and notifications continuously on. I could wear it in the shower. And, that ability to get texts, incoming calls and other messages was a lifesaver in the booming echo chambers of CES.

During CNET's CES party, I could tell when people were texting me saying they were leaving -- or, when guests arrived. When I was lost in the bowels of South Hall, I could feel on my wrist and glance at when our photographer Sarah Tew was available to meet with me and shoot something. I could respond faster, and I made sure I didn't miss anything -- even incoming off-hours FaceTime calls from my wife and children over in England. The wrist-buzzing kept me more tightly connected, but it wasn't a sure bet: sometimes the notification pairing would mysteriously stop. I blame it on the endless bombardment of wireless signals, and pairing three devices to my iPhone at once.

Scott Stein/CNET

iPhone 5S: My camera of choice
I didn't bring an SLR camera with me, although we had plenty of excellent photographers with phenomenal equipment ready to shoot things as needed. For everything else, as I walked around meeting companies, I used an iPhone 5S .

It was a simple decision: the iPhone connected quickly online, posted pics fast to social media, and had enough storage to keep me satisfied. I was able to get good, semi-close shots of products in low light situations, and capture good detail for blog posts. The iPhone was small enough and ever-present enough to feel like a borderline wearable product.

I did not use Google Glass , or any other wearable camera. Why? Two reasons: Google Glass has lousy battery life, and I find the level of focal and framing control to be useless for fast photo-capturing moments. Glass is fine for an amusing tweet or a quick clip, but the iPhone 5S won every time as a camera...and the Pebble won for notifications. So why would I need Glass?

Small laptop, small iPad: Necessary tools
And, in case you're curious, I used an 11-inch MacBook Air and iPad Mini for the rest of my work. I picked the smaller versions of both because they fit better in a bag and both still had great battery life. I wrote my stories and edited on the Air, and filed one story from the airport on the Mini.

I half-considered a stunt move like posting tweets from the Wi-Fi do-everything Omate TrueSmart watch, which I have here at the office, but I didn't. CES is too short and stressful for stunts. What I wore -- except for the fitness bands -- was actually useful. And at this CES, wearable tech didn't play a very large role in my workflow or lifestyle.

Oh, and there was one other gadget I needed: a battery pack. Keeping Bluetooth on and pairing all my wearables meant the iPhone 5S took a battery hit even more than usual, and I needed several top-ups a day. It was hardly ideal. But it's the story of this moment: battery life is the bottleneck. Until these gadgets run on our own kinetic energy or solar power, it'll continue to be a challenge that won't be easy to overcome.

 

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