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A wearable that can do it all: My CES 2017 wish

You can have kick-ass fitness tracking or a stylish design, but we've yet to see wearables that offer the complete package. Here's hoping that changes.

The Misfit Ray offers simple fitness tracking and notifications.
Sarah Tew/CNET

At CES 2017 in Las Vegas, you'll see two types of wearable technology, shown in two very distinct areas of the show floor.

The first type is the fitness-tracking device, designed to measure your steps, your strides, your strokes and your stamina.

These wearables boast the latest sensor technology to measure everything from the impact your feet make on the pavement when you run to how many hoops you shoot with your friends. There are plenty of watches and wrist bands, but you'll also find these sensors crammed in sneakers, sunglasses, bike helmets and even ski vests.

Then, you've got the other kind of wearable. These are the designer "pieces" that sparkle on your wrist, clip to your lapel or hang, pendant-like, from that imitation gold necklace that looks like it's worth $300.

While the tech under the hood isn't game-changing, you'll certainly spot those new gadgets among the noise of the next CES, coming up the first week in January, hard after the holidays, as fashion bloggers breathlessly opine that they represent the next wave in luxury tech. (Note: Nothing dulls the sense of "luxury" like watching a CES booth attendant madly flop out hundreds of plastic-wrapped Swarovski watch bands in the early hours before the booth opens.)

But I don't want to spend a cool hundred bucks on a faux-gold, step-tracking pendant -- just like I don't want to fork out for a gritty-looking commando watch to track my epic cardio sesh.

I want a wearable that does both.

Here's my wearable wish list:

  • Accurate GPS
  • Realistic step tracking
  • Smart sensors to accurately track biometrics, like heart rate
  • Simple app integration that shows my workout on my phone (why exercise if I can't boast?)
  • Notifications for calls, messages and social media
  • A sleek body that doesn't make it look like a standard Soviet-issue chronograph and/or sundial

It may seem like a simple list. But a cursory glance at CNET's wrap-up of wearables from CES 2016, as well as the top devices we've seen launched in the year since then, tells me I'm dreaming.

Traversing the show floor last January, it was hard enough to find a decent wearable that didn't dwarf my small wrists. (Hey, device manufacturers: Women like wearing these gadgets too, but many of us don't have the meat-ax forearms you think we do.)

When I did find something designed for a more delicate wrist, it was virtually useless in terms of the tech it packed inside. There would be no GPS, very little in the way of display, no heart rate monitor. And inevitably, it would only come in rose gold.

The author, suffering for her art in the Smart Ski Airbag Vest, at CES 2016. The vest uses smart sensors to track your skiing movement and inflates if it detects you're about to crash.

Claire Reilly/CNET

I could get something designed to pair seamlessly with my phone, to ensure I always get those notifications when I'm out and about. But while manufacturers are releasing a wide array of companion wearables to bring phone connectivity to your wrist -- the Apple Watch and Samsung Gear series, for example -- these just don't hold a candle to fitness wearables when it comes to detailed exercise tracking.

That leaves us with the high-tech sports trackers, which boast every kind of sensor to confirm how awesome you are at the gym.

With the backing of well-established navigation brands (such as Garmin and TomTom) and sports labels (think Nike and UnderArmour), these devices can track all aspects of your workout down to the final yard and the last joule. But if you want to wear such a device to a business meeting or out to dinner, you'll be hard pressed to make it work with your best suit or heels.

Do you even lift? Yes, we know you do. Your fitness watch is hard to miss.

So while I'm flying the 15 hours from Australia to Vegas to cover CES this time around, I'll make this wish for wearables: Give me something stylish that actually works in the ways I need it to.