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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.


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.