The newest round of smartwatches is expensive, a bit bulky and can't hold a charge for more than a day. And Android Wear — a new mobile operating system that represents Google's first crack at developing a smartwatch platform — is in its infancy, with just a few dozen compatible apps and a swipe-based interface that's bound to confound some new users. But after spending a few days wearing Samsung's Gear Live, one of the two Android Wear devices currently available to purchase, I'm convinced that we've reached an important milestone in the evolution of the smartwatch. Though far from perfect, these devices have actually gotten pretty good. In fact, I would say a smartwatch is finally a sound investment — especially if you plan to use it for work. If you pick one of the new Android Wear devices, or one of Pebble's time-tested smartwatches, you're sure to get a productivity boost that's at least worth the price of entry. Here are five reasons why.
1. They ensure you never miss an alert
Want to see every alert, and quick? Get a smartwatch. Wearing one completely solves the problem of missing an important phone call, message or email, since it's virtually impossible to ignore a buzzing smartwatch. After all, overlooking an alert is easy, especially if your smartphone, like mine, lacks an LED light that blinks to show you when a new alert has arrived. If you miss the initial buzz or ring, it's all too easy to overlook a missed call or message for many minutes, or even an hour. For most users, missing an alert is a nuisance; for business users, it can be a serious problem.
2. They actually reduce distractions
A buzzing smartphone is bad enough, so won't a buzzing watch — which is much harder to ignore from its spot on your wrist — be an even bigger source of distraction? I don't think so. In fact, I find that wearing a smartwatch actually reduces distractions and helps me stay focused on my work.
When a new text message or email arrives on your smartphone, acting on it is a process. You'll need to locate your phone, turn on the display, unlock the device, access the notification tray and finally tap the message to load it on your screen. And just picking up your smartphone introduces a slew of new distractions in the form of apps and unimportant alerts to check on.
In comparison, reading an incoming message on a smartwatch is quick and effortless. Your watch simply buzzes, and you look down to view your new message. Since most messages don't require an immediate response, you're free to skim or ignore it. For me, glancing at messages — most of which can wait — is far less distracting than fiddling with my smartphone.
3. They make existing apps and services more relevant
Google touts Google Now, its digital assistant app, as a defining feature of Android smartphones. But frankly, I never really bothered to check my Google Now notifications — until I wore an Android Wear watch, that is. The new smartwatch platform makes Google Now feel relevant and useful for the first time. Notifications are pushed to my watch automatically, and I can view them with a glance and dismiss them just as quickly. For example, two of the best features of Google Now are its ability to alert you when traffic is bad on your regular commute route, or when your flight is going to be delayed. But those alerts won't help if you fail to notice them in your smartphone notification tray. On an Android Now smartwatch, you can't miss them.
Likewise, Android Wear takes other smartphone apps and makes them much easier to use. For example, you can use the voice command, Take a Note, to quickly dictate a note right on your watch; it will be automatically saved to the default note-taking application on your smartphone. Sure, you can replicate that functionality by pulling out your smartphone and tapping the microphone in the Evernote, OneNote or Google Keep app, but that method just isn't very convenient. Taking notes on an Android Wear watch isn't just faster and easier; it makes note-taking apps feel useful for the first time. The same functionality can also be used for actions like setting a reminder or checking your daily agenda.
4. They help you stay discreet
Checking your smartphone during a conversation is rude, and checking it in the middle of a business meeting is unprofessional. Still, it's hard to resist glancing at your phone to see what's making it buzz. That's the beauty of a smartwatch: it lets you discretely view incoming notifications in a fraction of the time it would have taken you to check your phone. To everyone else, it will look like you're just glancing down to check the time, which might make you look responsible rather than preoccupied.
5. They're only getting better
It might be tempting to hold off on the current crop of smartwatches and wait for a more advanced device, with better looks and longer battery life. But even the current smartwatch models are going to continue to improve, thanks to new apps and operating system updates. Sure, there are fewer than 40 Android Wear-compatible apps available in the Google Play store, but you can expect that library to expand rapidly in the coming months. And Google is promising lots of updates, such as the ability to use your smartwatch as a "key" for your smartphone: Your phone will wirelessly detect the presence of your smartwatch to let you quickly unlock it, while other users will be presented with a password entry screen. Pebble's smartwatches will keep getting better, too, as the platform's huge app library continues to mature.