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Bill Bennett

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Tag: smartwatch

Small, wearable computers, strapped to the wrist. Some love them. Most ignore them.

Vissles Wireless Charger review

One of the earliest memories I have of school is our headmaster coming into our class on occasion and reading stories from his Rudyard Kipling book that must have been as old as he was.

My favourite to this day was “The Elephants Child” and I can still hear the headmaster’s perfect diction when saying words like Limpopo like it was the last thing he’d ever say.

What has that got to do with reviewing an accessory you might say? Well, other than adding a bit of colour to a pretty vanilla product, this review also has a pretty major elephant. We will get to that later.

The product in question is the Vissles Wireless Charger, which is unsurprisingly, a wireless charger.

One charger to power them all

Its main point of difference is that it does something that Apple can’t; it allows you to charge your AirPods, Apple Watch and iPhone with the one accessory. The party piece for this charger is that it only requires one external power connection to charge all three devices.

The actual device is about the size and shape of an iPhone 11 Max if the designer had recently discovered rounded corners and decided to go all in. It’s finished with a futurist white plastic gloss, which should fit in with most decors, if that is your thing.

There is no actual charger supplied, so I’m assuming Vissles decided you’d use your existing Apple Watch charger, which is fair.

The Vissles charger also requires you to insert your Apple Watch cable into its housing. This is also fine, but in my case my Apple Watch cable was about 1 meter too long, so I couldn’t use it. Just be aware of this if you have a long Apple Watch charging cable.

As far as using the charger goes, it does what it says on the box. Charging three devices on something that looks like a surfboard from Star Wars is genuinely gratifying and potentially space saving as well.

Fumble-free

I particularly enjoyed not having to fumble around looking for a charge cable to poke into the bottom on my phone, and being able to have somewhere for my AirPods to “dock” permanently while charging. I can’t fault the Vissles Wireless Charger at all from a form and function point of view.

However, I promised an elephant and here it is: I just can’t workout who this accessory is for?

Sure it’s slightly annoying fumbling around for the free charge cable that came with my phone or headphones. It’s great having a central charging station, but is it something you really need? I guess that’s not for me to decide. If you think you do, then this accessory will fulfil your brief very well.

This review was written by Timaru-based James Sugrue. Who describes himself as coder, author, hardware tinkerer, father, husband and geek. James does a bit of motorsport too.

Smartwatch sales grow, Apple dominates

Strategy Analytics, a research firm, says smartwatch sales grew 20 percent annually to 14 million units in the first quarter of 2020.

Apple Watch remains the top brand. It has a tick over 55 percent market share. Sales of Apple Watch were up almost 23 percent during the year. There is the Apple Watch market and then there is everything else.

Samsung is a long way behind with almost 14 percent of the market. Its smartwatch sales are also up, but only a shade under 12 percent. That means Samsung in particular, and Android watches in general, are losing market share.

Third place goes to Garmin, which you rarely hear of in New Zealand. It has eight percent of the market but saw sales increase by a whopping 37.5 percent. ‘Others’ make up 22.6 percent and, in market share terms, are falling relative to Apple and Garmin.

Huawei, which sells its own brand of Android watches and was early to the smartwatch market doesn’t appear to register in its own right. Count it among the ‘others’.

Phone up while PCs and phones languish

It’s interesting to see smartwatches are selling well. This is at a time when phone sales are plummeting and while there has been a temporary surge in PC sales, overall sales are, at best, flat.

The results underscore the recent trend which suggests Android struggles to break out of the phone sector. It may dominate mobile handsets, but has not successfully translated that success with either watches or tablets.

One key to this is that Apple understands how to build an entire support system about a product. The Apple Watch integrates with everything else Apple. You might, for example, use it to unlock your desktop iMac computer.

This integration and support system creates value for third parties to develop apps and complementary products. That’s not so much the case with Android watches. Yes, the watches overlap and integrate a little with phones, but pairing adds little value.

Huawei Watch GT 2: A short take

The Huawei Watch GT 2 looks OK, has great battery life, is waterproof and has a slew of health features, but it can’t run third-party apps.

Huawei has a unique take on the idea of a smart watch. The company’s Watch GT 2 almost belongs in a different product category. It has its charms, but it is, well, not very smart.

There is little in common with, say, the Apple Watch, other than both are watch-sized computers that fit on the wrist.

For a start the Huawei Watch GT 2 looks nothing like the Apple Watch. It is round, like a non-smart watch. In most of its incarnations it looks like a conventional watch with hands ticking clock-wise around the watch face.

Plenty of battery life

Unlike Apple’s Watch, you can get two weeks from a single charge, although that time plummets when you use its music playing capacity.

I didn’t test this, but Huawei says the Watch GT 2 is waterproof enough to measure your swimming activity.

The biggest different between the Huawei Watch GT 2 and other smart watches lies in what it does. Or to be more accurate, what it doesn’t do.

If you have your phone nearby, you can make Bluetooth calls on the Watch GT. Huawei says 150 metres, in testing I found it struggling if the phone was 15 metres away.

Huawei Watch GT 2 is all about activity

The device will monitor your heart rate and track physical activity.

There’s a built-in GPS so you know where you’ve been. You can check emails, texts and calendar items, although you need good eyes to read off the tiny 46mm display.

That’s about it. Unlike other smart phones, it doesn’t run third party apps. Don’t even think about using the Huawei Watch GT 2 for something like checking onto an Air New Zealand flight.

You are stuck with the stock software with little room for customisation. It is what it is.

LiteOS

Huawei has opted to use something called LiteOS as the operating system. No, I’ve never heard of it either.

LiteOS is all about fitness and health tracking. At the launch function Huawei talked about the 15 different types of exercise activities the phone tracks. You can also track your sleep. It collects a lot of data.

In that sense LiteOS is fine, but limited. Let’s hope Huawei can do better if it has to deliver its own phone operating system.

Compared with smarter smart watches you get a lot of activity tracking and a ton of battery life. Depending on your taste you might also like how it looks. On the downside you can’t do anything like as much with it as with an Apple or Samsung watch.

Smart watch: The revolution that didn’t happen

Apple makes money selling Watches. In 2015 Apple said it made more money from watches than any company except Rolex.

By that standard Apple’s Watch business is a success. Imagine the reaction if anyone else had gone from nowhere to the number two watch market position in a couple of years. It remains an outstanding achievement.

Yet, put Apple aside, and the smart watch sector doesn’t look good. There may not even be a worthwhile smart watch market beyond Apple. Almost no-one else makes money from selling smart watches1.

Pointless smart watch

It’s hard to see the point of a smart watch. Even the best ones do little useful beyond collecting health information and sending notifications.

Sure, health is important. But there are other ways to collect the data. As for notifications… well whoopee.

There’s a fatal flaw in the thinking behind smart watches. They promise to be the most intimate computing device. Yet you need a phone to get any value from a smart watch.

And phones are without question the most intimate devices. We live in an era when most people’s phones are rarely more than an arm’s length away. It’s not often you can’t reach your phone.

This means the device on your wrist might spend most of its time just 100mm or so closer to your eyes, ears or brain than your phone. It’ll be even further from your heart.

Phones are better

Phone have better screens, better speakers and better processors. Your phone can vibrate a notification if that’s important to you. It is in every respect a superior way of getting information from wherever to you brain.

Yet, by definition, you must already have a phone if you own a smart watch.

If you’re a solider on active service, or someone who climbs a rope for a living then a watch might be more practical communications tool than a phone. Otherwise, you’re kidding yourself.

Few people are more productive or enjoy better lives because they have a smart watch.

Ugly

Away from the sensible stuff. Smart watches are universally ugly. All of them are too big to be comfortable on a wrist. The screens are hard to read. If they speak to you the sound is often pathetic. Pushing screen buttons is challenging.

Don’t take my word for it. In April Huawei deputy chairman and rotating CEO Eric Xu Zhijun told analysts he never wears a smart watch. That’s not remarkable, few sensible people do wear smart watches.

However, Xu is boss of the second or third biggest smart watch maker. His company launched a new model about the time he made his statement. Huawei has been making smart watches since they first appeared. It may even have sold some.

Companies that rely on smart watch sales are struggling. Fitbit has laid off staff this year. You might argue that Fitbit devices are not smart watches but activity trackers. Yet in January the company has tried moving into smart watches. It acquired another struggling smart watch maker, Pebble.

Android smart watches are still bug-ridden, unreliable devices. I’ve yet to see one that isn’t embarrassing.

It’s not just smart watches. The entire watch sector is in decline. Few people under the age of 40 wear any kind of watch. If younger folk don’t see the need for a Swatch, why would they turn to a more expensive, buggy alternative that needs to be charged every 12 hours?


  1. If you’re thinking this is a lot like the history of the phone market since the iPhone took off, you’d be right. ↩︎

Apple Watch a winner but not for me

Apple is now the world’s second largest watch revenue earner. That’s a solid performance for a product line introduced less than two years ago. By any commercial standard the Apple Watch is a success.

Rolex remains the leading watchmaker and is likely to stay on top for now.

In Apple’s recent Q1 financial report, Tim Cook said the Watch had its best ever quarter. He says Apple struggled to meet demand.

Sinking smart watch market

The rest of the so-called ‘smartwatch’ market doesn’t come close. Android Wear watchmakers have been slow to update their models. Lenovo abandoned the market. Pebble sold its watch business.

There have been stories saying the smartwatch market is dead. Away from the Apple Watch that’s a fair description.

I stopped wearing the first Apple Watch after a traumatic introduction. More recently I’ve tried newer models; one with a nylon strap1 another with leather.

Whenever I write about the Apple Watch I hear from people who love them or love other smartwatches. I’m not keen.

For the most part I find them annoying and difficult to live with. They don’t add anything to my productivity or make life more fun.

Notification

Watch fans tell me they like the notifications. If anything they are what I like least of all. They are a distraction. They interrupt my concentration with constant incoming wrist taps or bleeps2. But that’s me and how I work. You may feel otherwise.

My other gripe is the frequent charging. A Watch lasts about a day. That means it needs recharging overnight.

On a few occasions I found I placed on the charger in a way that meant there was no charge the next day. If I left the Watch at home, it didn’t make a difference to me.

Apple Watch

The one area where the Apple Watch shines is fitness tracking. I found it useful when the Watch told to get off my chair every hour. Getting those activity bars all the way around the clock face became a daily goal. It made me walk more and be more aware of exercise.

Despite that, I’m not going to buy a Watch. Much of the time I wear a scruffy old Swatch on my left wrist. It needs a new strap and does nothing other than let me know the time.

Sure, I can get that from my phone which is never more than a metre or two away. But I’ve 50 years of muscle memory looking at the wrist.

By a curious coincidence Mac NZ’s Mark Webster has written a similar blog post.


  1. Apple calls them bands. ↩︎
  2. You can, of course, disable notifications. It’s possible to turn some or all off. Yet that undermines the point of a smartwatch. If you don’t use notifications, what is the reason for having one? ↩︎