Companies have been launching smartwatches for the past dozen years without any sign of carving out a useful niche in businesses, let alone being adopted by the mass market. Of course, this hasn't stopped the unrelenting hype, particularly around Apple's so-called iWatch, which is projected to appear in September. Still, at least a handful of smartwatches are now attracting early adopters … and giving them problems. The Fixya problem-solving website has just tabulated more than 6,000 issues raised by its smartwatch-owning users to highlight the drawbacks.
Fixya says: "Although we've come leaps and bounds in terms of these devices, smartwatches on the whole leave much to be desired, with a plethora of problems that are all too common across the entire smartwatch category. From untrustworthy batteries, to troublesome speakers and unresponsive voice controls (or no voice controls), to more obvious problems like screen notification issues and a serious lack of real estate – smartwatches share a number of problems in common, which lends to the notion that the space as a whole has some improvements to make across the board."
Fixya's report looks at five of the most popular smartwatches in the USA: Martian Passport, I'm Watch, Samsung Galaxy Gear Smartwatch, Sony SW2, and Pebble.
What's the point? The smartwatch's main value proposition appears to lie in providing smartphone information, such as notifications, without the user having to look at his or (less often) her smartphone. This could be useful in some circumstances -- perhaps in hazardous situations, or when you have no free hands. However, screen notifications appear to be a major problem, either because the screen is too small or because (eg with the Martian Passport and Galaxy Gear) not all the notifications arrive.
The hit-and-miss voice control is the main problem with the Galaxy Gear, according to Fixya users. It amounted to 35 percent of the issues raised (not the same as 35% of Galaxy Gear users). Fixya's report says: "Comparing the voice control and speakerphone issues with other products made by Samsung's core competitors makes it clear that this is a serious problem with the smartwatch market as a whole. These issues make it no less frustrating to the user, however, and problems such as words being unrecognized by the voice control device cause complications when trying to tap into the smartwatch's features."
The lack of voice control and speaker feedback is the biggest issue (30 percent) with the Pebble, which also lacks a touch screen. The second biggest issue with Pebble devices? Control buttons (25 percent). The report says: "the process of flipping back and forth between apps and other smartwatch functionality can be cumbersome when working with the tiny buttons on the side of your watch. It appears to definitely take some getting used to, especially in a digital world where touchscreens are almost a standard nowadays."
Finally, there's no guarantee that users will be able to buy what they think is the best smartwatch. The I'm Watch works with Apple iPhones, Google Android, and Blackberry smartphones, which covers most of the market. However, the Galaxy Gear is designed to work with other Samsung products, and the Sony SW2 only works with Sony smartphones. The Pebble works with different smartphones, but only with its own app store. That leaves the Martian Passport, which requires Bluetooth 4.0, which isn't ubiquitous on Android or Windows Phone 8 smartphones.
The Martian Passport comes closest to fulfilling the Dick Tracy stereotype of what was really a wrist-radio in the days before mobile phones. However, it mainly saves you from taking your smartphone out of your pocket, and "many Fixya users reported that the device doesn't have the highest in-call sound quality, causing difficulty hearing while on calls due to static." Since it doesn't have the health-monitoring or tracking features of some alternative devices, it looks like an expensive way to do not very much.
You can read Fixya's Smartwatch Report online. The Top 5 issues for each smartwatch are below.