They’re coming for your foreheads and wrists
Don’t be alarmed. At last week’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, the tech industry effectively proclaimed 2014 will be the year of wearable gadgetry, but your body parts are still safe from exploitation—at least until all the gear in this slideshow begins to ship.
Follow along as I reveal the more intriguing wearables I saw in Las Vegas. This is by no means a complete representation of all the face- and wrist-mounted gadgets demoed at the show. I generally avoided eyewear that isn’t designed to be worn throughout the course of a normal day, as well as fit-tech devices with narrow, ultra-specific use cases. That said, if you think I left out that one, amazing, life-changing wearable, tweet suggestions to @jonphillipssf.
Sony Core SmartBand
Sony’s Smartwatch effort is still a work in progress, but the Core band promises to be a more tenable device. At first glance, it appears to be just a simple wristband for recording steps, sleep, and other bio data. There’s no visual display, and Sony projects battery life at just five days. It’ll come in multiple colors when it hits the United States this spring (the price is still unknown). Pedestrian, you think? Not so fast...
Extra special feature: The Core syncs up with Sony’s Lifelog smartphone app to align your activity data with geolocation, weather, and other information on a visually rich timeline. For example, at a glance you can tell what album you were listening to when you logged your longest run three months earlier. It’s a novel approach, and I dig Sony’s simple, nonwatchy design.
Omate TrueSmart smartwatch
The TrueSmart belongs to a small fraternity of smartwatches that accept SIM cards, so you can use the device as a fully functioning phone. Unfortunately, Omate doesn’t have a carrier relationship, so you’ll have to rob the SIM from your smartphone, or buy a second plan, to realize the TrueSmart’s full potential. This somewhat bulky wearable includes GPS and up to 8GB of storage, and runs Android 4.2.2. It’s already shipping to Kickstarter backers for $200 or $250, depending on RAM and storage specs. Its battery should last a day on one charge.
Extra special feature: The watch is powered by Nuance’s voice-recognition tech, allowing you to control a host of functions simply by speaking into the hardware. There’s no doubt that Omate is aiming for one of the most feature-rich smartwatches around.
Razer Nabu smartband
One of the world’s most innovative gaming hardware companies couldn’t resist dropping into the wearables market. Thus we have the Nabu, a “smartband” that collects typical activity tracker data, mixes it up with social discovery features, and then throws in email, text, and phone-call notifications. Check out the Razer website for details, because this wristband has an eclectic mix of options. It’s supposed to launch at the end of Q1, but Razer doesn’t have specifics on pricing.
Extra special feature: A 32-by-32-pixel OLED “public” screen on the band’s top displays simple notification icons. A 128-by-32-pixel OLED “private” screen on the bottom (pictured) shows text, email, and activity-tracking data in detail.
FiLip wearable for kids
The FiLip has enough features to be incredibly useful, but not so many features as to be confusing. Parents can program up to five phone numbers into this wrist-worn cell phone, allowing two-way voice calls between kids and the important people in their lives. There’s also a GPS-based locator feature that lets parents know where their kids are at all times. Add in geofencing, and parents can receive alerts when their little ones leave a SafeZone area. FiLip is available right now for $200 plus a $10 monthly unlimited voice/data fee from AT&T.
Extra special feature: FiLip doesn’t play any games. And though parents can text their kids, the kids can’t text their parents. “There is plenty of time for texting when they are teenagers,” says the manufacturer.
Basis Carbon Steel Edition activity tracker
Packed with sensors that measure not only your steps and sleep patterns, but also your heart rate, the Basis B1 band has always been in the technological forefront of activity trackers. And now with a new industrial design, the Carbon Steel Edition gives Basis a refined, contemporary look. This is what we like to see in wearable tech: tasteful design married to hard science. It’s available now for $200.
Extra special feature: Basis has new algorithms that read accelerometer and heart-rate data to report REM sleep patterns. As far as we know, that’s a first in consumer-level activity trackers.
Garmin Vivofit activity tracker
Garmin—yes, the GPS navigation company—is getting into the wrist-worn activity tracker market. The Garmin Vivofit doesn’t have built-in GPS, but you do get an always-on display that shows you steps, calories burned, distance covered, and time of day. The band also creates daily exercise goals based on your past performance, and continually adjusts your challenges, nudging you toward higher activity levels. The basic Vivofit will ship in Q1 for $130. A $170 bundle will include a heart-rate monitor for more accurate calorie burn numbers.
Extra special feature: No constant recharging! The Vivofit runs off a replaceable watch battery that should be good for a year of juice.
Pebble Steel smartwatch
It’s crazy to think that a two-year-old brand qualifies as a pioneer in the modern smartwatch era, but Pebble helped define what we’ve come to call smartwatches, and its industrial design is more contemporary than ever in new Pebble Steel trim. I prefer the new Matte Black model (pictured), but Pebble also offers a shiny Brushed Stainless version. Each comes with two bands (one metal, one leather), and will sell for $250 later this month.
Extra special feature: Pebble now has an app store that serves as a central clearinghouse for all the software you can load onto the new Steel and the previous model. It sure looks a lot more user-friendly than Samsung’s app interface for the Galaxy Gear. Score one for the little guy.
LG Lifeband Touch activity tracker
In 2014 you can’t be a self-respecting consumer electronics company unless you have either a smartwatch or activity tracker in your portfolio, and so we have the LG Lifeband Touch. It’s not the cleverest or most technologically advanced wristband we’ll see this year (it doesn’t even track sleep), but in addition to the typical complement of acelerometer-based daytime activity statistics, the Lifeband Touch can work with your phone to reveal incoming text and call notifications, as well as music player controls, on its OLED display. It will ship in the first half of 2014. The price remains unknown.
Extra special feature: The display automatically lights up whenever you rotate your hand to look at the band.
Burg 16 smartwatch phone
Burg is a curious company. Its founder, Hermen van den Burg, hails from the Netherlands, and the man who demoed the watch at CES was dressed like a drum major—and that’s pretty much all I know about Burg. But let’s discuss the watch. According to marketing collateral, the Burg 16 integrates an Android OS with phone service, messaging, and voice recording on a 1.54-inch, 240-by-240-pixel display. It connects to phones over Bluetooth 3.0, and accepts a 16GB MicroSD card. I didn’t get any details on U.S. availability or pricing, but other Burg models go for $250 in the States.
Extra special feature: Well, it would have to be the SIM slot. Look at the photo. You’ll need a SIM card—and attached carrier plan—to use this watch like a phone.
Cogito connected watch
I’m a fan of traditional analog wristwatches. I wear one every day. So I totally get the Cogito approach. The “original” model (pictured here), along with the more downscale Cogito Pop, doesn’t wallop you over the head with voice recognition, apps, or even a full digital display. Instead it just reveals simple notification icons for phone calls, email, and social messaging. The original also provides a small screen for caller ID, plus the ability to mute your phone. And if orange doesn’t suit your style, more somber themes are available. The Cogito Pop will ship in one to two months for $130, while the “original” model pictured here will arrive a bit later for $180.
Extra special feature: It runs on a watch battery that’s good for a year of use. So, yay! No constant recharging.
Made by a small Italian firm and backed by Indiegogo supporters, the GlassUp take on augmented reality offers two features you won’t find in Google Glass: The design resembles traditional eyewear (saving you some social grief), and the augmented-reality overlay appears in the center of your sight line in the service of reducing eyestrain. If all goes according to plan, the glasses will exit the R&D stage by March (you can see a rough mechanical prototype in the photo), and begin shipping to retail customers in July for $400.
Extra special feature: GlassUp won't overwhelm you with excessive data. The goal is to keep things simple, with monochrome text strings for mobile notifications, sports scores, and other quick info snippets.
Epson Pulsence activity trackers
Look out, Basis. You’ll soon have competition in the heart-rate-monitoring wristband space. Using Epson’s own proprietary, light-based heart-rate sensor, the upcoming Pulsense bands combine accelerometer and heart rate data to provide calorie burn stats that should be more accurate than what you get from simple, accelerometer-only wristbands. The PS-100 band and PS-500 watch should ship this summer for $130 and $200, respectively. We can’t wait to test the accuracy of Epson’s upstart technology against the already available Basis approach.
Extra special feature: The Pulsense bands boast onboard storage for recording about 20 days of data, so you won’t have to constantly sync the devices, or even pair them with a smartphone for use.
Epson Moverio BT-200 smartglasses
They’re not fashionable, but Epson’s second-gen augmented-reality glasses, the Moverio BT-200, actually work right now, and they’ll ship in March for $700. Unlike Google Glass, the Moverios use a double LCD projection design, allowing augmented-reality overlays to appear over your entire field of vision. But here’s the kicker: The 960-by-540-resolution display remains fully transparent, so you never lose touch with your environment. The overall effect left me feeling I had more control over my augmented-reality experience, and I never felt queasy during my 10-minute demo.
Extra special feature: The glasses include a gyroscope, a compass, and an accelerometer for head-motion tracking. This opens up a world of VR gaming, but I think the BT-200s will have more use in industrial applications. Check out my video here.
Intel smart earbuds
Remember “Intel Inside”? Yeah, the chip company’s branding power has slipped. The PC market is dominated by commodity computers, and Intel doesn’t have traction in the ARM-dominated mobile space. So Intel used CES 2014 to broadcast its position in the wearables market. The company’s smart earbud reference design combines traditional stereo music playback with...heart-rate monitoring! We can only presume there are sensors in the earpiece that measure the light reflected from red blood cells to determine heart rate. (That’s the approach Epson and Basis use for their wristbands.) The earbuds are currently just a concept, so no partners, pricing, or availability is known at this time.
Extra special feature: The buds receive power directly from your headphone jack.
Mimo wearable baby monitor
Announced in conjunction with Intel, the Mimo monitor sensor strip is sewn directly into a custom onesie to capture your baby’s breathing data. The information is routed through the turtle-shaped hardware you see in the photo, and then syncs via Bluetooth to smartphones. Parents can see real-time information on their baby’s respiration rate, body position, activity level, and body temperature, along with ambient room temperature, all in a mobile app. The system is available for preorder from Rest Devices, and includes three machine-washable onesies for $200.
Extra special feature: The Turtle’s Lilypad base station has a microphone for listening to your infant’s baby sounds in real-time on your phone.
Ezio Saker smartwatch
The Saker may be the least “smart” of any gadget in this roundup, but for folks who value traditional design and a simple UI, the Ezio approach might work best. Relying on Bluetooth and simple icons, Ezio watches alert you to incoming calls and messages, and sound a warning when you’ve lost your phone. And that’s it. Is this enough intelligence in a smartwatch design? Maybe not. But at least it looks like a watch. The Saker uses analog Japanese movement and is waterproof to a depth of 165 feet. There doesn’t appear to be any way to purchase Ezio watches in the U.S, but here’s the website for more info.
Extra special feature: None. And perhaps that’s the appeal.
Netatmo June UV sensor
I love wearables—like the June—that know their mission and don’t try to do too much. You enter details about your skin type into an accompanying app, and then strap on the June or place it on your clothing. The June’s UV sensor will monitor the sun’s rays, and trip a warning on your smartphone before you’re in danger of getting burned. The app can also give you a running report of how close you’re getting to the maximum amount of UV exposure recommended for your skin. The June should be availabe in Q2 for $100. Unfortunately, there’s not a gender-neutral design for men.
Extra special feature: Tell the app whether you’re wearing sunscreen, and it will adjust its reporting based on that variable.
Martian Notifier smartwatch
Score another point for the “a smartwatch should look like a normal watch” camp. The Martian Notifier employs a traditional analog design, but includes a small OLED display for notifications about incoming calls, texts, email, and “any other alert your devices allows.” You can also decline calls and snap phone images with a button push. The Notifier includes Bluetooth 4.0 and a three-axis accelerometer (for what purpose, I’m not sure), and has a claimed battery life of five days for smart functions (the analog watch movement runs on a traditional watch battery). Should be available in Q2 for $130.
Extra special feature: You can use the Notifier to trigger voice commands on your phone’s speakerphone. It doesn’t sound very useful... but let’s see if makes more sense in actual practice!
MetaWatch’s new hinged design adds visual interest to a relatively sophisticated smartwatch body, though I’m less enamored with the interface fonts. Nonetheless, the newly redesigned MetaWatch line supports a wide range of UI customization and notification options, including alerts for incoming calls, texts, email, Twitter, weather, news, sports, and stock updates. You can also download custom widgets (MetaWatch stops short of calling them apps), and use the watch to control your phone’s music player. This latest MetaWatch model is set to arrive sometime in the spring. The price isn’t yet known, but earlier models go for $180.
Extra special feature: Frank Nuovo, a man with a deep resume designing Nokia handsets, led MetaWatch’s new industrial design effort.
Optinvent ORA-S smartglasses
Oh, hey, it’s Jessica Dolcourt from CNET, and she was kind enough to let me photograph her wearing Optinvent's ORA-S smartglasses. These specs are packed with everything a nerd might need for a completely stand-alone augmented-reality experience. Android is built right in, along with a CPU, accelerometer, gyroscope, compass, ambient light sensor, GPS, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, microphone, and camera. It’s unclear what kind of software and apps will drive the hardware, but Optinvent spins a supercool vision here.
Extra special feature: Optinvent claims a viewing area of 33 pixels per degree of vision across a 25-degree diagonal field of view. (Sorry, the rep wouldn’t talk in terms of a traditional pixel grid.) Also nifty: There are two viewing modes—one directly in your field of vision, and the other at the bottom of your POV.
Neptune Pine smartwatch
The first time you see the Pine, you may respond with a double-take. It’s big. Really big. Its 2.4-inch touch display suggests you’ve strapped an Android phone to your wrist, which is perfectly fine as a SIM card provides call support. Onboard GPS and an accelerometer enable activity-tracking features, and the Pine also comes with front and rear cameras. A 1.2GHz dual-core Snapdragon processor pairs with 512MB of RAM and up to 64GB of storage, and... Oh, hell, why am I even pretending it’s a smartwatch? The Pine is a smartphone, albeit a small one intended for wrist deployment. It should begin shipping in March, with the cheapest version costing $335.
Extra special feature: Wow factor. You will not be able to fend off questions about your remarkable watch. Er, phone. Or is it a watch?
The Sonostar doesn’t have the glitziest design, but its features may help it find an audience. The curved, 320-by-240-pixel display uses e-paper, giving it excellent legibility in sunlight. There’s also a nice set of smart features, including email and message notifications; phone call accept and decline; Facebook and Twitter updates; and calendar, clock, and music apps. It’s unclear when the watch will reach retail, but the price is set at $180.
Extra special feature: Sonostar includes dedicated apps for golfers, runners, and cyclists.
Qualcomm Toq smartwatch
You can already buy the Qualcomm Toq for $350, but supplies are limited, as the smartwatch is really intended as a publicly available halo product for Qualcomm’s Mirasol display technology. The 1.5-inch display eschews a backlight, yet it remains visible in direct sunlight and can last for a number of days on a single charge. This is a gross simplification, but it’s something akin to a color E Ink display. The watch itself includes basic smartwatch functions: various fun watchfaces; phone call and text notification; smartphone music player control; and built-in calendar, stock, and weather apps (among other features).
Extra special feature: Wireless charging! Just set the watch in Qualcomm’s special caddie when the Toq threatens to run out of juice.
Voyce health and wellness monitor for dogs
What, you thought we were stopping at human wearables? Using radio-frequency technology to measure the expansion and contraction of arteries in your dog’s neck, the Voyce health and wellness monitor can determine your dog’s respiration, and pair that data with accelerometer data to paint an accurate picture of your dog’s activity levels, sleep patterns, and overall well-being. It portends to be a useful gadget, as dogs can’t directly tell us when they’re experiencing stress or not getting enough exercise. The collar should launch in late spring for $300 plus a $10 monthly subscription fee.
Extra special feature: The collar is part of a larger platform that sends breed- and age-specific insights to the Voyce mobile app.
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