Why I’ll never buy another smartwatch (probably)
My money's on mechanical
I have a soft spot for watches.
Actually, you might say I have a weird spot for them.
Not that a watch itself is weird. Plenty of people buy them, and plenty of people wear them. I just think about them more than the average person. I have, for example, had dreams about getting new ones.
It’s partly utility, partly fashion, and entirely fascination. I know how they work, and I know some of the history behind them. I read articles about watches. I window shop for them. I have 16 in total, from under $10 to near $300, but I’m always looking. My Instagram is full of pictures like the one below, which will always be out of my price range.
Point is, I have my ear to the ground in this area. And since there's been increased focus in watches and technology lately, that puts me in somewhat of a unique position. I love to “tech myself before I wreck myself,” and I feel naked without a watch, so I’m the exact person Apple, Motorola, Pebble, and many more are vying for. If there’s an advertising audience persona for smartwatch manufacturers, it looks a lot like me.
And you know what? They’re betting on the wrong horse.
I have a smartwatch, I just don’t wear it. I was one day too late to back the Pebble—the O.G. smartwatch, first to prove they were a viable product—but I pre-ordered it and got one shortly after Kickstarter backers did.
Sure, it was ugly and a little cheap looking. And sure, for the $150 I paid for it, I could've gotten something dressier. But I didn’t care. It was a watch full of technology. A novelty watch, and not my first. Notifications on my wrist? The ability to change songs without touching my phone? A waterproof rating of fifty metres? This was even better than my universal remote watch! I figured, Who cares if it’s ugly? This thing hits all the targets!
At least that’s what I thought. After prolonged use (about a year straight), the novelty started to wear off.
Sure, notifications were nice. And music control was huge. But it was exhausting to be constantly connected to my phone; to be aware of every notification—within seconds of getting it—all day, every day.
Also, holy shit is it ugly.
I figured they'd improve eventually. It took them nearly three years, and I think they’ve finally done it, but I’ve changed my mind.
Pebble was my first choice, but I’m not blind to the market. Even my technophobic mother knows about the Apple Watch. The LG G Watch Urbane is pretty sharp, and a friend of mine rocks the hell out of a Moto 360. And yet, despite those watches out-featuring, out-designing, and out-marketing Pebble, I feel there isn’t a smartwatch for me.
The price tag is a problem. For $150, I was willing to wear one—even if it was ugly—because it had all the features I was looking for. Now that I'm over the novelty, I want something prettier. Even Pebble’s latest iteration is $250, and they're usually the cheapest. For the price of a new Pebble, there are plenty of quirky, dressy, and oddball watches I would much rather sport on my wrist. In the higher price range, the LG G Watch Urbane is $279, and Apple’s go from $350 all the way up to $17,000. That’s a little pricey for me.
At $250, you can get a pretty nice, battery-powered dress watch. Skagen and Swatch are great places to start. But if I set out to spend $500–$1000—the price of the stainless steel Apple Watch range—it’s a whole different ballgame. For that money, my watch can be mechanical, assembled in Switzerland (or Germany—they're also pretty good at it), and it can be a family heirloom.
A smartwatch battery will start losing capacity in two years, and there aren't any real replacement programs. Well, not really. Luxury Swiss watchmaker Tag Heuer (pronounced HOY-yer) offers one on their $1500 smartwatch—but it costs you another $1500, and your replacement is a mechanical watch. See? Even the fancy guys aren't taking this seriously.
Besides, if you’re buying a mechanical watch—something with gears and no battery—at that price range, you’re paying for quality, for hundreds of years of watchmaking tradition, and for the art of it. You’re paying because you appreciate the history of the timepiece—the insanely complicated mastery of mechanics that has allowed us, for hundreds of years, to track the passing hours, days, and seasons.
I’m not saying there isn’t a smartwatch out there for you. They’re handy to have around, like when your phone is docked and playing music thirty feet away. Or when you need notifications at a glance and you can't reach your pocket.
But for me, it's still not worth it. For $250, I’m not going to buy something with an irreplaceable battery that’ll die in half a decade—especially if it's ugly. I'll spend the extra money to buy a testament to tinkering—a symbol of our eons-old fascination with time, and our mastery of the mechanisms to measure it.
When it comes down to it, there are places where technology is more burden than tool. Where the anachronistic charm of mechanics means more than the cold accuracy of electronics. Where, if you really think about it, you can truly appreciate the ingenuity of the human race.
But who knows? Show me a smartwatch with gears and maybe we’ll talk.
I’m always looking.