NEW YORK, June 7 —If you want a smartwatch to make travel easier, Apple Watch is hard to beat. But what about all those Android competitors? There are too many to list here, including models from Sony and Samsung. Still, after taking Apple Watch for a test run several weeks ago, I gave a few popular watches for Android users a whirl (one nimble contender, Pebble, is compatible with both Android and iOS devices).
Apple Watch, among the newest additions to the smartwatch market, raised the bar in terms of intuitiveness and elegant functionality. And its travel apps are perhaps the most useful to date. But of course, not everyone wants an Apple. Below, a look at three popular Android options, and the pros and cons for travellers.
Pebble and Pebble Time
From US$99 (RM368) for Pebble; US$199 (RM748) for Time
STYLE: With its colourless display and retro push buttons on the side of the face – which, in an age of touch screens, is a refreshingly uncomplicated way to navigate – the boxy Pebble calls to mind the watch David Hasselhoff used to summon his talking car in “Knight Rider.” It doesn’t have a touch screen, and its “e-paper” display (it’s easy to read in sunlight) isn’t as crisp as others. But you’re not buying this (or any smartwatch) for looks. Like Crocs, it’s about utility. Besides, the company’s second-generation watch, which is being rolled out as I type, is, well, cute. One model of the new Pebble Time, with a gleaming white silicone band and colour display, has a sporty Swatch-like look made for summer.
TRAVEL APPS: Unlike its competitors, Pebble can go days without charging. It’s also water-resistant. You can shower with it on or go surfing or swimming. However, the first generation can hold only eight apps at a time. On iOS you’ll find versions of some travel apps such as Yelp, but many standard apps are not available. There’s no Hotel Tonight or Expedia, for example. So I branched out and tried Toilet Finder, an app that alerted me to nearby bathrooms- or tried to.
NAVIGATION: If you want directions on your Pebble, you need to load an app. The most helpful iOS app I tried was PebbleNav, but you have to enter your destination on a companion app that lives on your phone. It’s only after doing this that Pebble comes to life with turn-by-turn directions. An added step, yes, although after setting it up you can put away your phone and just glance at the watch’s detailed turn-by-turn directions, something that’s missing from a number of competitors.
PROS: An affordable watch for those who want to read texts and see what’s nearby, especially households where there are both iOS and Android devices. It’s water-resistant, has a long battery life and is well-sized for small wrists.
CONS: Frequent fliers and road warriors who have come to rely on an arsenal of travel apps (and Google Maps) will miss them.
LG Watch Urbane (Android Wear)
About US$350 (RM1,320)
STYLE: This watch may be chunky, and the stitched leather strap may be slightly stiff, but it looks like the real thing (that is until you start talking into it).
TRAVEL APPS: You primarily use this smartwatch by saying “OK, Google” and then asking for directions to, say, a museum, or instructing the watch to send a text or an email or jot down a note. When I lifted my wrist and spoke aloud, “OK, Google, how do you say ‘table for two’ in French?,” up popped the words: “table pour deux ‘table for two in French’” Neat. (Although this wasn’t quite so smooth when there was a lot of ambient noise and the watch couldn’t hear me.) As with all smartwatches, popular travel apps are pared down or must be used in conjunction with the phone. For instance, to call up an American Airlines boarding pass, the watch told me I first had to view it on my smartphone.
NAVIGATION: Google Maps makes navigation on this watch among the best to be found on a wrist. Ask for directions and up pops an arrow indicating which direction to begin driving or walking, along with the number of miles you should keep heading in that direction.
PROS: Good navigation, voice-activated search and the ability to send texts and emails from your wrist make this a handy digital companion on the road.
CONS: Apps that many travellers have come to rely on are not functional enough to be useful solely on the watch. And transitioning between activities takes some getting used to.
MOTO 360 (Android Wear)
From US$149.99 (RM570)
STYLE: The fat, round face of the Moto 360 felt as weighty as an antique pocket watch, although the oversize colour touch-screen face makes for easier reading. And you can customise, choosing from several bands and faces with the company’s “Moto Maker” at motorola.com.
TRAVEL APPS: Like the LG Urbane, you talk to this smartwatch by saying “OK, Google” and then making a request. When I asked it to send an email it instantly asked “To whom?” When I asked for directions to the nearest gas station, it brought up choices from Mobil and Exxon. You can load a travel app such as Orbitz, but tap the icon and, as with the Urbane, you’ll be directed to your phone to fully use it.
NAVIGATION: After asking the watch to navigate to Union Square, New York, it showed me an arrow and the direction to set out. More detailed directions, including a map with turn-by-turn voice directions, appeared on my phone. Even if I were just planning to use Google Maps on my phone, it was still faster to ask the watch and allow it to instantly display a map and fire up navigation.
PROS: Good navigation and effective voice-activated search from a watch that’s less than half the price of the Urbane.
CONS: The travel apps are pared down; you’re better off using most of them on your phone.
— The New York Times