What’s a Smart Watch Actually Good For? My List After the First Year

A lot of folks are still undecided on smart watches. I think we’ve been put off by wearables in the past (e.g., Google Glass), so there’s an understandable reluctance to adopt.

I felt the same way when I picked up my Asus Zenwatch a year ago. I realized going into it that I might end up looking like a huge dork. I always wore calculator watches growing up, though, so that didn’t bother me. If anything, maintaining an appearance of dorkiness has helped in my career as a developer. It’s the same reason I’d rather wear glasses than get laser eye surgery.

Fast forward a year and I can say with confidence that I’d have a hard time going back to life without a smart watch. Is it a must-have? No. As a companion device, anything you can do on your watch you can do on your phone. However, I used to say the same thing about smart phones and computers. It’s not so much about what it can do differently as what it does better. Here’s my list.

  • Not looking at my phone. Really, this is the main benefit. I get notifications all the time. Many of them, like calendar events or website uptime notices (Uptime Doctor via Pushover is very useful), are purely informational. I note them and dismiss them immediately, which takes about one second’s worth of concentration. Taking my phone out for each of these wouldn’t only take much longer by itself, I’d inevitably check half a dozen unrelated apps out of habit.
  • Unlocking my phone. This is another huge time saver. Later versions of Android allow you to set your watch as a trusted device, meaning your phone will automatically unlock while the two are connected. It’s a slight trade-off in security; after all, anybody with both devices has a free pass. On the other hand, it also lets me use a much stronger PIN, since I only have to manually unlock my device once a day. I’d call it a wash for security, but a huge gain for ease of use.
  • Two-factor authentication. I’ve tried many apps for my watch, few of which I kept. Authenticator Plus was the exception. I set it up as a quick launch option on my Pujie Black watch face, giving me access to my two-factor codes with a single tap. As above, it’s a slight loss of security if my watch is compromised, but a huge gain otherwise.
  • Quick text messages. Text-to-speech can produce some embarrassing results if you trust it for long, complex conversations. For a quick little “okay”, “I love you”, or “I’m on my way”, though, it’s a big time-saver. Anything more than that and I typically take my phone out.
  • Taking notes. I once read Getting Things Done by David Allen. And while I didn’t care for the heavily paper-based organization of it all, I did adopt some aspects of the system. Most importantly, I take lots of notes and process them all weekly. The watch is great for that. I often take quick memos while driving just to get an “open loop” out of my brain.
  • Quick questions. Probably my least favorite expression of all time, since folks poke their heads in my office for “quick questions” that typically turn into half-hour conversations. If you need to look up a simple fact, though, it’s a lot faster to just pose it to your wrist. I find myself doing this a lot when watching movies with my wife trying to figure out actor names and the like.
  • Timers. I tell my watch to set a timer at least twice every day, once to steep my tea in the morning and once while using mouthwash in the evening. Sometimes, I use it as a “time out” timer, too, when my four-year-old is misbehaving so I know when to let him get back up.
  • Playing and pausing the TV. I cut my cable a long time ago, so I stream a lot of Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, and Plex. My watch has a convenient play/pause button for each of these, which is handy if you need to get up to get a snack or go to the bathroom. It’s also great for remote parenting: I use it to pause my older son’s shows to let him know it’s bedtime.

So, bottom line, my smart watch has been a great time saver. I take out my phone less often and unlock it faster when I do. I log into websites faster, text faster, take notes faster, look up facts faster, set timers faster, and control my TV faster. Is all that worth the $200+ I paid? Maybe. They’re not for everyone. All I can say is I’d have a hard time doing without mine.