Over the past few days, we’ve seen announcements for new smartwatches from Fitbit and Samsung. These latest wearables are shaping up to be some of the best options yet from each company, and in that same breath, possibly two of the best smartwatches for all of 2017. Neither the Fitbit Ionic or Samsung Gear Sport are powered by Android Wear, but in all honesty, that might be a good thing.
To say that Android Wear is in an awkward situation would be an understatement. Android Wear 2.0 brought some nice changes and good ideas to the platform, but its implementation since its release in February has been a mess. The majority of Android Wear watches that have been released since then have been giant, bulky meatballs that try to pack everything and the kitchen sink. And then the ones that are smaller/slimmer omit far too many features to be truly useful or worth the cash.
Even if you’re someone who likes the look of larger watches, the ones available for Android Wear are either marred by non-replaceable watch bands or designs that simply don’t work for both formal and casual settings.
With the Fitbit Ionic and Samsung Gear Sport, we have two smartwatches that appear to fill this void perfectly.
Fitbit made its first attempt at a smartwatch back in 2016 with the Blaze, and the result was less than successful. The Fitbit Blaze lacked proper notification support, access to a decent selection of third-party apps, and a design that looked very unfinished. With what we’ve seen so far from the Ionic, Fitbit appears to have resolved most of these first-gen woes.
The Ionic has full notification support like we’ve come to expect from most other smartwatches, the design is more refined, there’s support for third-party apps and access to a dedicated app store, on-screen workouts, and even Fitbit’s own payment system so you can connect your debit/credit card to the Ionic to pay for things at stores that have NFC terminals.
Fitbit’s UI for the Ionic looks clean and fairly easy to get around, and while the question still remains as to whether or not the company can build up the app store into something worthy of attention, there are already applications for Starbucks, Pandora, and Strava. And, along with all of this, you also have access to Fitbit’s wide-array of fitness tracking services.
Samsung’s Gear Sport was just announced earlier today at IFA in Berlin, and for all intents and purposes, it’s a smaller version of Samsung’s already great Gear S3. The Gear Sport can count your steps, continually monitor your heart-rate, track your swims with 5 ATM water resistance, record a variety of workouts, and more. In other words, it has pretty much all of the features you’d come to expect from a full-fledged fitness tracker.
However, this is only half of the story with the Gear Sport. It’s running Samsung’s Tizen OS that’s also on the Gear S2 and Gear S3, and this has proven to offer smooth performance and functional navigation thanks to Samsung’s famous use of the rotating bezel surround the displays of its smartwatches.
The Gear Sport also has support for NFC payments with Samsung Pay, and while the Gear App Store might not be as full-fledged as the Play Store for Android Wear, there are still heavy hitters like Uber, Spotify, iHeartRadio, Yelp, Trulia, HERE navigation, USA Today, and many others.
It’s still far too early to make any final judgements on either the Fitbit Ionic or Samsung Gear Sport, but what we’ve seen so far from each of these wearables is very promising. Each one features a design that can work for formal, casual, and physically-active scenarios, broad fitness-tracking services, third-party app stores, clean interfaces, NFC payment support, heart-rate sensors, and built-in GPS. Better yet, all of these features come packed into bodies that don’t look ridiculous on small or moderate wrist sizes.
I’d love to see Google pull Android Wear out of the mess it’s currently in, and while there’s absolutely still time to do that, Samsung and Fitbit are shaping up to dominate the wrists of Android users this holiday season. As someone who’s been in the market for a new smartwatch for quite some time but has been entirely disinterested in Android Wear’s current lineup, both Fitbit and Samsung have my attention.
Your move, Google.