A smartwatch is put to the test: is it useful or only a gimmick?

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Yaël S. works as a police security assistant. She tests a smartwatch while on duty, doing sport and sleeping. She discovers some useful features, but also a lot of gimmicks.

Experience report: is a smartwatch more than just a gimmick?

Yaël S. works shifts as a police security assistant. This means that she is on her feet a lot. At the beginning of August, CSS was looking for people to test smartwatches and report their findings. Yaël won the prize draw and received an Apple Watch that she would then test for 3 weeks.

Use in shift work

After a busy day, the 29-year-old finds it interesting to see how much she has walked. The watch also measures her climbing stairs and shows the number of floors she has climbed up and down. When calls or messages come in, the security assistant looks at her wrist. This enables her to make a quick decision on whether to respond immediately if it’s urgent or to answer later. "I often use this preview feature because it's very practical – both at work and in my free time," says Yaël.

Smartwatch in the gym

The security assistant goes to the gym three to four times a week and uses the smartwatch to record her workouts. Yaël finds it practical that the smartwatch alerts her if she forgets to activate the tracking feature: "If I'm on the cross trainer and I’ve forgotten to start the workout on the watch, it asks me after three minutes if I'm training. I can start the workout with one click and it counts straight from when I started." The same goes for the end of the workout. Yaël is fascinated by how precisely the smart­watch recognises what activity she is doing based on her movements. She’s not quite sure of the difference between "walking indoors" and "walking out­doors", but otherwise the selection of sports on offer makes sense to her.

Water mode while swimming

In addition to the gym, Yaël goes swimming about once a week. For this, she can set how long the lane is on the smartwatch. The device then auto­mat­i­cal­ly detects how many lanes she swims and logs the time and calories burned. This enables Yaël to record her per­for­mance levels. At the moment, she's not using the Apple Watch for interval training or timed swimming. The 29-year old can activate water mode by se­lect­ing a water drop on the display: this locks all openings. Turning the dial on the watch deactivates the water mode again. The watch then emits a loud sound for the first time to clear the speakers of water.

Sleep

Yaël also wears the smartwatch at night to record her sleep. She can then see how many hours she has been lying in bed and how much of that time she has slept. What Yaël misses here, though, are the details: "I previously used a Garmin smartwatch. This showed me the different sleep phases. I could look at the timeline and zoom in for more detail about when I had been in a deep sleep or REM phase."

Heart rate and stressful situations

It's a different story with the heart rate, where the Apple Health app on the iPhone or iPad provides a minute-by-minute view. This allows Yaël to identify what was going on at the time: "If I see that my heart rate was very high, I want to be able to understand what was happening at that moment. Was I running upstairs quickly or was I in a particularly stressful situation?"

Large display

Although Yaël first had to get used to the large watch on her wrist, she likes the display because of its size and the fact that it can be customised. Screen options range between a normal watch face, the wearer’s own photos, or moving images. Users can also choose what information they want to see. Yaël's display has a jellyfish moving in sync with her hand movements.

It's fascinating to see how pre­cise­ly the smartwatch recognises what activity I'm doing based on my movements.
Yaël S., smartwatch testperson

Amusing features: torch and walkie-talkie

The large display lights up as a torch in white or red, and flashes. The smart­watch can also be used as a walkie-talkie with other watches of the same brand. Yaël has tried this out with two friends: "I can send them an invitation and if they accept, we can talk to each other through our smartwatches."

Emergency feature

In addition to the "gimmicks", there is – in Yaël's opinion – a very important feature on the watch. If the wearer presses the side button under the small wheel long enough, the SOS feature appears. This enables an emergency call to be made directly to the local rescue service.

Conclusion: do we really need a smartwatch today?

"Need" is overstated because many of the features are more gimmicks than vital. Nevertheless, Yaël likes using the watch, especially when exercising. And she likes the colour: "The navy blue matches my uniform exactly."

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Yaël S. works as a police security assistant and is therefore on her feet a lot. After a busy day, she finds it interesting to see how much she has walked.

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