Phones have become boring. Every year brings an incremental, iterative update, but the general idea of what a phone is hasn’t changed in ages. Even foldable phones, which were announced to bring the excitement back to the scene, continue to get the same year-over-year processor and camera upgrade pace as standard smartphones for years.
That may never have been more true than this year, where each of this fall’s big phone releases has been less than exciting. Samsung’s latest Galaxy Fold 4 and Flip 4 are basically the same devices as last year’s versions, but with newer processors and cameras. Google’s Pixel 7 and Pixel 7 Pro are almost the same as the Pixel 6 models, just with, again, new processors and cameras. Apple’s iPhone 14 is virtually identical to the iPhone 13 – it hasn’t even gotten a new processor.
But while smartphone changes and innovations have slowed down even more this year, a lot is happening in the smartwatch space, a category that has been largely dormant for the past half-decade. All three manufacturers have upgraded their phone releases with more exciting and unique offerings for your wrist, making the smartwatch the star of the show for the first time ever.
Let’s start with Samsung. While the company has fallen a bit into the iterative update trap with the standard Galaxy Watch 5 (the only claim to last year’s Galaxy Watch 4 is a bigger battery), the Galaxy Watch 5 Pro introduces a new level for Samsung watches. . It has a sturdier titanium case, a bigger screen, an even bigger battery and better navigation options for when you’re on the run from civilization. Samsung didn’t really go further than that – the processor is the same as last year’s Galaxy Watch 4 line, and the software experience is basically the same too – but the new design and materials are enough to make the Watch 5 Pro the to attract attention.
Although Apple has been the dominant smartwatch maker since the Apple Watch came out in 2015, it released content iterative updates for the same range of small and large watch. Most Apple Watch releases hardly differ from their predecessors – this year’s mainstream Series 8 is almost identical to the Series 7.
But the tough and rugged Apple Watch Ultra finally gives us something new. It has a new design, a bigger and brighter screen, an all-new button, and a battery that circles around other Apple Watch models. Apple is really pitching this as a device for long-distance runners, climbers, and even divers, but it’s definitely going to be bought by a lot of people who don’t do any of those things and just a big, top-notch line of Apple Watch that looks different from any other Apple Watch out there. there is.
Then there’s Google, which is finally entering the smartwatch market this year. While Google has had a smartwatch platform for years (the first Android Wear devices predate the Apple Watch) and has worked with many different manufacturers, this year it released the Pixel Watch, the first smartwatch in the Pixel hardware family.
The Pixel Watch has been a long time coming — it combines Google’s Pixel hardware efforts with Fitbit, which Google completed its acquisition in January 2021. It aims to reinvigorate the Android smartwatch market, with a design and set of features that seem to be made specifically to go with the Apple Watch. Sleek, compact design? To check. Stainless steel frame with smart strap attachment system? To check. Rotatable crown with subtle haptic feedback? To check. A voice assistant ready to control smart home devices, set timers and send messages? To check. Fitness and workout tracking, including heart rate and EKG? Check and check.
If you’ve always wanted to move from an iPhone to Android, but were held back because there weren’t any great alternatives to the Apple Watch, Google now has one.
In itself, each of these new smartwatches brings something interesting to the table. But together they feel like a move back toward innovation and progress in wearable technology, even if some of that progress can be reduced to “you don’t have to charge it so often”.
I can’t say for sure that any of these companies will continue to prioritize smartwatches as they are this year — I have no idea how Apple will update the Ultra year after year, and Google has a rather rocky history with its smartwatch platform. All this isn’t to say that this range of smartwatches is perfect, too — Google, in particular, has quite a bit of work to do on the Pixel Watch. But if you’re looking to scratch that new gadget itch this year, smartwatches are where it’s at.