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Is the non-sporty smartwatch dead?

ZeTime smartwatch
What is ZeTime? This hybrid smartwatch is my current front-runner

I’ve had £300 burning a hole in my pocket since Christmas. I’m desperate to buy a smartwatch to replace the Pebble Time on my wrist, which is currently in Intensive Care, waiting for Fitbit to turn off its life support machine. Can I find one? Can I hell.

My needs are extraordinarily simple. I want a smartwatch that shows detailed notifications (not just that Jeff sent me a text, but the content of that message); that can control the music on my phone without having to lift my phone out of my pocket on dog walks; that has a battery not in danger of petering out at the end of the day before I do.

I don’t give a flying Fleetwood Mac about fitness and health features. I don’t need to know how many steps I’ve walked today, my heart rate or how many calories I’ve burned off on the walk to the kebab shop, because none of this information makes my life any richer. I can tell how many hours of sleep I’ve had, because there’s an alarm clock next to my bed and I’ve got a GCSE in Maths.

Now, there are plenty of watches on the market that meet my humble needs, but they’ve all been out for ages. I’ve come extraordinarily close to buying the Samsung Gear S3 several times, but it’s been out since late 2016. I’ve held off and held off, convinced Samsung will release the Gear S4 as soon as I buy one, but there’s no sign of it. Both CES and Mobile World Congress have now passed this year without Samsung announcing a successor.

It’s not some innate desire to have the latest and greatest that’s stopping me buying the S3. It’s that these things have a finite shelf life. Two or three years after launch, Samsung (and other firms) get bored of releasing updates for old kit and it drifts into obsolescence. A new version of Android comes out and the S3 is no longer supported, leaving you with an expensive lump of illuminated plastic on your wrist. The Gear S3’s already been out for over a year – what’s the best I can hope for? Another 18 months? Two years? I want a watch to last longer than that.

The only smartwatch that’s captured my attention at MWC is the ZeTime (pictured at the top of this article). It’s described as the world’s first hybrid smartwatch. It has analogue hands like an old-fashioned watch for telling the time, and an LCD in the background that only needs to light up when showing notifications. This (in theory) massively improves battery life to up to 3 days because the battery-sapping screen doesn’t need to be on to show the time, like it does on most smartwatches. When information is displayed on the screen, the watch hands automatically move out of the way.

It’s clever stuff and it’s relatively cheap at $199, but it’s another Pebble-like Kickstarter project. Is it going to be around in two or three years’ time, or will it go kaboom and leave me with another brick strapped to my wrist? How did buying a watch get so bloody complicated?

Now read this: which is the ugliest smartwatch?

About the author

Barry Collins

Barry has scribbled about tech for almost 20 years for The Sunday Times, PC Pro, WebUser, Which? and many others. He was once Deputy Editor of Mail Online and remains in therapy to this day. Email Barry at barry@bigtechquestion.com.

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