Wearables wish list for 2015

From headbands harnessing the power of REM sleep to cufflinks with USB drives, the new year is going to be weird and wonderful for wearable tech.

The Surge is shaping as the ultimate wearable, with all the features of Fitbit’s activity

The Surge is shaping as the ultimate wearable, with all the features of Fitbit’s activity monitoring band and a smartwatch combined. Source: Supplied

Wearables are a substantial growth area in consumer technology, and the fact that your relatives and friends are unlikely to own many — yet — makes them great Christmas gifts. Wearables won’t necessarily break the budget, either, being cheaper than most phones, tablets and notebooks.

The best known wearables are the ones you place on your wrist, in particular smart watches and activity/health monitors. But you can wear technology on most parts of your body. Starting at the top, there are headbands that measure your REM sleep, smart glasses for your eyes, smart T-shirts, smart bow ties, smart bras, even smart pyjamas for children with coded patterns that link to bedtime stories. You can adorn yourself with a bracelet that measures sun exposure, or ornate pendants and cufflinks with embedded USB flash drives. Heading further south, you can buy socks that will measure effects such as pressure, and sensors for sports shoes, too.

Here are a dozen wearables. Some are available now; others show just how promising 2015 should be in this new market.

This motorcycle helmet delivers a hi-tech ecosystem to your head as you rocket down the highway. There’s a transparent heads-up display with all the travel data you need, GPS navigation with audio and visual prompts, and a wide-angle rear-view camera that you see at the bottom right of your view. Skully says none of this obstructs your ability to see the road ahead. It offers voice calls and voice control — all courtesy of your helmet’s built-in high-speed microprocessor and a Bluetooth connection.

It’s curious that the Skully website argues “we believe technology should eliminate distractions” because the above mostly adds to it. Still, if it obtains Australian approval, it may herald the e-helmet. It offers streaming music, and the visor is fog, scratch and glare resistant. Pre-order for $1650 at skullysystems.com.

Aurora headband

Want to harness the power of REM sleep? Aurora’s dream-enhancing headband shines special lights and plays sounds during REM so that you’ll know at the time you are dreaming. That’s the theory at least. Why would you want this? Maker iWinks cites research that those who dream lucidly experience fewer nightmares and lower levels of stress and anxiety. As you sleep, a range of sensors on the headband collects data that determines the LED sequence, colours and type of LED flash. The headband also has a heart- rate monitor and accelerometer, and software that analyses sleeping patterns. You may be dreaming about owning one of these or regard the concept as a nightmare. In either case, wearing it should be entertaining. Pre-order for $US199 ($249) at https://iwinks.org/aurora.

Vuzix M100

Like Google Glass, the Vuzix M100 offers selected smartphone features for in-your-face application, projecting a display in your field of vision but supposedly not impeding your sight. By linking to your phone, you can operate Android apps and perform tasks such as managing your calendar. The M100 has a 5-megapixel camera for capturing photos and video and expandable on-board memory for storing captured data, which you can stream later. It offers Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity and GPS. The M100 can directly process video for lag-free augmented reality applications. Buy online for $1170; vuzix.com.

Apple Watch

This device was a work in progress when it was revealed in September. One issue was the less than stellar battery life of one day, a situation Apple wasn’t happy about. Nevertheless there’s much excitement about its release, hopefully early next year.

The watch pairs with an iPhone and lets you share your heartbeat with a friend, whose watch will then vibrate in time. It will look different on each wearer’s wrist and there are three versions: Apple Watch, Apple Watch Sports and the premium Apple Watch Edition, with 18-carat gold, and choice of colours and straps: leather, metallic or sports. It has a rectangular screen that curves at the corners, and a crown that’s a menu selection device.

Australian pricing is unknown, but in the US it will cost from $US349 ($420). Available 2015.

Jawbone UP3

Like the original UP and UP24, Jawbone’s soon-to-be-released third-generation UP activity wristband doesn’t have a display: you pair it with a smartphone to see your data. The UP3 has an anodised aluminium framework and is thinner than its predecessors; it’s also water resistant to 10m, so Jawbone says you can swim with it. Included are a tri-axis accelerometer, bioimpedance sensors and skin and ambient temperature sensors, and it will measure resting heart rate. Seven days of battery life are promised. Let’s hope it is durable because UPs have been prone to dying, although Jawbone has a reputation for promptly replacing them.

Jawbone offers excellent data analytics and its app syncs with major activity apps such as RunKeeper, Strava, MyFitnessPal and Withings. It syncs very well with the iPhone but not so well with some Android devices. Available this summer, $229.99.

Samsung Gear S

The Gear S uses its own SIM card and you can make and receive calls independently from a smartphone. It has a 2-inch super AMOLED curved screen, built-in GPS, and makes use of Samsung’s S Health and S Voice apps. But it’s not completely independent. The Gear S still requires you pair it with a Samsung smartphone to enjoy some app functionality.

Further, Samsung uses its proprietary Tizen platform to communicate with the watch. That has two repercussions. First, you’ll need to own a compatible Samsung smartphone. Second, you are limited to Samsung’s Gear apps and can’t use the broader base of apps that Google is developing for Android Wear. Also, you won’t receive notifications sent to your regular phone: the watch uses a different phone number, without software to forward them. And you’ll need a separate telco plan. But it’s pioneering tech nonetheless. 3G only; available soon, $449.

Sony SmartBand Talk

At last, a real Dick Tracy watch with a microphone and speaker. It lets you place calls with your voice, then take them on your watch. But it doesn’t use its own SIM card: calls are routed through a Bluetooth-connected Android device. That may prove a blessing as you don’t pay for an extra SIM card. The SmartBank Talk uses voice commands: you can ask it to call a phone contact at home, ask it the date or time, to read text messages, or tell you the weather forecast and your next calendar event. But the repertoire of commands is limited.

The device has an extremely clear, 1.4-inch curved ePaper display that’s easy to read outdoors in the sun but no help in the dark. We’re going to see more ePaper devices from Sony. It is investing in ePaper watch faces, bands and even bow ties as part of its “fashion entertainments” project. The SmartBank Talk offers a few apps and can count steps and the distance you walk and run. But it is a work in progress. Available now, $199.

Swarovski USB locket and cufflinks

The tradition of carrying a photo of your loved one in a locket or pendant has been updated for the 21st century. Instead of a meagre single snap, you can store an entire album in a $305 metal-plated pendant that features a crystal heart with a hidden 8 Gigabyte USB flash drive. If you’re not so romantically inclined, you could store other documents you need to keep close to the chest, such as your home’s title deed, tax returns, gadget how-to manuals and your will and legal documents.

If you don’t fancy a pendant, Swarovski also makes USB bracelets and pens. Storage magnets are also available for your wrists: cufflinks.com sells a pair of silver 4GB USB flash drive cufflinks for $US100 ($120). And you can have the cufflinks engraved for an extra $US8.

Fitbit Surge

Due for release early next year, the Surge is shaping as the ultimate wearable, with all the features of Fitbit’s activity monitoring band and a smartwatch combined. Built as a watch rather than wristband, it is Fitbit’s most ambitious device to date. It has built-in GPS that delivers stats such as pace, distance, elevation, split times, route history and workout summaries, and it records running, cross-training and strength workouts along with workout intensity based on heart rate and calories burned. The smartwatch features include caller ID, text alerts and mobile music control.

There are eight sensors — 3-axis accelerometers, 3-axis gyroscope, digital compass, ambient light sensor, touchscreen, altimeter, GPS and heart rate. The watch face has a backlit touch screen with customisable watch faces, and Fitbit claims it will deliver up to seven days of battery life.

Available in early 2015 in black, blue and tangerine, $299.95.

LG G Watch R

Here’s a stylish and practical Android Wear watch. It comes with 24 default clock faces and they’re not just decorative. The hiking clock face, for example, displays steps, altitude and direction as small watch face dials. It gets the information from its sensors. In power-saving mode, the display dims but the hands always shine brightly so you can see the time day and night. You get call notifications but there is no speaker so you must take calls on a connected smartphone. It displays SMS messages and other notifications from your phone.

The G Watch R has voice dictation so you can send text messages, but this isn’t so accurate. It has a bright 1.3-inch P-OLED screen and a quick 1.2 Gigahertz Snapdragon processor. On-board sensors include a heart-rate monitor, compass and barometer, and the 410 mAh battery lasts up to two days and is water resistant. Almost 150 Android Wear compatible apps are available. Out now, $359.

Sensoria Fitness socks

These socks by start-up Sensoria, which also makes hi-tech fitness T-shirts and sports bras, have a clip-in sensor that measures steps, cadence, foot landing technique, force, pressure and heart rate. Information is streamed to the Sensoria Fitness Companion app on your smartphone. As well as recording data, the app encourages you with audio coaching in real time.

The app is available for iOS, Android and Windows Phone devices. The socks are splash proof and can survive machine washing. Socks and sensor cost $US149 ($180) a pair; extra socks $59 for three pairs. Out now: sensoriafitness.com

June UV bracelet

Netatmo’s June is a designer pendant with UV sensors that measure and report on your ultraviolet exposure. In Australian terms, it’s a hi-tech “slip, slop, slap” warning gadget.

The pendant links via Bluetooth Low Energy with your smartphone and uploads data to the June app, which is available only for iOS. It may seem a one-trick pony, as it offers no other features other than UV monitoring. But what it does, it does well. It takes into account your skin type and complexion, and measures your exposure against the Fitzpatrick UV index. The app will warn you to put on a hat, sunglasses or sunscreen in real time and offers a summary of time spent in the sun. It can also warn you about the type of clothing you should wear outdoors according to the forecast. June is the creation of French designer Camille Toupet and attaches to your wrist using a leather or silicone strap.

It is sweat-proof but not waterproof. Available from Apple, $139.95.

This story was first published in The Australian

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