I’ll admit it. I bought in to the hype. I followed the dream of having something on my wrist that could do everything for me…park my car, make my breakfast, show me the winning lottery number the night before. Okay, so the promises made by the concept of smart watches weren’t that grandiose. But, they were (and are) far out of alignment with with I believe most consumers will accept right now.

What makes me an “expert”? Well, I’m not an expert. What I can do, however, is share my experiences after owning almost every popular smart watch available today. Here are the devices I own:

  • Pebble
  • Pebble Steel
  • Asus ZenWatch
  • LG G Watch R
  • Motorola 360
  • Qualcomm Toq
  • Samsung Gear Live
  • Sony SmartWatch 3

Of these devices, three are proprietary. The Pebble watches are unique to Pebble, and run a proprietary “operating system.” The Qualcomm Toq is unique to Qualcomm, and runs a proprietary operating system. The rest of the watches noted here are all running on a standardized operating system created by Google. This operating system, called Android Wear, is based on Google’s phone operating system (Android).

One thing in common across all of these watches is that they are very basic watches absent a live connection to some sort of smartphone. The differentiation between the Wear watches is actually no deeper than their outwardly facing styles. Though it is true to say that they each have some unique “faces” (think watch hands, numbers, day/date, etc.), anything beyond that is the same across each. Some would say that is the beauty of a common platform like Wear. I’m not one who would make that assertion.

The Pebble watches are identical in all respects, outside of the materials used to make the watches. The standard Pebble watch is plastic. The Pebble Steel watch is, yes, steel. The functions, etc., are the same across both. Though it may be true that the internals of the two styles differs (that is, the electronics inside), it’s not readily apparent.

The Toq, like the Pebble, utilizes a proprietary operating system. Of all the watches, my opinion is that the Toq was the closest to a good idea. It has a readable display, had decent battery life, and tried to get developers to create applications that could run directly on the device itself. (I should note that the pebble has applications that run on the watch as well. Wear devices have crippled applications as of this writing.)

So, what is my problem?

My biggest problem is that the promise of these devices does not live up to the experience. Sure, each of the devices noted will show you incoming text and email messages (varying length by device, by the way). If your phone is ringing (assuming it’s connected to the device), each device will also show the name and/or number of the individual calling. You can also look at your schedule, set reminders, and see some statuses of other applications running on the phone. Beyond that, there isn’t much there. Oh, yeah, I forgot. On some of the models, you can check your heart rate–when it works.

What are some notable features for each device?

Pebble watches have awesome battery life, and can easily be seen inside and outside. They also have a pretty comprehensive set of applications launched through their own “App Store”, which was itself new this year. But, they don’t really scream style. Most likely, geeks like me will be seen wearing a Pebble watch. If I’m wearing one, it’s only because I need the battery life, and I still want some level of notifications without having to reach for my phone. The applications that are available for the Pebble are numerous. Their degree of reliance on an attached smartphone varies by application. For the most part, I’ve had very limited luck with applications when a phone isn’t actively connected.

The Motorola 360 has a very unique look in that, unlike all but one of its Wear counterparts, it is round. It also has a somewhat stylish look–in an art deco sort of way. Although its battery life has improved over time, due to device software upgrades, it still is a pretty lousy battery experience. If you get a lot of notifications (text messages, email, calls) throughout the day, pray that you will make it past your evening meal with a watch that is still “alive.” Yeah, it’s that bad. As with all Wear watches I’ve evaluated, there is the option to have the watch face turn off when not actively being used. This does help with battery life. The problem is, just glancing at the watch to get the current time isn’t possible. It is necessary to move your arm to help the watch realize that it’s being looked at…and even then, it’s not always responsive. People who love this watch will defend it to their death. I tend to be more pragmatic. I do not really think it should be necessary to “charge” my watch twice a day, or shake my arm to do something as simple as see the current time.

Asus ZenWatch is a great concept. It looks more like a traditional watch, and the build is solid. Although it uses a proprietary charging solution (as do all the above watches, with the exception of the Sony SmartWatch 3), the largest complaint I have is that it will likely need that charging solution at least twice a day. I never made it longer that 12 hours of use. Another large issue with this watch is the lack of visibility outside. Unfortunately, this is valid with all but one of the Wear watches.

Contrasting battery life with the others is the LG G Watch R. It does quite well in this respect. I easily made it to the end of my day with about 15% of the battery remaining. That’s about 16 hours. Another great attribute is that it, like the Moto 360 is round. It looks much more like a traditional sports watch. Unlike the Moto 360, the G Watch R makes full use of the round real estate; no cut off bottom on this one. It also has a fair number of watch faces. From a style perspective, I really like this watch. But, it is crippled by the Wear operating system.

Really, my favorite for all of these is the Sony SmartWatch 3 (SW3). The battery life easily outdoes all of the others during my normal day of wear. Outdoors, the display is unparalleled with any of the other Wear watches. It is very easy to read in direct sunlight, without having to crank up the brightness. It also has a continuous display of time that does not cripple the utilization. (It is truly “always on,” rather than only switching on when it detects movement.) The SW3 doesn’t have a great variety of watch faces. I’d say that’s its biggest weakness. Unlike any of the others here, it has a built in GPS receiver. Using this (with the ONE application supporting this feature) sucked the life out of the battery–pronto. In theory, it only uses this receiver when there is no attached phone. This is the only watch among this lot that does not require a special charging adapter; it uses a standard micro USB cable. (Though one could argue that the Moto 360 falls in to the same category, as it is charged using the Qi standard.)

The Samsung Gear Live is one of the first two Wear watches released. (The other was the LG G Watch [no “R”]) I think this is a decent looking watch, but it definitely has a “geek” look. I liked the way the band fastened, but it would appear I am among a minority based on other reviews I’ve read. Where this watch falls short is where most of the Wear watches fall short: battery life. On a normal day, I couldn’t go any longer than 10 hours with this watch. Naturally, if I turn off notifications, it goes much longer. But, then one must ask: Why would anyone want a smart watch that must have functionality disabled in order to provide sufficient battery life? Doesn’t that defeat the purpose of a smart watch?

The final watch on which I will comment is the Qualcomm Toq. Aside from the Pebble, this is one of the first smartwatches that went “mainstream.” That is, if you can consider a low-volume watch “mainstream.” The premise of this watch eludes me, as Qualcomm is not known for wearables. Qualcomm’s revenue root is really in technologies supporting wireless connectivity. And, more specifically, chips that are leveraged by many wireless handset manufacturers. The Qualcomm Toq is huge. Like, “I’m wearing a small television on my arm” huge. It’s certainly comfortable enough, provided you like the cheap plastic strap—and that you don’t prespire a lot. (Perspiration between the band and arm results in a watch that slides all over the place.) The concept behind the Toq was/is that there would be a community of developers creating applications for the device. That really didn’t happen to any large degree. That said, the included applications and watch faces were okay. Just okay. The readability oudoors, however, is where this device really makes a quantum leap over the Wear devices. It’s equivalent to a Pebble in the readability aspect. The battery life was also notable, but that’s not terribly surprising; it’s ability to deal with notifications was very limited. Overall, had this watch been smaller, had a better developer community, and had better intgration for notifications, it would have been among the best smart watches available.

So, where does that leave me?

It leaves me with a number of watches that aren’t used. The battery sucking nature of the Wear devices helps me avoid them. When I do wear them, it is generally limited to the SmartWatch 3, or Moto 360 (for looks). The Pebble watches would be better suited to my day, if they had a bit more style. My primary watch is actually a Garmin Forerunner 920XT. It does everything I need it to do. It’s not a watch that is particularly stylish, but it gets the job done. If I have a formal event to attend, I revert to one of my Tag Heuer watches.

The reality that I face with smart watches today is that they’re still young, and they sell primarily on hype. As they mature, I know that I will look back on these early days and just shake my head. “What was I thinking?!” When the Apple Watch is released in 2015, I know that I will buy one. It’s not a question of whether or not I think it will be a suitable device—I will just blindly buy one as I have so many other Apple products. I also have no doubt that I will still not achieve the nirvana that I seek. So, the search will go on.