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Living with a (Tasker) smartwatch, one week in

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A week ago today, I picked up a Sony Smartwatch from the post office. It took me about 30 minutes to run my first bit of custom software on it, and the day after I got it, I published a guide to using it with Tasker. I’ve been using it every day, all day since then, and it has started to become fully integrated into my digital lifestyle.

The first thing I want to comment on is the battery life. Being an LCD-equipped device, the Sony Smartwatch’s biggest disadvantage compared to the Pebble or MetaWatch is the 1-2 day battery life. I thought this would become a problem, but honestly, it isn’t. Because of the way the device itself clips onto the watch strap, it’s very easy to take off in a second without taking off the entire strap, and it literally clips onto the charging cable as well. That means that the only real downside of charging it is that you have to be without it on your wrist for that period (at least that’s recommended), and the actual task of clipping it onto and of of the charger is literally something that will add 10 seconds to your day- combined. It also charges rather fast, so that you will be able to fit the charge cycle into times you don’t need it. Over night is an obvious solution, but just letting it charge from I get up to I leave out the door as proven to work well too.

Obviously it would be nice to have it last for a week, but the smartwatches that actually have that sort of battery life are useless for what I do with the Sony Smartwatch, as they lack a touchscreen. From what I’ve been able to gather about the Pebble and MetaWatch’s Tasker compatibility, they basically only have information display capabilities. That’s neat, but the true power of a Smartwatch- in my opinion- comes from two-way communication.

Don’t get me wrong, I very quickly got accustomed to having my wrist vibrate when an email comes in, and I’ve tied it in with both standard services like IM, as well as my own systems. My watch now displays notifications for things like todo list alerts, profile switching, and other acknowledgements of something happening. Furthermore, having your wrist vibrate for a bit if in my opinion much less attention demanding than a permanent notification on your phone, so I have added notifications for things I wouldn’t normally have notifications for, because a quick “FYI” on the watch is much more useful than finding 23874 new notifications when I check the phone.

However, I still think that proper watch >phone communication is at least as important. Using AppWidgetDisplay and UCCW, I’ve created a few different smartwatch widgets for remote controlling Tasker profiles, and through that, everything from my home automation system, to my PC, and of course my phone. It’s very useful to be able to be able to just tap an icon on your watch to turn on the ceiling lights in the middle of the night, even if I could already do that from my phone. I’ve also set it up so I can override automatic profiles from my watch, activate kitchen timers, see dynamic information pushed from Tasker, activate WiFi sharing on my phone, and so on.

Of course this thing isn’t without its flaws, otherwise it would have been much more popular than it is. The touch screen isn’t all that responsive, meaning that it often thinks you’re tapping somewhere you’re not. Furthermore, because of the LCD screen, you need to activate the screen each time you want to check the time, and that’s not always so easy. In theory, there are three ways of activating it: shaking it, double tapping it, and clicking the button on the side. Unfortunately, the former two of those options work more or less randomly. Sometimes, just looking at it is enough to trigger the shake-to-activate feature, while other times you can glue it to the end of a jackhammer and get no results. Similarly, double tapping sometimes works great, while other times you can use the thing as a drum kit with nothing happening.

The Sony Smartwatch also lacks the outdoor visibility of the Pebble and MetaWatch, which is sometimes a bit annoying. I think outdoor visibility would be the only thing that could make me switch away from a color screen, as battery life is frankly not that important when it’s so easy to clip off, charge, and clip back on again. I’ve always been more for using a device however I like and charge it when needed, rather than saving power any way I can.

Speaking of battery life, some people have asked me how having a always-connected Bluetooth device affects phone battery life. I haven’t used this for long enough to truly give an answer to that, but just judging from my impressions so far: if it does affect battery life, I rather think it makes the phone lasts longer. Now you’re probably wondering how on Earth that is possible, but hear me out: A smartwatch is all about being able to do what you normally do on your phone, from your wrist. With a watch capable of two-way communication, that doesn’t just mean that you’re not checking notifications on your phone all the time, but also that you’re not constantly running around apps, pressing buttons.

The power you save from that goes a long way to compensate for the power spent keeping the watch connected, or at least it has for me; I just came home from a full day of teaching, and my phone is at 70%, compared to 50% normally. From checking my school-specific todo list, to checking incoming email during the day, to jusy checking time (since I used to use my phone for that), I just have less I actually need to activate the phone for with the watch.

In general though, I don’t see myself ever being without a smartwatch again. Then again, I only say that because I now have a watch with two-way communication, and I maintain my skepticism about the value of a watch that costs twice as much and barely does half of what this does. It that makes me wonder what the rest of 2013 will look like, smartwatch-wise. Even if Apple, Samsung, and a million other companies release smartwatches, there’s an above average chance that come 2014, the watch I’m wearing right now will still have more features than anything newer and “better” on the market. More than any other category of gadgets, I think that smartwatches will end up being victims of “average consumer mentality”, where things like Twitter, Facebook, and Gmail notifications are going to be the only focus, and customization like I have on my watch just won’t be a priority. After all, the only reason why I can do what I do with the Sony Smartwatch is an abandoned Japenese app on Google Play, and that really shows you just how small the difference between useful tool and wrist mounted toy can be.

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Andreas Ødegård

Andreas Ødegård is more interested in aftermarket (and user created) software and hardware than chasing the latest gadgets. His day job as a teacher keeps him interested in education tech and takes up most of his time.

Avatar of Andreas Ødegård

14 thoughts on “Living with a (Tasker) smartwatch, one week in

  • Good write, again :)

    As for outdoor visibility, depends on what you need, I created a widget with white background and the time on it in bold black letters – helps a bit.

    One could make that quasi general purpose, instead of time use a tasker variable and when touched send a message to tasker. Tasker could then keep track of the number of touches and change the variable and update the widget – I guess, didn’t try it.

    Got me a Tellstick over the weekend and though for now I’ve just got some power sockets set up it’s already quite useful.

    Currently I’m trying to read up on controlling the stuff from my Linux desktop.

    I’d be interested in a run down what specific hardware you bought. I’m currently interested in light and thermo sensors as well as in some kind of bell(to let the wife ring me when I’m working in the basement f.e.).

    Reply
    • Avatar of Andreas Ødegård

      I don’t have much set up, as my student accommodations don’t have that much to control. Two temperature sensors, a dimmable ceiling light, and some random on/off sensors that I don’t really use. Sensors are Jenkinsbird (swedish brand that is available in Teknikmagasinet stores in Scandinavia), while the rest is from Nexa.

      Reply
  • Thanks. At least Amazon(.de) doesn’t have Nexa stuff, my sockets are from Elro.

    Wifey had a nice idea, some kind of humidity sensor to plug into the earth and then combine it with Tasker to water the plants if they are too dry :p

    Reply
    • Avatar of Andreas Ødegård

      That’s a great idea! Should be easy to do too, if the sensor and watering “thing” actually exists for 433.92Mhz equipment

      Reply
  • “Watering thing” isn’t the problem, that one only needs power so I could just use a outdoor compatible socket(they are ~15€/piece on Amazon).

    I’ve seen humidity sensors, but they’re to meassure in the air, don’t know if they can be used for that, but I’ll see.

    Also found some motors for the window shutters which can be controlled on 433, provided their remotes don’t use prop. data over that freq, that should be possible, too. Though they aren’t that cheap, depending on the weight of your shutters, they start at ~60€.

    My coffeemaker is already powered by tasker and my work schedule. Once I grab some thermo sensor, I’ll hook that up to the electrical radiator in the bathroom.

    If only the cash was flowing like the ideas are :p

    BTW, I read Telldus is working to offer a way to controll the device without relying on Telldus’ servers, already tried that?

    Reply
    • Avatar of Andreas Ødegård

      I read something about that coming last year, but honestly, it seems to take a while for them to publish any useful updates at all. I have a subscription to their update blog via IFTTT, but can’t say that it’s spamming my inbox every day.

      There are simply plant moisture sensors out there that blink when they need watering. If Telldus would just get remote control input working on the Net like they promised half a year ago, one of those sensors, a simply remote, transistor, and some soldering is all that’s needed to create a plant sensor that sends a remote control signal

      Reply
  • Avatar of Walter Quinn

    Andreas,
    I am a Pebble watch owner myself, having just received my unit a few weeks ago. It is actually how I got introduced to Tasker and your series of articles on that amazing app.
    I think perhaps you have a mistaken understanding of the Pebble’s capabilities. Although software development is still in its infancy for the device (awaiting the first SDK due for release this week) there are an interesting assortment of uses cropping up everyday.
    While the majority deal with the type and amount of notifications that can be sent to the watch, thanks to the work being done On Augmented Smartwatch (available for your Sony too) we are getting more two-way communication everyday.
    With very little effort I was able to set buttons on my Pebble to take a Picture, reply to texts from a choice of user written canned responses, answer the phone, or reject a call with a choice of canned responses. Not bad for a device that doesn’t even have an official development kit ready for it yet.

    Reply
    • Avatar of Andreas Ødegård

      I’m aware of that app and the two way communication it gives Pebble, To be blunt, I don’t think a hacked music app can quite compare to being able to make your own touch screen controlled widgets. I’m very curious to see what can be done with the Pebble once the SDK is out and everyone digs into it, but I would never buy a Pebble with the current software available for it. That’s just me though :)

      Reply
  • Avatar of Walter Quinn

    I agree it;s a hack, but I think there is generally a lot of excitement out there for the Pebble and I think once the SDKs become available we will see a lot of development. And personally I have no interest in a touch screen on my wrist, although I certainly see the possibilities for it using Tasker.
    Keep up the Tasker articles, I’m lovin’ ’em!
    By the way, are there any plugins that allow Tasker to read call log information? I would like to do a Dialer replacement and include Redial and Call back features.

    Reply
    • Avatar of Andreas Ødegård

      There’s probably something out there that would do it, though I have on clue what. It’s something I’ve never looked into myself, and when you try to do something with tasker, each instance is often different and needs research.

      Reply
  • Avatar of Walter Quinn

    I’ve got the redial part using Tasker to call “Simple Redial NC” It works fine. Still looking for the Call Back part.

    Reply
  • this sounds like what I’d like to do if (I was capable!). I have bought a motoactv touchscreen watch with the intention of setting it up as a smartwatch with my phone but haven’t had the time or confidence to start trying to do anything. Does it take a lot of work to get it set up? I am going to spend some time reading through your articles as they look like a good source of info and inspiration. Thanks!

    Reply
    • Avatar of Andreas Ødegård

      The MotoACTV is completely different from the Sony Smartwatch, as it runs full Android at its core, and can be rooted to give you a fully functional Android device. As such, you’re no longer dealing with smartwatch plugins, but actual Android apps. My best guess would be for you to start digging into my Tasker articles, especially the guide- as I have a feeling scenes in Tasker are going to be key here. Honestly though, I’ve never had a Motoactv to explore, so I can’t really help you beyond that. It was my first choice when getting a smartwatch, but ended up being too expensive for my taste

      Reply

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