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Smartwatches aren't what we expected, and that's okay

$300 notification centers for everyone

Let’s face it, smartwatches aren’t what we expected them to be. Dreams of a world managed from your wrist — control over your budding smart home, curated notifications to cut down on the noise, and excellent health-tracking features — have been replaced by the reality of an inconsistent drip of half-baked apps, a constantly vibrating wrist, and a glorified FitBit for double or triple the cost.

In other words, the current smartwatch landscape is one of broken promises. Some smartwatches like the Apple Watch and Samsung Gear S2 have flashes of brilliance, but key features — responding to texts and making phone calls, for instance — become afterthoughts once you own the smartwatch for more than a few days.

A $300 notification center on your wrist

After selling my Apple Watch to another member of The Verge five days after it was released — and for all intents and purposes giving up on the current batch of smartwatches — I recently decided to give it another try, albeit with dramatically altered expectations. I just wanted something that could keep my phone in my pocket (and that doesn’t look awful, like the majority of smartwatches). They may not be living up to our preconceived notions, but smartwatches can be pretty good if you’re not looking for a revolution.

For the past couple weeks, I’ve been using the new Moto 360 with my iPhone, which would be an insane combination if you were looking for traditional smartwatch features. With Android Wear on iOS, you can’t reply to texts, or act on basically any notifications outside of those from Gmail, but it accomplishes the one thing I need it to do — it keeps me aware of what’s going on at all times, and I don’t have to take my phone out of my pocket.

America runs on two things: Dunkin’ and notifications. My phone never stops vibrating with so many Slack and Twitter alerts and texts and emails that at this point I’m sure the biggest battery drain on my iPhone is the vibrator motor activating roughly 200 times a day. I only care about approximately 10 percent of the notifications I get, which means that even with the limited interactions of Android Wear on iOS, I’m pulling out my phone far less than I previously did.

America runs on two things: Dunkin’ and notifications

And with the watch on, it’s a simple turn of the wrist to ignore the thing you were probably going to ignore after you pulled out your phone in the middle of your conversation. (Surprisingly, I’ve found that looking at your watch doesn’t have the same negative connotation with millennials that it does with people over 35. It’s a product of checking your phone for the time instead of your watch.)

It’s a big compromise if you’re coming into smartwatches with high expectations, or really any expectations at all. If you’re looking for a "smartwatch" as we hoped for them to be, the wait is still on. It took me four months to come around to the idea of a smartwatch as a $300 notification center on your wrist, but if you get a ton of notifications, a smartwatch can cut down on the noise by simply keeping your phone out of your hands a bit more often. Smartwatches are just okay, and for me, that’s still better than the alternative.