First Click: A wearable that's actually ready to wear

March 16th, 2016

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The term “wearable” is misleading in its modern, technological use. Sure, a Fitbit can be worn, but it’s still just an accessory. A non-essential something you choose to wear like headphones, or a tiara. For technology to be truly wearable it should disappear into the things we already wear.

I got a taste of that idea recently while on a snowboarding holiday in the Austrian alps. I packed two articles of heated clothing sent to me for review by a company called Gyde Supply: a $249.99 Torrid heated vest to wear under my snowboard jacket, and a pair of $279.99 S4 heated gloves. It was the latter that resulted in my epiphany, despite my doubts.

I have a drawer full of so-called wearables that I’ve purchased over the last five years or so. They’re fun for awhile. But soon the novelty fades as each smartwatch and fitness tracker fails to improve my life in any meaningful way. In fact, most did the opposite, creating additional distractions by alerting me of unimportant things and by their thirst for regular charging. Recode’s Kara Swisher and The Verge’s Lauren Goode lamented the sorry state of "unwearables" in the latest episode of the Too Embarrassed to Ask podcast. Wearables are a little like dating, they concluded: you learn more about what you don’t want with each failed encounter.

The Gyde S4 glove is an outdoor wearable I do want. It performed spectacularly over a week of snowboarding, keeping my hands warm and dry despite wearing the gloves for up to eight hours a day in temperatures ranging from -8 degrees Celsius (17.6 Fahrenheit) to 11 degrees Celsius (51.8 Fahrenheit), and conditions that ranged from sun, to rain, to sleet, to snow. Gyde uses a Microwire™ heating system from Gerbing that weaves hundreds of Teflon®-coated conductive filaments into the fingers and thumb, each strand measuring just 25 percent the thickness of a human hair. The S4 glove features other impressive-sounding materials that require even more trademarks like a Cyberian Cordloc™ system, Primaloft® insulation, and AQUATEX™ water resistance. There's even a chamois thumb that acts as a convenient goggle squeegee.

The trick I found was to turn on the rechargeable 7.4V 4R Lithium-ion battery and set the gloves to their lowest heat setting just after lunch. This would warm the gloves enough to offset the damp interior resulting from my sweat or from the snow that managed to enter the base of the gauntlet after numerous powdery wipeouts (I was usually too lazy to pull the cinch-cord tight). In this way my hands never grew cold and the battery easily lasted the day. Gyde says the battery can heat the S4 glove for up to eight hours, or about two hours when cranked to a maximum of 140 degrees Fahrenheit. Extra batteries cost $49.99 each. The weight of the battery on the top of the wrist did feel a bit bulky at first but I soon got used to it. Gyde ships the S4 gloves with a Y-cable that charges two batteries at once in less than two hours.

Gyde also sells an optional bluetooth adapter that lets you control the temperature of the gloves from a smartphone app. Don’t buy it, it’s just another "smart" gimmick that ultimately adds more cost and complexity. Even though the S4 glove works surprisingly well with touchscreens given all the insulation, you’re much better off controlling the temperature via a push of the three-stage button fitted directly onto the outside of the glove. The indicator glows white, orange, or red to indicate the current temperature setting from low to high.

My only complaint is with the price, obviously. At $279.99, the Gyde S4 gloves cost twice as much as Burton’s most expensive model. I haven’t tried the Burtons, I can only tell you that my hands had never been so comfortable in 20+ years of skiing and snowboarding.

I wasn’t sold on the $249.99 Gyde Torid vest, however. Although it heated up quickly using the same type of battery as the gloves, the heat wasn’t as uniformly distributed as I would have liked. I also had to run it hotter than the gloves so it consumed more power which meant more frequent recharging. For a full day on the slopes, I preferred to just zip and unzip, or add and remove regular layers of clothing as needed. I should also note that one of the three batteries I was given for testing went wonky during my testing making it unusable. I was told this wasn’t normal but your mileage, as they say, may vary.

Still, the Gyde S4 gloves have given me a glimpse at what’s to come.  A future where we’re no longer the beta testers of wearables because they’re already prêt-à-porter. Yes, the wearables of the future will simply be called "clothes."

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