Inexpensive yet clever smart watches

A smart watch is a watch that connects by bluetooth to your smart phone, and does lots of smart things.  It was not so long ago that your usual smart watch cost many hundreds of dollars.  Recently I saw that there are lots and lots of relatively inexpensive smart watches on the market.  I decided to give one of them a try.  I was astonished to find how many features a person can get, and how clever the watch can be, for a quite modest purchase price. 

The watch that I tried out is the fetchingly named LW11 and it cost $45 on Amazon (direct link).   Here are some of the features.

Blood pressure.  It measures blood pressure using a technology called pulse transit time (Wikipedia article), which is how long it takes a pressure wave created by a heartbeat to travel between two points along an artery.  It is likely to be less accurate than the old-fashioned cuff on your arm.  But still it could show general trends and might tip you off to a particular time when the blood pressure is getting to be much higher or lower than you expected it to be.  I am frankly astonished that a $45 thing that weighs only a couple of ounces and is inside a wristwatch could accomplish even this much.

Blood oxygen level.  It measures dissolved blood oxygen.   It does this in the same way as your familiar clothespin-on-your-finger oximeter, sending two different wavelengths of excitation light into your skin and measuring the relative amounts of light passing back out from your skin.  In these days of Covid, where the general list of symptoms of Covid is identical to a symptom list which just a couple of years earlier would have been a “who cares” case of mild flu or a cold or a headache, and where the only objectively measurable thing (other than a lab test) that has a chance of maybe distinguishing Covid from “who cares” is the blood oxygen level, it seems to me that this feature alone would be a good reason to put such a smart watch on your wrist. 

Heart rate.  It takes your pulse.  The sensors that carry out the two previously mentioned measurements make it easy to count beats of your heart.

Step count.  Of course the watch has three axes of accelerometer and thus can count steps.

Sleep, including deep sleep.  I guess the sensors that measure the four previously mentioned measurements are the sensors that make it easy for the watch to make a pretty good guess as to when you are asleep.  And on top of that, a pretty good guess as to how much of your sleep was deep sleep.

Because it connects by bluetooth to your phone, it can then interact a little bit with your phone.  If you configure it to do so, it will vibrate and show something on the screen to let you know about the arrival of:

  • an incoming phone call
  • an SMS (text) message
  • an email message
  • a Wechat message
  • a QQ message
  • a Facebook message
  • a Twitter message
  • a Whatsapp message
  • a Linkedin message
  • an Instagram message
  • a Messenger message
  • a Line message
  • a Kakao message
  • a Viber message
  • a Skype message
  • a Telegram message

I wish they would make it possible to annunciate a Signal message.  But no.  I wish they would make it possible to annunciate an incoming call on a VOIP app.  But no.

You can set alarms, for example to wake you up every day at the same time.

You can pick any of about fifty-six watch dials from the app, to load into the watch.  So you can have an analog watch display (with hands), or a display with digits, or any of a number of very busy displays that I think would drive me crazy but I guess some users might really like.  You can pick a photograph or image from your phone and make it into a background for the watch face.  The watch itself also has three native watch dials to choose from even if you are not uploading a watch dial from the app.

The app can keep a log of past daily step counts and past sleep measurements, and can graph the logged data.  You can set a daily step count goal and it helps you keep track of the progress toward the goal.

You can program the watch to make periodic measurements of blood pressure and blood oxygen and heart rate, and the app can log and graph the measurements.  I have my watch configured to do those measurements 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

If you were using the phone as a music player, then the watch could be used to turn the volume up and down, and move forward and back a track.

If you were to prop up the phone someplace to be a camera, the watch can be a remote control to trigger the shutter of the camera.

There is a button on the watch (a virtual button on the touch screen) that can make the phone chirp to help you find the phone if you cannot figure out where the phone is.  And there is a button in the phone app that can make the watch vibrate to help you find the watch, if you cannot figure out where the watch is.  The watch has a stopwatch feature and a countdown timer.

The watch face is about 33 mm (about 1.3 inches) in diameter.  It weighs about 60 grams (about 2.1 ounces).  The battery life for the watch is said to be at least seven days between chargings, and maybe a couple of weeks.  This would of course be a function of how often you do things that make the watch display light up, and how bright you set the display to be, and how often you ask it to measure things like blood pressure.  I found that I needed to set the display to its highest brightness to be able to see things in outdoor conditions.  The way I configured my watch, it needed to get charged up every five days or so. This compares with some of the early fitness bands that had battery life so short that they had to be charged up every night.

The watch comes with an ordinary silicone band.  The case works with any ordinary 22-millimeter watch band, so you could swap out the band for some other type of band if desired.

One of the things I like the best about the app is, it does not force you to create an account!  All of the previous health-related devices that I ever played with were set up in a way that refused to let you do even the simplest thing until after you had “created an account”, which of course included revealing your email address and other personal information.

Oh, and the watch is IP68 (Wikipedia article) water resistant.  This means you could get away with maybe wearing the watch in the shower, or getting it wet in the rain, but you would not be able to swim with the watch on.  If you were to drop the watch into a sink or a shallow puddle it would probably survive the event.

And you get all of these features for just $45.  This means if the watch gets lost you have only lost $45.  If you drop it and break it, you only have to spend $45 to replace it.   

It is important to keep in mind that there are things that some smart watches do that this one does not.  Some smart watches let you conduct actual two-way telephone calls through the watch;  this watch does not.  Some smart watches let you initiate outbound messages or reply to messages;  this watch does not.  Some smart watches have a GPS tracker in them and they can log where you went on your jog;  this watch does not.

7 Replies to “Inexpensive yet clever smart watches”

  1. This is a really interesting and useful article, and the watch is on sale today for $39.09.
    I just bought a Samsung Galaxy Classic, which was much more expensive at $300. However, I got a Black Friday deal with a discount, a watch band, and 24 month financing with no interest. So I don’t regret the purchase een if I could have found much of the same functionality for a lot less.
    I have a collection of watches, and over the years I have been searching for the perfect travel watch. There are a lot of “GMT” watches out there, some which display multiple time zones. But very few are True GMT watches. By that, I mean the 24 hour hand is always set to GMT and the 12 hour hand can be moved to local time. Rolex did this for PanAm years ago, Most of today’s so-called GMT watches allow you to change the 24 hour hand to show another time zone. These are sometimes called “Desk GMT” or “Office GMT” watches, because they work well for people who never go anywhere, but perhaps have clients or relatives in other countries.
    The only watch I have found which does this for under $1,000 is a Timex world travel watch. It has a regular 12 hour face and hands, and a 24 hour time marking, plus a rotating 24 hour bezel. You set the 24 hour time and the minutes to GMT or Zulu time, then set the 12 hour hand to local, When you travel, you change the 12 hour hand and the date if necessary. The 24 hour hand never leaves GMT. So you have an invariable reference. The bezel lets you see time in a third time zone.
    So what does this have to do with the smart watch? The more expensive watches allow me to download from literally hundreds of thousands of watch faces. Many of the analog simulations have an extra hand which shows another time zone. All too often, is just shows local time in a 24 hour format, which is close to useless. But some creators understand GMT time, and the third hand, or perhaps a digital display in a window, show GMT and cannot be changed. I have only found two or three which mimic the Rolex or Timex. I have worked out ow to edit some of the faces (some are locked and not editable) to show GMT rather than local time. I may have found another career designing watch faces.
    The Samsung Galaxy Classic does let me make phone calls, send SMS messages etc. It also tracks my daily walks with the dog, and even shows a little map of my route using the built in GPS.
    So was the Galaxy worth the extra? To me, being somewhat obsessed with watches, yes. Especially given the deal I got. To anyone else, maybe. Or maybe not. What I do know is that I now have a drawerful of redundant watches: I can even download a simulation of my old Casio digital – or a 1980 red led.

  2. Thank you for this article. I had long ago decided I wasn’t much interested in owning a smart watch, but your review persuades me that I need to take another look. I doubt I would have bothered to read an article by another author on this topic because I’m in the habit of ignoring the subject.

  3. I remember when it was a big deal to get a Swatch watch with its cool streamlined look. But all it did was tell time!

    This watch has so many functions– I could use the sleep monitor and the chirp function to find my phone, but alas I haven’t gotten used to having something strapped to my wrist.

  4. The Samsung Galaxy Classic I have was made in Vietnam. I put in a lot of effort to avoid anything made in China, although that is difficult. It’s not about the quality, it’s about the human rights abuses.

    1. Also, it’s my understanding that just about every business owner of a server in China is required to give a “back door” to the Chinese government. Your data (health, contacts, photos, etc., etc.) stored on a company server located in China probably should be assumed to also be stored on Chinese government servers.

  5. I got one of these assuming you’d done some checking around of the sort I wouldve done myself. Its kind of annoying to give over your data to China as Gary has pointed out above, but what price liberty etc. I’ll probably test the accuracy of the heartrate monitor and possibly the oxygen business too if I can get the right lab setup at the local uni. So far I like getting notifications as I’m often late for mtngs due to having phone ringer off due to needing uninterrupted time for work, and the changeable watch face. Also the ‘shake watch to take a picture’ may come in handy at some point e.g. for corporate espionage.

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