Thursday, April 02, 2015

Gear Closet: Cogito Connected Watch (Updated!)

Update: After applying a firmware update to the Cogito Classic watch the issues I've mentioned below about it not staying connected to my iPhone have pretty much disappeared. That said, the device now puts more of a hit on the battery of my phone as well. The tradeoff is that you have a much more reliable connection between the two devices for passing updates, messages, and so on.

One of the hottest trends in technology at the moment is in field of wearables. With the impending release of the Apple Watch, there is a lot of buzz about smartwatches can do for consumers, although it has yet to be seen if there is a true market for these products. But Apple's latest gadget isn't the first entry into this rapidly developing space. There are a number of options available, including a wide variety of Android Wear devices, and the very successful Pebble line as well. Recently, I've had a chance to catch a glimpse of what all the fuss is about while testing the Cogito Classic Connected Watch, a timepiece that both shows the potential of these products, and sheds some light on their shortcomings as well.

At first glance, the Cogito Classic doesn't look like it is a smartwatch at all. In fact, it actually appears to be a rather stylish casual watch that you would wear for many occasions without drawing attention to its tech-centric features. Available with a wide variety of leather, nylon, and metal bands, it can take on a surprising number of looks, while its stainless steel body is eye-catching without being overly flashy in any way. This isn't always the case with other smartwatches, many of which stand out due to their poor design. But while wearing the watch over the past few weeks I've had more than a few people compliment me on how good it looks. When I explain a bit further about what it can do, they are often intrigued further.

In addition to looking much like a normal watch, the Cogito Classic has a few tricks up its sleeve. With its integrated Bluetooth technology, it is capable of paring with your smartphone (both iOS and Android) to provide basic information right on your wrist. For instance, it can tell you when you have received new emails or app notifications, and alert you to upcoming appointments on your calendar. It will also tell you when you have a new text message as well, and display it on a tiny screen hidden on the watch face. It can even alert you to incoming phone calls, providing the caller ID on that same screen. The device is also able to act as a remote control for playing music from your smartphone, and can snap photos with its camera too. As if that wasn't enough, the watch also functions as a basic activity monitor as well, keeping track of the number of steps you take throughout the day as well.

Much of the functionality baked into this watch is meant to provide convenience for the user. The alerts and notifications allow you to have some idea of what is going on with your phone without ever having to take it out of your pocket or bag. This can be enormously helpful when you're in a meeting or other gathering where looking at your phone is frowned upon, as a glance at your watch is much more subtle and less distracting.

While in theory all of that sounds great, in the real world it doesn't always function as nicely as it could. For instance, the watch will buzz at you constantly to alert you that you have emails or notifications waiting, but it isn't capable of displaying any of those messages on its screen. You still end up having to take your phone out to see exactly what is waiting for you. That might be a good thing though, as the Classic's screen is so tiny that it is difficult to read much on it anyway. When it does display a text message or calendar alert, it needs to scroll multiple times just to give you the notification. You won't simply be glancing at your watch to read a text message, you'll have to wait patiently for it to appear on the very small display.

That said, it is nice to be able to see those text messages, calendar events, and caller ID's displayed on your wrist. This actually gives us a tantalizing hint of the potential that smartwatches could deliver, I just wish the Cogito could offer a bit more in that area. But that's part of the problem with the Classic, it feels like there is a lot of potential here, but it it is hamstrung somewhat by the small display and lack of full interactivity with either the iPhone or Android devices.

Cogito is very careful in marketing this product as a "connected" watch rather than a smartwatch. I think that is a wise move on their part, as this is clearly not in the same category as the Apple Watch, which will be capable of doing a heck of a lot more once it is released. Of course, Apple's product also comes at a much higher price tag than this one, and it needs to be recharged every day. Cogito uses standard watch batteries in their devices, and claims it only needs to be replaced about once a year.

One of the main problems I had with this watch was keeping it connected to my iPhone. Pairing the two devices via Bluetooth is a simple matter, but if they wander more than about 20-30 feet from one another, they'll loose their connection. Typically they'll automatically reconnect to one another once back in range, but not always. I've had to manually reconnect on more than one occasion, and sometimes it requires jumping through a few hoops to make that happen.

On top of that, there are sometimes delays in notifications arriving on the watch. On occasion I'll actually feel or hear my phone buzz to tell me I received a text message or some other kind of update, but it takes the watch awhile to actually refresh and display the alert. While I don't expect instantaneous updates, I would expect them to be a bit more consistent with timing. Anything more than a few seconds seems less convenient, as often I could have taken my phone out of my pocket, and read the message before the watch has passed on the alert.

I will say that Cogito stands behind the watch very nicely. The company continues to push out firmware updates to improve functionality and reliability, and they have routinely updated the iOS companion app as well. This is  good sign for anyone who is actually thinking of purchasing the Classic, as it means that you'll get a device that continues to improve and be refined. One example of this is the fitness tracking aspects of the watch. That wasn't part of its original feature set, but it was added later.

If you're in the market for a great looking watch that can provide some "connected" functionality than the Cogito Classic is a good buy. It's ability to provide notifications and alerts is useful, even if it doesn't deliver completely on the promise of a smartwatch. The basic fitness tracking features are a nice addition as well, and as a frequent traveler I appreciate its dual-time capability too. This watch is also quite affordable at $179.95, comparing favorably to the Apple Watch which starts at $350. Add in the fact that the battery lasts for months, rather than hours, and you can begin to see how the two companies have taken a different approach to putting technology on your wrist.

I am a person who pretty much wears a watch every waking hour of the day. As such, I have several watches to choose from depending on the days activities and the social setting. The Cogito Classic fits in nicely with that line-up, offering some extra functionality that I don't get out of the others in my collection. I appreciate that it is stylish and good looking too, although it now has me intrigued about what a more full featured smartwatch will be capable of. I'm not sure yet if I'll invest in an Apple Watch, but I definitely see the potential that is there.

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