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May 26, 2019
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Garmin

Looking for a $2,500 smartwatch? Garmin’s got ‘em

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Somewhere out there, there’s a person willing to pay $2,500 for a smartwatch. Surprisingly, that individual has several high end options to choose from. And while the Garmin name doesn’t exactly scream luxury, the company does know how to build a solid smartwatch — and these ones look pretty decent to boot.

Maybe not $2,500 decent, but decent nonetheless.

The Marq GPS line puts the company in relatively rare air, with devices starting at $1,500. Asking people to spend luxury watch prices on a smartwatch is a pretty heavy lift, of course. At well over three times the cost of an Apple Watch, you’re going to want the thing to last for…well, a long time.

To make things even nichier, each watch is targeted at a very specific audience, including athletes, hikers, boating enthusiasts, pilots and race car drivers (that last one is the $2,500, mind). They all offer a specific design and feature set tailored to those categories, including faces that show off wind speed and a built-in altimeter.

Here’s Garmin on why the things are so damn expensive,

Each watch is built with titanium, which is lightweight, yet incredibly strong for high performance in all activities, and are constructed with sapphire crystal formed under extreme heat and pressure to create an extremely durable lens that’s over twice as hard as glass.

Of course, Garmin’s always been a bit of an underdog in the smartwatch wars, courtesy of devices targeted specifically at outdoors folks and athletes, so a targeted audience has always been the company’s M.O. Though even for them, $1,500 and up is almost certainly pushing it. The watches will be available later in Q2. 

How the Apple Watch changed the world

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In 2015 Switzerland was fucked. This blunt belief, grunted out by Apple’s Jony Ive and repeated by the media as a death knell for the watch industry, seemed to define a sad truth: that the Swiss watch was dead and Apple pulled the trigger.

Now, three years and four Apple Watches later, was Ive right? Did Apple change the world? And, most importantly, did Switzerland survive?

Yes, but…

As you might have noticed the Swiss watch industry is still standing. The major Swiss houses – LVMH, Richemont, and Swatch Group – are seeing a major uptick in sales, especially in the US. According to the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry, sales are up 5.5% year-over-year, a bit of news that was, amusingly, almost buried by the onslaught of Apple Watch Series 4 reviews.

This increase of US sales bucked a major trend this year and one market insider, who preferred to remained anonymous, noted that all of his sales contacts are seeing increased sales in the $3,000 and above watch category. While the low-cost fashion watches were, as he said, “decimated,” the luxury market is growing. But why?

According to Swatch Group, Swiss watch exports rose 4.8 percent compared with last year and, according to a Reuters report, “first-quarter watch exports rose 10.1 percent, the highest quarterly growth rate since mid-2012, according to figures from the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry.”

“You know we saw an end of the year that was very strong – double-digit growth – and now it continues, so every month is a record month for us,” Swatch Group CEO Nick Hayek told CNBC. In short, the industry is back from an all-time low after the recession.

Watch analysts believe that Apple created a halo effect. Of the millions of people who bought and wore an Apple Watch, a majority had never worn or thought about wearing a watch. Once they tried the Apple Watch, however, and outfitted it with leather bands, fancy Milanese loops, and outfit-matching colors the attitude changed. If wearing watches is so fun and expressive, why not try other, more storied pieces? The numbers are hard to find (watchmakers are notoriously secretive) but I’ve found that my own watch obsessives site, WristWatchReview, saw a solid uptick in traffic in 2015, one that continued, for the most part, into 2018. One year, 2017, was considerably lower because my server was failing almost constantly.

What does this mean for the watch? First, it means that, like vinyl, a new group of obsessives are taking up the collector’s mantle after discovering the implicit value of more modern forms of the same thing. An Apple Watch is a gateway drug to a Tissot which is a gateway drug to a classic tropical Rolex Submariner on a signed band just as your first Radiohead MP3 leads to buying a turntable, an amp, a Grado cartridge, and a pressing of Moon Shaped Pool.

“In high school I wore a pebble for a while,” said Brady, a 20-year-old college sophomore I spoke to. “As an easily-distracted high school student, even though this wearable was very primitive tech, it consumed a lot of my attention when it wasn’t appropriate to be on my phone – which meant also not appropriate to be on my watch. I then shifted to Nixon quartz ‘fashion watches ‘and i was happy knowing they kept good reliable time. Then I got a Seiko SNK805 automatic. I don’t have a single non-mechanical watch due to my respect for the craftsmanship!”

Wearables are changing, as well, pushing regular watches back into the spotlight. As Jon Speer, VP at Greenlight.Guru, most wearables won’t look like watches in the next few years.

“I predict the next generation of wearables to blur the lines between tech accessory and medical device. These ‘devices’ will include capabilities such as measuring blood pressure, blood sugar, body temperature and more,” he said. “The FDA is working closely with industry partners to identify common roadblocks to innovation. The De Novo Program, the classification Apple pursued for the Apple Watch, is the category for medical devices that don’t fall within an existing classification. As we blend medical technology with consumer technology, I foresee the De Novo program being utilized by companies such as Fitbit and Garmin. As a consumer, I’m very excited for the potential and advancements.”

Thus the habit of wearing watch might stick even as the originators of that habit – a little square of steel and glass strapped to your wrist – disappears.

Could it all be a mirage?

The new Apple Watch is very positively reviewed and Android Wear – as evidenced by companies like Montblanc selling very capable and fashion-forward smartwatches – is still a force to be reckoned with. Further, not everyone falls back into watch wearing after trying out the thing Jony Ive said would fuck Switzerland.

Watches are an acquired taste like craft beers, artisanal teas, and other Pinterest -ready pursuits. Sometimes simply strapping one to your wrist isn’t enough.

“I got the first gen Apple Watch,” said entrepreneur David Berkowitz. “I loved it, and then I stopped wearing it a bit. As I did, I lost the charger and never bothered replacing it. I haven’t worn it since and haven’t seriously considered getting a new one.”

“I’m just not that customer,” he said.

Taking a spin with Garmin’s vivosmart 4 activity tracker, out today

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Garmin continues to go head-to-head with Fitbit with the launch of its latest offering — the vivosmart 4 activity tracker. This sleek new wristband not only tracks steps, activities and gives you the weather but also comes with a blood oxygen sensor and will tell you how much energy you have saved up for your next full throttle burn session.

That new body battery energy calculator estimates the body’s energy reserves to help you figure out when you feel more rundown and why. You simply swipe through the menu on the display to get to your energy levels or a number of other data offerings like steps, heart rate, stress levels and stairs climbed. The blood oxygen sensor will tell you how well oxygen is being pumped from your heart to the farthest regions of your body and can help you figure out if you are getting a good sleep in.

I took the new vivosmart 4 for a spin this week and was not disappointed in the upgrades. First off, this is a very nice looking piece of jewelry. Its slim, fashionable design fits neatly on the wrist and comes in berry with gold bezel, powder grey with rose gold bezel, azure blue with silver bezel, and black with slate bezel. It also feels good to wear. The material is smooth, soft and lightweight, slipping on easily.

The new model comes equipped with a newly redesigned wrist-based heart rate sensor, VO2 max and tracker for various activities like running, strength training and yoga.

One other interesting feature includes stress level measurement tool that will remind you to relax and take a breath throughout your busy work day.

Like its predecessor, the vivosmart 3, the 4 comes with the ability to check the weather, play music, and receive text message updates. It is safe to use under water so it can be worn in the shower or if you want to go for a swim.

The battery life is also strong enough to stay charged for up to a week at a time. Compare that to the Fitbit HR and Charge 2, which last up to five days.

The body energy feature is also a nice touch. The tracker figures out your energy levels using a combination of data including heart rate, sleep, stress levels and activity from the previous few days so it will likely take a while to figure out how much output you’ve got before a workout.

Overall, I’d say it’s a nice watch to hang on your bod. However, there are some drawbacks. The display is hard to work with. I found I had to tap several times, not just twice, as the instructions indicate. It’s also not very intuitive to maneuver and doesn’t pick up immediately that you are trying to swipe through the menu at times. You’ll need to take some time playing around with it to get the hang of it.

This is an activity tracker I would like to recommend for the fitness and life balance oriented individual, except for the difficulty in navigating the screen. That is one area that could be vastly improved by the manufacturer and would put it at the top of my list for trackers instead of somewhere in the middle.

For those interested, the vivosmart 4 will retail for about $130 and can be found online or at a sports gear shop near you.

Gear for making outdoor fitness more enjoyable

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Editor’s note: This post was done in partnership with Wirecutter. When readers choose to buy Wirecutter’s independently chosen editorial picks, Wirecutter and TechCrunch earn affiliate commissions.     

Exercising outdoors comes with space, terrain and, if you’re lucky, a nice breeze that you don’t get in a gym. While fitness fanatics care most about completing a good workout, having the right gear to help with keeping track of progress — and getting on with your day when you’re done — makes a big difference.

We’ve gathered some of our favorite fitness wearables, headphones and accessories that improve and make outdoor workout routines more enjoyable.

Running headphones: Plantronics BackBeat Fit

We’ve tested 31 pairs of running headphones and for two years the Plantronics BackBeat Fit has remained our top recommendation. The ergonomics and comfort that the BackBeat Fit offer is impressive and they’re built to combat sweat, dust and rain. The cable that connects the earbuds is accommodating for heads of all sizes and it won’t bounce around or be an annoyance while you work out. Jogging at night or in a busy neighborhood will be a bit safer and easier to navigate as the BackBeat Fit has unsealed earbuds that are designed to allow you to hear your surroundings.

Everything I fit into my Arkel Bug for a day of working away from home. (Photo: Eve O’Neill)

Backpack pannier: Arkel Bug Pannier Backpack

Bike riding is a form of exercise that’s enjoyable for many. A bike is also a convenient mode of transportation, and equipping it with gear like a bike lock, rear rack and pannier can make heading out on the trail even more worthwhile. If in-between or after your ride you’d prefer to run errands, hang out or work, we recommend carrying your belongings in the Arkel Bug Pannier Backpack.

It’s spacious and has mesh material that repels water. We like that it’s durable enough to hold heavier items and it has a deep back pocket that’s big enough for a road or urban style helmet.                                                                                                                 

The Forerunner 235 (front) is thinner and sits more evenly on your wrist than its predecessor, the Forerunner 225.

GPS Running Watch: Garmin Forerunner 235

The ease of operating the Garmin Forerunner 235 makes it a great GPS running watch for beginners. Its optional apps and ability to track advanced metrics makes it great for experienced runners. You’ll be able to use data to create and follow customized workouts, as well as review details about intensity and volume.

The FR 235 delivers heart-rate tracking without the use of a chest strap and it isn’t as bulky as previous generations. Its Auto Pause feature helps with accurately tracking pace and running data when you make stops (i.e. at an intersection) during runs.

The Garmin Vivosport is the most versatile and accurate tracker we’ve found. (Photo: Michael Hession)

Fitness tracker: Garmin Vivosport

For a simple rundown of your heart rate, the number of steps you’ve taken and the distance you’ve traveled, a fitness tracker will do the trick. Our top pick, the Garmin Vivosport, has optional GPS tracking capabilities, accurate stats and overall solid performance that places it above a standard fitness tracker.

If keeping your phone on you for listening to music is a must, you can use the Vivosport to control playback and receive notifications. It measures stress levels, tracks sleep and automatically detects activity. When you’re lifting weights without a buddy, its strength-training mode can be enabled to do rep counting for you.

Photo: Kyle Fitzgerald

Water bottle: Klean Kanteen Classic 27-ounce stainless-steel bottle with 3.0 Sport Cap

Whether your workout consists of high-intensity cardio or a casual walk in the park, it’s important to stay hydrated. Bringing along a light, durable water bottle means you won’t have to find a place to grab a drink and you’ll have a handy go-to when you need a refresher.

The Klean Kanteen Classic 27-Ounce Stainless Steel Bottle with 3.0 Sport Cap is our top pick for a steel water bottle because it’s easy to clean, has swappable caps and, more importantly, less than favorable tastes and smells don’t linger around. Its 1¾-inch mouth is big enough to fit ice cubes but not so big that water will spill on your new shoes if you take a sip while running.

This guide may have been updated by WirecutterNote from Wirecutter: When readers choose to buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn affiliate commissions that support our work.

Worthwhile gadget upgrades for the tech-obsessed

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Editor’s note: This post was done in partnership with Wirecutter. When readers choose to buy Wirecutter’s independently chosen editorial picks, Wirecutter and TechCrunch earn affiliate commissions.

More than likely, there’s someone in your circle who takes great pride in knowing about and staying on top of the latest tech. While you or your gadget-obsessed acquaintance may have a broad selection of new gear, the celebrated laptop, camera, or phone might not be the one that comes with all of the bells and whistles.

We’ve compiled some of our favorite upgrade picks that come with extra or special features that add to functionality, quality and overall performance.

Photo: Kyle FItzgerald

Bluetooth wireless headphones: The Sennheiser HD1 Wireless

Listening to music is a routine activity for many and a good pair of headphones makes a world of difference. Our upgrade pick for Bluetooth wireless headphones, the Sennheiser HD1 Wireless, are far from bargain-priced, but the sound this set offers is the best our panel of testers has ever heard from a Bluetooth model.

This Sennheiser HD1 Wireless have a solid, vintage build and for better clarity over calls, the pair has two microphones. Its cups aren’t as big as its competitors, but that doesn’t take away from comfort.

Of all the Bluetooth wireless headphones we tested, this pick gets closest to being an all-around perfect set. For those who get lost in their favorite songs and often forget to recharge their headphones, the Sennheiser HD1 Wireless offer 22 hours of battery life for more continuous playtime.

Photo: Geoffrey Morrison

360-degree camera: The Garmin VIRB 360

Capturing amazing shots in rugged, water-filled, and sometimes unfavorable environments is made easier with a 360-degree camera. More so than high-quality recording capabilities, a solid 360-degree camera should be easy to use and have features that add to its functionality.

Doubling as an action camera, the Garmin VIRB 360 offers even more. Its picture quality and digital video stabilization are noticeably better than competitors and its footage — shot in 5.7K — is good enough for professional projects. The VIRB is compact and, without a casing, can record in 33 feet of water. We like its 360-degree image and video quality — and if needed, its ability to do more.

Photo: Mike Perlman

Drone: DJI Phantom 4 Pro

Flying a drone is an experience in itself, but flying one that’s smarter with extended range and battery life keeps the party going. The DJI Phantom 4 Pro (Amazon), our upgrade pick for drones, is for seasoned videographers and photographers who could use a bit more help with getting the best images and 4K videos.

The Phantom 4 Pro has a mechanical shutter and a 20-megapixel, 1-inch CMOS sensor that produces more refined footage. While its more expensive than other DJI models, it’s one of the safest and has advanced collision detection sensors that contribute to stability when it hovers.

Though we consider its four-mile range, comfortable controller (which includes a 5.5-inch, 1080p screen), and Obstacle Sensing System to be among its best features, its manual photography controls leave room for skill and customization.

Photo: Chris Heinonen

Bookshelf speakers: The KEF Q15

For clearer sound and more detail we recommend the KEF Q15 (Amazon), a favorite during testing and our upgrade pick for bookshelf speakers. Whether used for setting the mood or background entertainment, you’ll notice a difference in the way the Q15 set delivers sound.

Audiophiles, musicians and everyday listeners will be able to detect the superiority of its in-depth bass, and the sound of instruments that are easier to distinguish.

Largely, the Q15’s specially designed Uni-Q drivers contribute to its overall performance. Its black or white finish is straightforward and modest enough to pair with decor in most homes—the appeal heightens when the speakers are on.

Photo: Signe Brewster

Home 3D printer for beginners: Aleph Objects LulzBot Mini

Makers and creative tech enthusiasts who have a home 3D printer are automatically deemed cool. True impressiveness is rooted in how and what a 3D printer is capable of producing. The Aleph Objects LulzBot Mini takes print production up a few levels by offering higher quality and higher volume. Beginners who are just starting out will find the guidance of this printer’s simple software and preloaded print settings helpful.

We like that its heated bed makes picking up prints less difficult once they’re completed. Creatives who want to try a hand at something a bit more difficult can do so, as the LulzBot Mini handles complex designs well.

This guide may have been updated by WirecutterNote from Wirecutter: When readers choose to buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn affiliate commissions that support our work.

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