'Wearables' has become the catch-all term for any wearable tech that we have on our connected selves. Whether it's watches that do more than just tell the time, virtual reality headsets, or bands that enable us to track our fitness as we run to our desks, wearable tech has infiltrated just about every area of our lives.
And of course, wearables can also help you be more productive, reminding you about client meetings and helping you be more aware about taking breaks from your computer (the Apple Watch reminds you periodically to get up and walk around).
Here we’ve listed our favourite bits of wearable tech in each category, plus two alternatives at varying price points. Naturally, as designers we want the tech we own to look good, so we’ve made sure that all our options look the part, too.
The best smartwatch for designers
Has there ever been a better smartwatch? When it comes to wearable tech, the answer is no. The cellular connectivity is nice to have, but remains an expensive luxury at £5 per month. Added to which, it’s still only available through EE, which isn’t much good if your iPhone isn’t on the network, too (it has to be, you see).
If you have an Apple Music subscription, or iTunes playlists synchronised to your phone, then getting music onto the Apple Watch is a cinch anyway. On the fitness side, it’s no Garmin (see below) but if you’re a casual runner, swimmer or gym-goer then its fitness tracking is more than enough.
The battery life is a lot better than other similar devices, and you can get nearly two days out of it. The integration with iOS is predictably excellent and the waterproofing welcome. Plus, there are numerous finishes to choose from and plenty of choice in terms of straps as well. And if you have trouble remembering to go to meetings and keeping track of notifications then the Apple Watch will certainly help there, too.
The best fitness tracker for designers
Although Fitbit keeps trying to get into the smartwatch space (currently with its Versa and Ionic), fitness trackers are still what it is best at. The Charge 2 is the company’s best fitness tracker at the moment, and can track step counts and sporadic exercise.
The key benefit is that this band doesn’t need you to say you’re starting exercise to track it – it just keeps a log of whatever you’re doing. That should be standard for many pieces of wearable tech, but the fact is that a lot of smartwatches and trackers need to be told when you’re starting a period of increased activity. And nobody remembers to do this every time.
It isn’t a running watch, however, and it also isn’t that smart, with notifications limited to call, text and calendar. That’s a shame, since the large screen is perfect for additional information. It is comfortable, however, and tracks general fitness consistently well. The sleep information provided within the app (iOS and Android) is also very welcome.
The best headphones for designers
Like other products from Bang & Olufsen’s more accessible sub-brand, the H8i’s are superbly finished. And, like other B&O Play headphones, they’re designed by Copenhagen-based Jakob Wagner Studio, one of Denmark’s most respected design studios. The H8is are brand new this year, are wireless via Bluetooth, and feature active noise cancellation that you can toggle on and off with a switch.
Available in black or ‘natural’ (the tan colour you see here) they feature up to 30 hours playback, though you can get a lot more than that by attaching a cable. They will even pause your music when you remove them thanks to a proximity sensor, while a transparency mode means you’ll always be able to tune into an office conversation should you need. There are two voice microphones for making clear phone calls. It helps they sound fantastic, too.
The best VR headset for designers
If you’re interested in VR and the potential of it as a platform of the future, there have so far been two ways you can go; a cheap headset (like the Daydream View below) that you pair with a compatible smartphone, or a high-end super-expensive headset that requires a fairly powerful PC.
The Oculus Go fits into neither camp; it’s a comfortable, smartphone-free headset that doesn’t cost the earth. It’s similar to the more expensive Oculus Rift (which does rely on a PC). The Go doesn’t need a smartphone because it basically is one, running on a similar Qualcomm Snapdragon platform to many high-end phones.
It has its own 5.5-inch display and 32GB of storage (there’s also a 64GB option). It’s not as immersive as more expensive headsets on the market as you are limited to three degrees of freedom, and the app selection isn’t the best, but there’s a lot more to come here.
The best wireless earbuds for designers
The AirPods have one big disadvantage: they look silly. It would be way better even if they were black or grey. Anyway, once you’ve got over that, they will gradually weave themselves into your life as one of the most versatile pieces of tech you’ve ever owned. While they can work with other types of Bluetooth devices, they’re designed for Apple gear, obviously. If you have an iPhone 7 or later they will automatically sync, and they work particularly well with Apple Watch.
The main advantage of the AirPods is that you hardly even know you’re wearing them. You can use one or both as a headset, which is brilliant if you make a lot of calls. They automatically switch depending on which one is in your ear, and auto-pause if you take one out to talk to someone.
Sound quality isn’t top notch but is so much better than the wired EarPods that Apple bundles with its phones. The battery life is a disadvantage – you will wear it out in a long morning – but the charging case carries enough juice for 24 hours of total listening.