Right now, many of the world’s biggest technology companies are waging a war for control over a potentially valuable piece of real estate: Your wrist. Apple, Samsung, Motorola, Pebble and more are all duking it out for smartwatch supremacy, making big but uncertain bets that millions of people will want to spend their hard-earned money on yet another flashing, buzzing piece of consumer electronics calling for their constant attention.
When a company like Apple or Samsung decides it’s time to make a smartwatch, it faces a very basic question early on in the process: Round or square?
The vast majority of analog watches out there are circular, making it a familiar shape that’s perhaps easier to sell to first-time smartwatch buyers. But our computers, laptops and cellphones have always been some form of rectangle, so we’re more used to seeing digital information displayed that way.
And if you decide you want a smartwatch, you’ll face the same decision. So what are your options? Apple and Pebble are firmly in the rectangular camp, while Motorola, which makes the widely well-received Android-powered Moto 360, is more fond of circles. Samsung, for its part, started off rectangular with its Galaxy Gear and several follow-ups, only to reverse course and go full circle with its new Galaxy Gear S2, revealed this week and going on sale in early October.
The Gear S2, among other features, has one particularly neat trick. It sports what Samsung calls a “rotating bezel,” meaning you can navigate around apps and menus by turning the outer face of the device in one direction or another. It’s especially intuitive if you’ve ever owned an analog watch with a rotating bezel of its own, and makes for a nice answer to Apple’s “Digital Crown,” which turns an analog-style crown into an app control mechanism.
But does a rotating bezel alone make a circular smartwatch the way to go? I don’t think so. After months of using Apple’s rectangular Apple Watch, I’m convinced that shape is the way to go.
A circular watch might be fine when you’re just looking at watch faces, but things tend to break down when you start opening apps. Unless an app was designed very carefully with a circular display in mind, those displays tend to cut off valuable information as data gets lost around the circumference. That experience was particularly jarring when using the Gear S2, especially with third-party apps. Some were better than others, but by and large I wished the device was simply able to display more data without my having to scroll down.
Still, this may all come down to personal preference. If you’re in the market for a smartwatch, it’s a good idea to get some hands-on time with both styles before you make your pick. And your options have never been as plentiful. New smartwatches seem to be popping up every day, and Google recently introduced an iPhone app that promises to expand Apple users’ choices beyond the Apple Watch.