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My favorite smartwatch of 2020 — it's not the Apple Watch 6

Honor Watch GS Pro
(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

I wasn't a big fan of smartwatches until this year. When it felt like I couldn't escape from technology in a year that has forced us to use it more than ever, a smartwatch has helped me create some much-needed distance.

While I have always appreciated the engineering of the best smartwatches like the Apple Watch 6 or Samsung's Galaxy Watch 3, I never saw much point in using one. Perhaps that's down to how they're sold heavily on their fitness and outdoor features — two things in which I don't have much interest.

I've spent a lot more time indoors than usual this year, as has been the case for a lot of people around the world. It's meant that what would have been pub meet-ups have turned into boozy Zoom calls, DnD sessions have moved to Roll20, and even post-work socializing with colleagues have had to take place over Google Meet.

This worked well enough for the first few weeks of the pandemic, but soon it began to wear on me. I wasn't the only one either, as tales of "Zoom fatigue" started popping up everywhere on social media. Even phone notifications started to grate on me eventually. It didn't matter whether it was a work email or a group chat meme, there were points I just couldn't bring myself to pick up my phone to check what had been sent, let alone reply to anything. 

That's when I encountered an apparently unsolvable problem. While I could have just turned my phone off to stem the tide of pings and beeps, doing so would have cut me off from my work and personal life entirely. It seemed there was no middle ground between a total comms blackout or being constantly bombarded with messages.

Honor Watch GS Pro: Just connected enough

But wearing a smartwatch allowed me to break out of this pattern. Ironically, despite my lack of interest in sports-focused watches, the model I've ended up using is the very rugged Honor Watch GS Pro. This solid lump of plastic is designed for the most extreme sporting activities, with Honor pushing its military-grade resistance specs and GPS-enabled navigation. But it was the long 25-day battery life that convinced me to try out this smartwatch. While I've come to accept the nightly ritual of plugging in my iPhone, getting less than a day out of a smartwatch always seemed too burdensome.

The notifications system on the Watch GS Pro is very simple. Any time an approved app posts a notification, the watch vibrates, and raising your arm to check the display will show the notification's text as simple white letters on a black background with the app logo at the top for reference. Couple that with the Honor Watch's impressive Bluetooth range that spans multiple rooms, and I found a way around my two conflicting desires.

For many evenings in the latter part of this year, I have turned my phone to silent mode, and left it in another room while wearing the Watch GS Pro. That means the only way notifications come to me is as a vibration, rather than an identifiable alert tone that I could easily figure out the possible meaning of. 

You could achieve that part just by keeping your phone on silent in your pocket, but keeping my phone away from me means I have no way to instantly respond to my messages, which stops each alert feeling like something that needs to be answered right away. However, if I get curious or I'm expecting an important message, I can still check what's been going on via the watch while not feeling forced to reply by the mounting number of bubbles in my notification shade.

I can't say for sure if wearing a smartwatch this year helped maintain my mental wellbeing, but it certainly didn't hurt it. If you too are exhausted by your entire life being online but are struggling with the idea of a digital detox, I'd suggest picking up whichever smartwatch will work best for your budget and device of choice. This year has convinced me of their value beyond them simply being ways to measure your heart rate and more conveniently use NFC payments. Maybe my experience has convinced you, too.