An expert’s guide to wearable tech

Wearable tech is where it’s at. From activity trackers and smartwatches to high-tech jewellery and connected apparel, we’re fancy-free and hands-free.

In case you haven’t noticed, geek is the new chic. Not only are tech companies infusing more design into their devices, but fashion brands are adding high-tech to their jewellery, clothing and fitness lines. In some cases, we’re seeing collaborative efforts between these two seemingly mutually exclusive worlds.

Sure, some of these technologies (such as activity trackers) have been around for a while, but they’re constantly evolving, just as new and exciting “wearable” tech is gaining ground—with a focus on fashion as well as function.

Here’s a look at what’s new and newsworthy.

I’m with the band

There’s no shortage of exciting activity trackers and smartwatches on the market. One of the hottest is the Fitbit Alta HR (from $199), a slender and stylish wristband that monitors your steps, distance, calories burned and heart rate—and gives friendly reminders to move.

The Fitbit Alta HR also includes SmartTrack automatic exercise recognition, which gives you credit for being active, while optional smartphone notifications keep you connected throughout the day. By night, the Alta HR automatically tracks your slumber and shows your time spent in light, deep and REM sleep. Tailor your look for any occasion with interchangeable metal, leather and classic bands.

And then there’s the Fitbit Versa (from $249), a smartwatch that tracks runs and workouts, and has a heart-rate monitor for accurate health data. But that’s not all. When you pair this wearable up with your smartphone, you’ll receive on-wrist notifications for calls, text messages, calendar appointment reminders, social media updates and more.

The Fitbit Versa can last for four or more days between charges. Available in black, charcoal, grey, rose-gold, peach and lavender, the Versa has a touch-sensitive screen and waterproof design, and can also help monitor sleep activity.

Watch this

Another worthy contender for a fashion-centric smartwatch is Samsung’s Gear Sport ($329), a slender and smart device that handles all your fitness needs, including real-time tracking of a wide array of activities such as swimming, running, cycling, hiking, cardio-machine workouts, crunches, yoga and more.

Along with an integrated heart-rate monitor, this water- and shock-resistant wearable has built-in GPS to pinpoint your location and an altimeter to track stairs and steps. Plus, it houses nearly 50 compatible fitness training programs with colour-coded results that can be viewed on your smartphone or television.

Tap the touchscreen or turn the dial to see and access your smartphone apps (iOS or Android), including notifications, contacts and social media posts.

While it’s been available for a couple of years, Apple’s first wearable gadget is really picking up steam. Now in its third generation, the Apple Watch Series 3 (from $429) now includes GPS tracking, a waterproof design and cellular connectivity, allowing you to take calls and read texts—even when your iPhone isn’t nearby.

In fact, Apple’s “most personal device they’ve ever created” goes above and beyond merely telling the time, especially when it comes to capturing fitness information.

If you wear your Apple Watch throughout the day, the Activity app can automatically track your daily movements. Your Apple Watch lets you know when you reach your goals, or you can open the app to see your progress. To get the details, swipe down; to share your activity with friends, swipe left. The Move ring shows how many “active” calories you’ve burned by standing or moving around, while the Exercise ring, as you’d expect, shows how many minutes of brisk activity you’ve completed so far. Complete your daily exercise goal by exercising for at least 30 minutes each day.

Cool, calculated clothing

You’ve heard of smartphones and smartwatches, but what about smartwear? From Montreal-based OMsignal comes a collection of shirts, sleep camisoles and activewear items—including a “smart bra”—with data-capturing technology. Starting at $100, this apparel picks up the body’s signals using strategically placed electrocardiogram, respiration and physical activity sensors—all embedded in a comfortable stretchy fabric. As the company explains, context-based data is sent to the cloud to be further analyzed using advanced algorithms and artificial intelligence.

With the OMbra, for example, technology is intimately embedded in the fabric of the garment and works with a free companion app that helps coach you to run safer, smarter and healthier. Sensors embedded in the band of the OMbra capture full heart-rate and breathing data, while movement and steps are captured by an accelerometer located in the small OMbox, which streams your real-time data via Bluetooth to your smartphone. With the help of the app and the data it’s collecting, the OMrun app can guide you to run within your own “smart zones” to help maximize progress and burn more fat, while reducing the risk of injuries.

Of course the OMsignal clothing is washable; simply remove the OMbox recording device before washing.

Ring-a-ding-ding

Finally, your finger might be the next place you’ll don some tech. Blinq ($149–199) is a line of fashion-forward jewellery that lets you keep your smartphone tucked away in a purse or pocket, yet still be (discretely) notified when a call, text or email comes in, as well as other notifications tied to your calendar or favourite apps.

In the Blinq companion app for iOS and Android, you can assign colours to specific apps—such as seeing the ring glow blue for a text message, green for an Instagram comment or purple for when your Uber is nearby—and also to specific people, such as red for when your partner messages you. The Blinq can also vibrate to alert you to notifications.

Other features of this Bluetooth-enabled ring include a Panic SOS mode—tap it repeatedly if you find yourself in an emergency, and the companion app will text someone your GPS location and, if you like, post this info to your Facebook wall—and an integrated fitness tracker, which calculates steps, distance and estimated calories burned, and sends the activity data to the app.

Each Blinq ring is made from sterling silver or 14-karat gold, and is available in 12 different styles and three finishes (rose, yellow and white gold).

Also available now is the Motiv Ring ($199), a fitness-centric wearable. After ordering the ring, you’ll first receive a sizing kit, where you can try on various mock rings and then select the desired size and colour (slate gray or rose gold).

The Motiv Ring houses a three-axis accelerometer that tracks steps taken, heart rate, calories burned and sleep activity (if you woke up, when and for how long). It’s also waterproof (up to 165 feet), should you want to calculate your swimming exercises. All of your activity data can be seen on the iOS and Android app. At less than 0.1 inches thick, the titanium Motiv Ring is thinner than two nickels and weighs less than a penny. Battery life lasts up to three days, with two USB chargers included in the box.

There’s one more smart ring worth noting: The NFC Ring ($115 for the OPN model) is a minimalist-looking ceramic ring that offers a few applications tied to near-field communication (NFC) technology. One use case scenario is to tap your ring on another NFC-enabled device, such as a friend’s smartphone, and then watch content— that you choose ahead of time— magically appear on the other person’s screen. This could be contact information (vCard), your website, text, a link to your Twitter or Facebook page or a YouTube video, for example.

The OPN may also be able to replace your NFC fobs and cards, such as those you might use to get into an office building or condo tower. Or you can use it to unlock your mobile device or program it to open a specific app or settings (e.g., turning on Wi-Fi or Bluetooth) by simply tapping the ring on your phone or tablet.

While the NFC Ring cannot be used for mobile payments, its parent company, McLear, is readying a payment-enabled smart ring that looks similar to the OPN (price and launch date not yet determined). Available in white or black, the NFC Ring comes with two special NFC tag inlays inside the ring, one for public information and one for more sensitive stuff, says the company.

Marc Saltzman is a recognized expert in computers, consumer electronics, internet trends, and small business technology. You can see him on CNN, CTV, Global TV, and on Cineplex movie theatre screens across Canada. Follow him on Twitter @marc_saltzman.

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