Comparison of SmartWatches and Sensors with 3rd Party Developer Access

basis-peak

Recently, I have been working with wearables and it has been exciting to watch the rapid pace of innovation with these devices – especially the impressive set of sensors that are built into them. Companies tend to provide limited or no access to their sensors and it can be disappointing purchasing a device only to learn its sensors are not available via an API. Ofcourse, there are valid reasons for this (competitive advantage, legal/medical certification processes etc), but its always great to know what is available before you purchase a device. As a researcher interested in collecting data for my work, one requirement for smartwatches I work with is that allow 3rd party apps directly read and extract sensor data. Below is a list on  leading  smartwatches available as at the time of writing this article today and the sensors whose data are available to 3rd party developers. By available data, I mean your app can directly obtain realtime data from the smartwatch.
Note : This list was created [As of June 23, 2015] and may be updated as device upgrades and sensor access are updated.

At the moment (and based on my subjective experience), I would recommend the Microsoft Band for developers interested in using sensor data directly in their apps and for researchers looking to build out meaningful prototypes to collect sensor data.  This recommendation is based on its easy-to-use SDK and on the number of sensors it has (though not all sensors are accessible at this moment). Next, I would recommend the Samsung Gear line of smartwatches and possibly the emphatic e4 (I am yet to use it, I hear its quite pricey). Others .. may use based on their availability.

Microsoft Band 


download

Band : This was an excellent device to use for testing. SDK setup was super smooth and I found the accelerometer readings to be fairly sensitive and with precise for my use cases in hand motion tracking.  With heavy testing (continuous data streaming on almost all sensors),  the band battery lasts for about 5 hours. The only drawback I have with the Microsoft band is that the current SDK does not allow developers read several sensors – GSR, Light and Microphone. I believe future versions of the band will be awesome!

Number of Sensors : 10
Optical heart rate monitor , 3-axis Accelerometer, 3-axis Gyroscope, GPS,Microphone, Ambient Light Sensor, Vibration Motor, Galvanic Skin Response (GSR) sensor, UV sensor, Skin Temperature sensor
Sensor Acces : 6
The SDK allows you read the Accelerometer, Gyroscope, UV, Heart Rate, Vibration, Skin Temperature sensor.
Platforms Supported : Android, iOS, Windows Phone

Samsung Gear S


gears

Gear S. Excellent device. It is particularly promising as a standalone wrist wearable device because it can take a SIM card (3G, 4G)  and establish internet connections. The SDK is not the easiest to use/setup (a series of certificate requesting and installation processes). Also there are limitations to the use of the Heart Rate sensor. While you can use the sensor for local testing purposes, you will need  to be a certified Samsung partner before you can publish such apps in the Samsung Gear App store for public download.

Number of Sensors: 8
Optical heart rate monitor , 3-axis Accelerometer, 3-axis Gyroscope, GPS,Microphone, Ambient Light Sensor, Vibration Motor, UV sensor, Pressure (Barometer)
Sensor Access : 7
The SDK allows access to Accelerometer, Gyroscope, UV, Heart Rate, Vibration, Barometer, Ambient Light,
Platforms Supported : Android

Samsung Gear 2


gear2

Gear 2: Similar to the Gear S above, just with less sensors and smaller form factor. Its heart rate monitor appears to be less accurate than the Gear S and Microsoft Band. It uses a red LED while the others use a green LED. See more about Heart Rate Sensor LEDs here.

Number of Sensors : 4
Optical heart rate monitor , 3-axis Accelerometer, 3-axis Gyroscope, Vibration Motor
Sensor Access : 4
The SDK allows you read Accelerometer, Gyroscope, Heart Rate, Vibration.
Platform Supported : Android

Fitbit Surge


fitbit

Number of Sensors : 8
Optical heart rate monitor, 3-axis Accelerometer, 3-axis Gyroscope, GPS, Ambient light sensor, Digital Compass,, Altimeter (Pressure), Vibration motor
Sensor Access : NA
Platform Support : NA [See]

Intel Basis Peak


basis-peak

The basis peak appears to be a solid device boasting days of continuous use without requiring a charge. At the moment, its sensor data is NOT open to 3rd party developers. [See here]

Number of Sensors : 4
Optical heart rate monitor , 3-axis Accelerometer, Galvanic Skin Response (GSR) sensors, Vibration Motor
Sensor Access : NA
Platform Support : NA [See]

Embrace


embrace

Number of Sensors : 5
3- axis Accelerometer, 3-axis Gyroscope, Galvanic Skin Response (GSR) sensor, Temperature, Vibration motor
Sensor Access : Yes
While it is not explicitly stated, the documentation suggest this might be possible. https://www.empatica.com/product-embrace-faq

Empatica E4


e4

Number of Sensors : 5
Optical heart rate monitor, 3-axis Accelerometer, Galvanic Skin Response (GSR) sensor, Skin Temperature, Vibration motor
Sensor Access : 5 . You will need to specially apply for a “research kit”
Platform Supported : iOS, Android, PC, MAC

Apple Watch


applewatch

Number of Sensors : 5
Optical heart rate monitor, 3-axis Accelerometer, 3-axis Gyroscope, GPS, Ambient light sensor, Vibration motor
Sensor Access : Yes . Currently the apple watch kit allows some form of access to sensors. What is available is not clear at this time
Platforms Supported : iOS

Moto 360


moto360

Number of Sensors: 4
Optical heart rate monitor, 3-axis Accelerometer, 3-axis Gyroscope, Vibration motor
Sensor Access : Yes
Platform Supported : Android Wear, Android

Conclusions

Have you used any of the devices above or have used one not on this list with good results ? Please share in the comments below.

About Vykthur

Mobile and Web App Developer and Researcher. Passionate about learning, teaching, and recently - writing.
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  • Aaron Hadley

    I’d love to see a 2018 update to this article, especially with the increase in sensors and development that’s gone over time.