Wearables – the Huawei GT2 smartwatch is the latest example – have moved swiftly from 'techy gadget' to 'necessary tool' as the world wellness movement gathers pace.
The global market for wearables grew by 28 per cent last year with over 170 million devices shipped. Why? Because devices like the GT2 are not just a watch that can take calls, monitor your email and WhatsApp messages – it is its own little health centre, complete with exercise workouts, health monitoring and one vital aid: sleep tracking.
There are strong links suspected between sleep loss and, among other things, Alzheimer's disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity and poor mental health. Sleep deprivation has become a modern ill – about 100 years ago, less than two per cent of the US population slept six hours or less a night. Now experts say almost 30 per cent do.
Most of the developed world has much the same sleep problem – including New Zealand. In 2015, a Southern Cross Health Society survey revealed almost a quarter of Kiwis felt tired or fatigued every day, rising to 36 per cent for under-30s. In 2016, a Colmar Brunton survey said 60 per cent of New Zealanders felt tired due to lack of sleep and that 36 per cent got only 4-6 hours a night.
So one of the most helpful functions of the Huawei GT2 (we have had a sneak preview) is sleep tracking. It uses Huawei's innovative TruSleep technology which monitors sleep quality, heart rate, sleep breathing quality – analysing overall sleep patterns, using artificial intelligence technology to suggest sleep improvements.
It can determine which stage of sleep you are in, such as deep sleep, shallow sleep, REM sleep, and wakefulness – not only assessing your sleep in detail but also coming up with a "sleep score" and personalised suggestions to help you improve that score for better sleep and, hopefully, health.
Hand in glove with sleep goes exercise and the GT2 does plenty in fitness tracking sports mode. It's able to track 15 sports – eight outdoor sports (running, walking, climbing, hiking, trail running, cycling, open water, triathlon) and seven indoor (walking, running, cycling, swimming pool, free training, elliptical machine, rowing machine).
It provides targeted pre-exercise data analysis, data recording analysis during exercise and advice afterwards, making workouts safer and better. It records the number of steps you take every day (10,000 steps roughly equals 500 calories), monitors your heart rate and reminds you if you have been sitting for too long without getting up and walking.
But the GT2 also scores highly on two fronts that seem likely to make it a popular addition to this growing technology segment: design and a huge battery life.
Many fitness trackers quickly run out of juice and have to be re-charged irritatingly often. Huawei claim an impressive two weeks' battery life due to the new Kirin A1 power chip. A combination of more power and efficient consumption (the attractive watch face goes to black to save energy and flashes up when you gesture with your arm) gives it longer life.
Huawei say two weeks' battery life can be obtained with daily use, with the intelligent heart monitor and call notifications on, 30 minutes of Bluetooth calls a week, up to 30 minutes of music playback, 90 minutes of exercise mode and using the sleep tracker at night.
Of course, the more functions used, the shorter the battery life but early indications are that the battery will live up to Huawei's claims. And, while we're talking Bluetooth (which can be a bit hit-and-miss at times), we tested Huawei's contention that you can leave your phone charging in the bedroom while using the watch in the living room – and it worked fine.
Because the watch doesn't have its own sim card, it needs a tether from the phone; Huawei say it will stay connected up to 150m away, so you can take calls on the watch at that distance.
Its design is striking – perhaps the best-looking smartwatch on the market; it can choose from eight different faces, so you can change according to your mood or what you are wearing.
So the Huawei GT2 has the functionality of a smartwatch and fitness tracker but more style than your average wearable – so you can wear it to work and use it in your gym workout or whatever other exercise or pastime you're into.
Talking of style, music is a big part of life and the GT2 comes with4GB of storage, room for downloading 500 songs. You can connect headphones to your watch for listening while exercising and there is even an option to listen through the watch's surprisingly powerful little speaker.