Driven by demand for connected earbuds and a variety of other smart wearable devices, the market for wearable tech is surging. Following growth of 28.4 percent in shipments of wearables in 2020 year over year, shipments jumped 34.4 percent during the first quarter of 2021, research firm IDC reported. Jitesh Ubrani, research manager for IDC Mobile Device Trackers, said in a news release that the market is being “fueled” by smaller brands as well as new form factors. “Wearable patches, rings and even audio glasses are starting to differentiate themselves from the typical watches, bands and headphones by offering tech that is hidden yet functional,” Ubrani said in the release. Audio glasses “are also going a step further by allowing consumers to be more comfortable with being always connected and are working towards consumer acceptance of AR glasses further down the line,” he said.
What follows are our picks for 10 of the coolest wearable tech gadgets of 2021 so far, including wearable devices from Amazon, Beats, Google, Samsung and Lenovo.
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Amazon Echo Buds (Second Generation)
In April, Amazon unveiled the second generation of its Echo Buds, a pair of wireless earbuds that feature access to the Alexa voice-controlled assistant. Upgrades in the new Echo Buds include a 20 percent smaller design; improved comfort with a shortened nozzle and built-in vents to reduce ear pressure; improved microphones; and enhanced Active Noise Cancellation, with the ability to cancel 2X the amount of noise as the first-generation version. Other key capabilities include up to five hours of battery life with ANC turned on, a high-performance driver for each earbud to provide “crisp, balanced sound,” and the ability to withstand “splashes, sweat or light rain,” Amazon said.
Beats Studio Buds
Not to be outdone, Apple-owned Beats launched its new Beats Studio Buds in June with Active Noise Cancellation, up to eight hours of battery life, sweat and water resistance, and access to Apple’s Siri assistant. To enable “powerful, balanced sound,” the Beats Studio Buds feature a “proprietary 8.2mm, dual-element diaphragm driver” as well as a two-chamber acoustic design. The earbuds can be used with both Apple and Android devices and offer “simple one-touch pairing” to either type of device.
Fossil Gen 5 LTE Touchscreen
In January, Fossil introduced its Gen 5 LTE Touchscreen Smartwatch, which is the company’s first product in the cellular wearables market. The Fossil Gen 5 LTE Touchscreen leverages LTE connectivity from Verizon, the Qualcomm Snapdragon Wear 3100 platform, and Google’s Wear OS to let users make calls and do texting without a mobile phone. When an additional data plan is purchased from Verizon, the watch can be synced to the user’s mobile phone for voice and text using the same number as the mobile phone. The Gen 5 LTE Touchscreen Smartwatch can also be set up either in-store or remotely via the integrated eSIM chip.
Google Pixel Buds A-Series
In June, Google launched its own earbuds offering hands-free access to a top-notch virtual assistant—in this case, the Google Assistant. The Google Pixel Buds A-Series is the company’s budget-friendly pair of Pixel earbuds (priced at $99), although Google said the A-Series offers the “same premium sound quality” as the standard Pixel Buds, thanks to 12mm dynamic speaker drivers that have been “custom-designed.” For comfort, a spatial vent is included to reduce ear pressure, and for calling, the earbuds include beam-forming mics. The Google Pixel Buds A-Series offer up to five hours of battery life and are sweat- and water-resistant.
Jabra Elite 85t
Jabra recently updated its Jabra Elite 85t wireless earbuds featuring Active Noise Cancellation, which can be adjusted from fully transparent to complete noise cancellation. The earbuds include six microphones that offer wind protection for clarity, while offering battery life of up to 5.5 hours. The Elite 85t earbuds can also be charged via their compact charging case or via a Qi-certified wireless charging device. In January, Jabra introduced four new colors for the earbuds—black, gray, gold/beige and copper/black—which join the previously released titanium black model.
Jlab JBuds Frames
Jlab Audio recently introduced its new JBuds Frames, a device that discretely attaches to a user’s glasses to provide wireless stereo audio on the go. The JBuds Frames consist of two independently operating Bluetooth wireless audio devices, which include 16mm drivers that produce sound that can only be heard by the wearer, not by others. In addition, the device can easily be detached and mounted on other frames when needed.
Lenovo ThinkReality A3
Lenovo recently unveiled a new version of its augmented reality smart glasses with the debut of the ThinkReality A3. The device is aimed at enabling improved workflows and training—for instance ,by overlaying information atop the real-world view to assist with the task at hand. The company unveiled several variants of the smart glasses, including the ThinkReality A3 PC Edition, which tethers to a Lenovo ThinkPad laptop or mobile workstation. This version of the smart glasses can display customized “virtual monitors,” which enable the use of Windows applications that are placed in the user’s field of view. Meanwhile, the ThinkReality A3 Industrial Edition—which tethers to certain Motorola smartphones—provides AR support for tasks in challenging work environments.
Samsung Galaxy Buds Pro
Samsung recently announced its latest pair of wireless earbuds, the Galaxy Buds Pro. With Active Noise Cancellation, an 11mm woofer and a 6.5mm tweeter, the Galaxy Buds Pro provide “Samsung’s best audio experience yet,” the company said. Several improvements with the Galaxy Buds Pro are targeted at those using the earbuds for work purposes, including with features such as a Voice Pickup Unit and the inclusion of three microphones to enable the user to be heard clearly. One mic on the earbuds comes with a high signal-to-noise ratio to further reduce background noise, while the Galaxy Buds Pro also come with Samsung’s “wind shield” technology. Another key feature is that the earbuds can detect when users are speaking—and can automatically turn down music when they are doing so. On battery life, the Galaxy Buds Pro offer up to eight hours of usage on a charge.
In the realm of smartwatches, the recently launched TicWatch E3 offers advanced health sensors found in the company’s flagship TicWatch Pro 3; a “classic, stylish design;” built-in GPS; IP68 water resistance (sufficient for pool swimming); and more than 20 “professional” workout modes. The smartwatch runs the Wear OS by Google operating system and provides strong performance via Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Wear 4100 Platform.
Vuzix’s M4000 enterprise-focused smart glasses provide a completely non-occluded see-through heads-up display, making it seem as if the interface is in front of the user. The company accomplished this through using optical waveguide technology. Other improvements with the Vuzix M4000 include increased processing power thanks to Qualcomm’s SXR1 chip, which comes with eight cores as well as more memory and storage. The smart glasses have also been ruggedized and waterproofed so that they can withstand a variety of harsh environments. The resolution has been increased as well, to 854 x 480. In addition, the camera has been improved for scanning and telepresence capabilities.