In a recent interview, acclaimed Apple designer Jony Ive noted that the Apple Watch was square because a rectangular screen was a natural shape for a device that mostly displays notifications and lists. His argument has strong support. Beyond the long history of screens, instruments designed to display information dating back to book pages have been rectangular.

But round time-telling devices also have a rich history dating back to at least the sundial. In a poll conducted last September, 54 percent of participating readers of the blog 9to5 Mac said that they preferred a round Apple Watch versus a square one, at least based on concept mockups that had been published by The Verge. When Motorola introduced the Moto360, the first round watch based on Google's Android Wear competitor, the company promoted the design by noting that the classic shape allowed it to maximize screen area while ensuring the most comfortable fit. Motorola had some experience in such matters, having produced a little-known round-screened phone in the feature phone era dubbed the Aura.

The battle for future smartwatch dominance between round and square smartwatches may come down to optimizing between ergonomics and display. But don't feel that the square design of the Apple Watch has painted you into a 90-degree corner. There are a number of smartwatches out there or available soon that aspire to earn a chance for your glance:

Martian Notifier. If having access to a bevy of apps and animation aren't worth a daily charge, Martian watches adhere to the Earthly constraints of battery life reality by combining a traditional watch face with small strip for notifications. As a result, the barebones connected device doesn't have to be charged. It happily coexists with Android phones and iPhones and can be picked up for less than $100.

Alcatel Onetouch Watch. Coming in May for $150, this functional step up from simple notification handles the smartwatch staples of message and social networking notifications and step counts. It also has cleverly addressed the charging issue by embedding a USB connector inside the strap. But don't count on a huge app library due to its proprietary operating system.

LG G Watch R: LG's initial Androiid Wear smartwatch was a forgettable effort, but the round G Watch R offers a sportier alternative to the Moto360 with markings around the screen border for quickly identifying minute five-minute and 15-minute increments. This can help with time-telling with some watch faces but is redundant for others while being irrelevant for most Android Wear apps. However, taking cues from its smartphone, the G Watch R boasts excellent battery life for a device in its class, easily getting through a day and a half of moderate usage. Its pricing puts it close to Apple Watch sport range, but at this time it, like all Android Wear devices, works only with Android phones.

Olio Model One. Founded by a former Apple employee with stints at many Silicon Valley firms, Olio Devices has focused on the luxury watches with prices in line with those of the steel Apple Watch. Equipped with a super bright screen for outdoor viewing designed for those whose time is valuable, the Model One features a Do Not Disturb mode that's smart about turning off notifications when you're in meetings and an easy timeline for reviewing what owners may have missed as well as upcoming appointments. That said, it also has chosen to forego the app-centric model. It's available for preorder in limited quantities and works with iPhones and Android phones.

Published on: Apr 24, 2015
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