Who doesn’t want a computer on their wrist? Smartwatches are digital watches that do a lot more than traditional watches.
There’s no doubt that with the popularity of smartphones that can manage virtually every aspect of our lives, the trend in technology is to get more and more “connectivity” into smaller and smaller packages. Simultaneously, wrist watches have become a lesson in technological redundancy for many people. After all, we can do little without smartphones these days—so they’ve supplanted the need for watches. But the newest wave of smartwatches aims to change that. After all, in many situations, it’s helpful to have discreet access to your phone. Smartwatches provide this access.
Smartwatches Versus Fitness Trackers
Some of the functions of smartwatches and fitness trackers are similar. But unlike fitness trackers, smartwatches assist with communication and notifications. Smartwatches can also track fitness to some extent, but fitness trackers are more focused on functions related to comprehensive workout tracking.
Smartwatches enable you to respond to emails, texts, social media notifications, and even calls. If the device comes with GPS and cellular, you can use it even if your phone is not on your person. Smartwatches require at least Bluetooth 3.0.
Before buying a smartwatch, consider whether it has the features you need. For example:
- What operating system does it have?
- Is it compatible with your phone?
- How many functions can it perform?
- What level of notification detail does the smartwatch offer?
- How long does the battery last?
- What apps can it use?
Opt for a fitness tracker if all you need is something to track your physical activities. Trackers log things like steps, calories, and distance.
Trackers provide things like:
- On-screen workouts
- A smartphone connection
- Auto syncing
- Water resistance
- Sleep tracking
- Route suggestions
To use a smartwatch, you’ll need a smartphone to which you can tether—so make sure that your phone is compatible with the watch you’re interested in before you buy it. You do not want to buy an Apple Watch only to discover that it won’t work with your Samsung Galaxy. (Of course, Apple devices generally don’t play well with others outside of their ecosystem).
Some devices have their own operating system and can work only with specific devices. Others are compatible with only a small range of operating systems.
Google’s Wear OS resembles Apple’s Watch OS; however, the latter is faster, cleaner, and more mature. Apps must go through a strict approval process to get released. In contrast, Wear OS uses an open-source model that offers greater customization.
Tizen is Samsung’s smartwatch operating system. Samsung also uses an open-source model—for its smartphones and tablets as well as for its smartwatches. Tizen has its own apps that can ensure a consistent user experience across devices—at least in theory.
Select the Right Style
Since you will be wearing your smartwatch every day, you want to feel comfortable wearing it—and the watch should display the information you consider most important.
Most smartwatches offer a variety of styles and designs. The two shapes to choose from are round and square.
From a practical standpoint, a square shape offers the greatest amount of screen real estate. However, from a psychological standpoint, people expect a watch to be round. After all, when you were a little kid, you learned to tell time on a round face.
Like ordinary watches, smartwatches come in a variety of styles and designs. Some smartwatches let you change the band so that you can match your watch to your outfit. You can also get a band that looks like a traditional watch band. Flexible silicone bands are best if you are a fitness buff. The three materials used in smartwatch bands are stainless steel, leather, and silicone. If your smartwatch has an interchangeable band, you can buy all three and match the best material to whatever environment you find yourself in,
You can choose an organic light-emitting diode (OLED) or an active-matrix organic light-emitting diode (AMOLED). Both of these work without a backlight; each pixel is individually illuminating, making possible very deep blacks and high contrast ratios. OLED screens can be single color, multi-color, or full color. AMOLED is always full color. These two types are usually thinner and have extended battery life.
You can also choose the classic liquid crystal display (LCD) option, which is backlit and better to use in bright settings. There are also black-and-white (e-ink) options that save battery life and allow you to see your screen outdoors without any glare.
You have two types of smartwatch interface to work with: the touchscreen or physical buttons. A touch screen allows you to operate your device with a tap or swipe. You can also use buttons, bezels and crowns if you prefer to interact with analog controls..
Features to consider
If you are a fitness buff, look for devices that have built-in pedometers, accelerometers, and heart-rate monitors. You want features that let you track steps, speed, calories, and heart rate.
In layman’s terms, bluetooth smartwatches rely on your smartphone to access the internet, receive notifications, send messages, while LTE devices have antennas and modems that can connect directly to cellular networks. Hence, an LTE device is capable of connecting to a mobile network on its own.
Increasingly, smartwatches have a built-in GPS sensor. Most, however, still piggyback on your smartphone’s GPS. Some watches also use different vibrations to let you know when to turn right or left.
AI-powered smart voice assistants serve up a lot of the usual voice-based features you’ve come to expect. But now you can check the weather, perform image searches and set alarms right on your wrist.
Just as you do when buying a smartphone, you want a smartwatch that lasts a long time before you must recharge it. Generally speaking, more functionality equates to a shorter battery life. As such, feature-packed smartwatches from Apple and Samsung need placing on their charging docks daily, while hybrid watches like those from Withings can last a claimed 25 days.
Water is a huge danger to any device. Watches are on your wrist all day and in all weather. You do not want to spend a few hundred dollars on a watch that breaks after a quick swim.
For smartwatches, waterproof actually means water-resistant as specified by the manufacturer under certain test conditions. Water resistance is not permanent and can diminish over time and under certain conditions.
If you’re shopping for a smartwatch or fitness tracker, make sure to check the company website and read the manual. The water resistance that smartwatches offer ranges from 3 atmospheres to 10 atmospheres—a measure of the amount of pressure that the device can withstand. Something above 5 atm is essential if you plan to wear a smartwatch while participating in extreme water sports.
Most people get into smartwatches because they want a lightweight music device for running or the gym. If you don’t want a smart brick in your pocket when you’re working up a sweat, a smartwatch for music is what you want. With a pair of Bluetooth headphones, you have the ease of convenience to skip tracks from your wrist.Don’t expect your smartwatch to store as much data as your smartphone; this is not currently feasible. But the watch should have enough room for music, photos, and the apps you need to use. This is especially important if you are not always going to have your phone around and need to listen to music, watch videos, or play games on your smartwatch.
This is probably the most important feature to look for. Shortcuts like pressing the power button a few times will send an SOS and location details to contacts that you can set up in a special SOS contact list. The emergency SOS feature is discrete and subtle and just might save your life.
What Are Your Options?
There are plenty of brands to choose from, and their watches offer many features. Apple, Samsung, Garmin, Fitbit, Fossil, and Tag Heuer all offer top-notch options.
The newest Series 6 model starts at $400. Features include:
- Built-in GPS
- Heart rate monitor
- Water resistance down to 50 meters
- Always-on display
- Mini apps
- Health and fitness tracking
With an Apple Watch, you can:
- Check future calendar events.
- Listen to music.
- Regulate your breathing.
- Send messages.
- Chat with Siri.
- Use a remote shutter for the smartphone camera.
- Make and receive calls.
- Track your blood oxygen levels.
Wear OS by Google
Wear OS, once known as Android Wear, is Google’s alternative to Apple Watches. Wear OS does pretty much everything that an Apple’s Watch OS does, but Wear OS has more flexibility. It works with both Android and iPhones. However, if you connect it with an iPhone, the interactivity will not be as robust as the interactivity between Wear OS and an Android phone.
With Wear OS, you can:
- Check notifications.
- Send and receive messages.
- Track activities and fitness goals.
- Listen to music.
- Log locations.
- Talk to Google Assistant.
- Make and receive calls (although only with some models).
Watches with Wear OS tend to be cheaper than Apple Watches.
Tizen is the Samsung operating system. It is used in smartwatches and some other Samsung devices. Its interface is not as polished as those of other smartwatches.
But Tizen smartwatches do have many of the same features provided by watches using Wear OS or Watch OS. With Tizen, you can:
- Track activities.
- Display calendars.
- Get notifications.
- Play music.
- Make calls.
The latest Samsung smartwatch is the Galaxy Watch 3, which is available for $529 on Amazon.
TAG Heuer offers the most expensive and luxurious smartwatches. The TAG Heuer Connected is $2,350.00 on TAG’s site. The watch has its own exclusive apps for fitness activities, which is interesting. The price is prohibitive, however. Competitors offer smartwatches with equal functionality.
Fitbit has been around for fourteen years. Now that Google has purchased the company, it is fair to expect more great things in its future, like the rumored Pixel Watch.
The Fitbit Sense Smartwatch is available for $399.95. With this watch you can:
- Manage stress.
- Monitor your heart.
- Monitor your skin temperature.
- Measure your oxygen level.
- Track your sleep.
- Keep going for up to six days without recharging the battery.
Fitbit offers many accessory options, including a rainbow woven band.
Outdoor Sport Watches
If you need a smartwatch specifically for exercise, outdoor sports watches may be the right choice for you. Usually more rugged than watches with other designs, they especially focus on navigation and activity tracking.
Unlike other smartwatches, Outdoor sports watches do not offer app platforms. But they can still display notifications on your phone. Many can measure heart rate and steps or provide navigation even when no phone is connected.
Because their detailed fitness-tracking features are far more advanced than those of other smartwatches, outdoor sport watches tend to be pricey. The Garmin Fenix Pro can cost up to $800.
Hybrid watches are traditional mechanical watches combined with a dash of smart technology. If you prefer traditional watches but want greater functionality, these are the watches for you. Hybrid watches tend to be the cheapest options on the market.
The Fossil Hybrid Smartwatch is offered at $279 on the company site. It is compatible with both Android and iOS. With the Fossil Hybrid you can:
- Track activities.
- Control music.
- Customize buttons.
- Track your heart rate.
- Change the watch band.
- Receive notifications.
- Visualize workout routes.
Hybrid watches use standard watch batteries. This means no recharging.
You have many options when buying a smartwatch. List the features that you regard as must-have, then carefully review the options for a given smartwatch before making a final purchase. We hope you’ve found this guide useful! We’ve put together what we think is the best smartwatch buyers guide, but we welcome your comments! Don’t forget to check out the individual reviews of the watches we’ve covered if you’re thinking about buying.