A handful of years back, the rationale behind purchasing a smartwatch seemed ambiguous. The selection was narrower and the capabilities more basic. Fast forward to today, the smartwatch landscape boasts a plethora of top-notch choices. Heavyweights like the Apple Watch, Samsung Galaxy Watch, and Fitbit Versa have carved notable niches with their advanced features. If this guide has caught your attention, it’s likely you’re contemplating a wristwear upgrade, whether from a classic watch or an older smartwatch model. Whichever boat you’re in, selecting the ideal smartwatch entails sifting through a myriad of specifications. We’re here to guide you through that decision-making maze.
Choosing a Smartwatch: Key Considerations
Before making a choice, ensure the smartwatch is compatible with your smartphone. Apple Watches are exclusive to iPhones, while Wear OS smartwatches work with both iOS and Android. Brands like Samsung, Garmin, and Fitbit offer compatibility with both platforms but often require companion apps. The OS of the watch determines the variety of third-party apps available, but the utility of these apps varies.
2. Price Range:
Top-tier smartwatches usually fall between $300-$400. They boast advanced features, from communication to fitness and often include GPS, music storage, and NFC, generally missing in budget options ($100-$250). Specialized fitness watches can exceed $500, suitable mainly for hardcore athletes. Luxury brands might offer watches over $1,000, but these often prioritize branding over functionality.
3. Battery Longevity:
While battery life is a concern for many, advancements are promising. Most Apple Watches and Wear OS devices offer two-day battery life. Those using Snapdragon Wear 3100 processors promise up to five days, though with limited features. Devices using the newer Snapdragon Wear 4100 and 4100+ processors are sparse. Some models last five to seven days but might compromise on features. Faster charging options are emerging, making refueling more efficient.
4. Communication Capabilities:
A worthy smartwatch ensures you receive calls, texts, and app notifications. For those prioritizing call and text functionalities, LTE-enabled watches are ideal, offering seamless communication without needing your smartphone nearby. App notifications on the wrist provide a quick check to determine the urgency of attending to your phone.
5. Fitness and Health Monitoring:
Many opt for smartwatches for their fitness-tracking capabilities. Standard features include step counting, calorie tracking, and workout logs. A heart rate monitor is now almost a given. A built-in GPS tracks distances for outdoor workouts. For aquatic activities, water resistance is crucial. Some brands specialize in fitness features, providing comprehensive data, like heart-rate variance, recovery times, and onboard maps. Additionally, advances in health tracking have introduced features such as blood oxygen level estimation and ECG measurement. However, in-depth health tracking might come at a premium.
Musical Features of Smartwatches
Many contemporary smartwatches come equipped with the ability to store music directly on the device. This means that during activities like running or gym workouts, you can leave your phone behind, connect to Bluetooth earbuds, and listen to your favorite tunes directly from the watch.
On-watch Music Controls:
Even if a smartwatch lacks onboard storage, it often features music controls on the watch interface. This offers the convenience of adjusting volume, skipping tracks, or pausing playback without the need to access your phone, especially handy during workouts or when your hands are occupied.
LTE Connectivity and Streaming:
For those with an LTE-enabled smartwatch, there’s an added advantage. These devices can stream music directly from the internet. No need for local storage; simply pair your watch with earbuds, and you can stream your favorite playlists or radio stations, ensuring you always have fresh tracks for your activities.
Always-On Display Explained
Many of today’s leading smartwatches offer an always-on display feature. While some models activate this by default, others give users the choice to turn it on through specific settings. This feature enables users to quickly view the time, health data, or any personalized content on the watch face without the need to gesture or touch their device. While convenient, it’s worth noting that utilizing the always-on display can impact battery longevity. To mitigate this, most of these modes automatically reduce screen brightness to prevent unnecessary battery drain. On the more budget-friendly side of the spectrum, smartwatches might lack this feature. These watches save energy by turning off their screens, requiring users to manually activate the display to view information.
NFC in Smartwatches: Contactless Payments On-The-Go
A growing number of smartwatches are equipped with NFC capabilities, enabling users to make contactless payments directly from their wrists. This means, that after securely storing your credit or debit card details on the watch, you can simply tap it on an NFC-compatible terminal to complete transactions, be it a quick coffee purchase or any other item.
However, the payment system your watch uses depends on its brand: Apple Watches come integrated with Apple Pay, Wear OS watches utilize Google Pay, while Samsung’s wearables opt for Samsung Pay.
Among these, Apple Pay stands out in terms of global adoption, boasting compatibility with numerous banks and credit cards across 72 countries. Samsung Pay and Google Pay, though widely accepted, have a slightly more limited reach in terms of international support. Additionally, it’s essential to remember that not all devices within the Samsung and Google ecosystems uniformly support their respective NFC payment systems. Before committing to a watch, ensure it aligns with your preferred payment method and regional availability.
Top Pick: Apple Watch Series 8
Since its introduction in 2015, the Apple Watch has swiftly ascended the ranks to emerge as one of the premier wearables in the market. It stands as the ultimate choice for iPhone enthusiasts, and some might even consider transitioning to an iPhone solely for the Apple Watch experience. The newest addition, the Apple Watch Series 8, comes packed with an impressive array of features catering to both fitness novices and seasoned athletes. Notable features include car crash detection, electrocardiogram (ECG) testing capabilities, and blood oxygen level measurements. Furthermore, the watch boasts NFC capabilities, internal music storage, a plethora of apps, customizable options, and diverse message response mechanisms.
The distinctions between the Series 8 and its predecessor, the Series 7, are subtle. The design remains consistent, and despite the Series 8 being powered by a more recent S8 SiP, there wasn’t a remarkable performance difference during our trials. However, the Series 8 did showcase an extended battery life, especially its commendable low-power mode, which sustained the watch for an extra two hours even after plummeting to 20% battery.
While the Series 8 caters to a broad audience, Apple presents two other variants catering to specific niches. The Apple Watch Ultra, laden with premium features like enhanced waterproofing, super-precise GPS, and unparalleled battery life, is tailored for the more adventurous users, though it might be excessive for the average consumer.
Conversely, the more affordable Apple Watch SE, priced at $250, offers a balanced blend of essential features. While it might not boast advanced attributes like an always-on display, blood oxygen, ECG, and skin temperature sensors, it remains an attractive proposition, especially for newcomers to the smartwatch realm or those adhering to a tight budget. The Watch SE encapsulates the quintessential Apple Watch experience, complemented by safety features such as fall detection, noise monitoring, and Emergency SOS.
Top Budget Pick: Fitbit Versa 2
For those hesitant to splurge $400 on a smartwatch, the Fitbit Versa 2 stands out as the most compelling choice under the $200 bracket. It earns its title as our top budget-friendly watch by packing a wealth of features into an affordable package. Key highlights include Fitbit’s reputable fitness tracking capabilities, which come with automatic workout detection, sleep analysis, and water resistance. It also boasts connected GPS, blood oxygen (SpO2) monitoring, and an impressive battery life that lasts up to six days.
Additionally, the Versa 2 is equipped with NFC for Fitbit Pay and features Amazon Alexa as its integrated voice assistant. Even though its standard retail price is around $150, savvy shoppers might occasionally stumble upon deals bringing it down to an unbeatable $100.
Top Android Choice: Samsung Galaxy Watch 5
While Samsung’s newest iteration, the Galaxy Watch 5, might not be a massive leap from its predecessor, it undoubtedly stands out as the premier choice for Android enthusiasts. Subtle enhancements, such as a robust touchscreen and a more refined design, enhance its durability and user experience. Its standout feature remains its unparalleled fitness and health metrics, encompassing a unique body composition analysis. A new addition this year is the sleep coaching feature, designed to steer users towards improved sleep patterns.
For those who prefer a heftier watch face, the Galaxy Watch 5 Pro emerges as a worthy contender. Priced at $450, it boasts a sizable 45mm titanium casing, an even sturdier touchscreen, and a beefed-up battery. Although it’s positioned as an adventurer’s watch by Samsung, it’s more aptly described as a larger version with extended battery life. It mirrors the smartwatch capabilities of its 40mm and 44mm counterparts, but uniquely supports the GPX workout route format, ensuring guided navigation during hiking and biking.
Each watch in the Galaxy Watch 5 lineup is waterproof, ideal for swimming tracking or unexpected rain showers. With battery longevity extending beyond a day (excluding Always On Display), they operate on Wear OS 3.5. Its interface closely resembles Samsung’s prior Tizen OS, ensuring a seamless transition for seasoned users. All things considered, the Galaxy Watch 5 range offers a well-balanced fusion of features that cater perfectly to the Android demographic.
Fashion Forward Smartwatches: Fossil and Beyond
In the burgeoning world of wearables, there exists a niche for the fashion-conscious: smartwatches that don’t compromise style for functionality. Brands like Fossil, Michael Kors, and Skagen have artfully blended the charm of analog watches with the innovation of smart technology. If you’re eyeing a more subtle blend, hybrid smartwatches from the likes of Withings and Garmin might be up your alley. These look every bit the traditional wristwatch but subtly pack in features such as activity tracking and heart rate monitoring.
Thankfully, the age-old stereotype of chunky, unappealing wearables is fading. Heavyweights like Apple, Samsung, and Fitbit have upped their design game, presenting wearables that are as chic as they are smart.
The essence of a smartwatch is its casing, an aspect you’re stuck with post-purchase. Not fond of Apple Watch’s square design? Samsung’s offerings, with their classic round cases, might appeal to your aesthetic sense. Today’s market offers a plethora of choices when it comes to color, with luxury options like stainless steel for those willing to splurge. The real fun begins with the bands: a myriad of options from both original brands and third-party manufacturers ensures your smartwatch is an extension of your personal style, adaptable to any mood or occasion.