Smartwatches are still a relatively new electronics category, but these devices are poised to hit the mainstream. This year we saw major players such as LG and Motorola throw their smartwatches in the ring, along with Samsung, Sony, and a host of smaller companies like Pebble and Martian. And Apple finally confirmed its entry, the innovative Apple Watch, expected to arrive early in 2015.
First, there’s now an option of an LTE-capable model allowing for always-on connectivity. This is through the use of an eSIM inside and an antenna cleverly hidden behind the display. The great news is that your Apple Watch 3 will share the same phone number as your iPhone, whereas other LTE-capable smartwatches have required you to juggle two phone numbers. You’ll need to pay for an additional smartwatch plan for the functionality, however.
The Charge 3 works continuously throughout the day to track steps, distance, calories, floors climbed, and heart rate—the standard array of activity data. Fitbit has been tracking these metrics for so long, without making many significant updates as of late, that they are business as usual on the Charge 3. I appreciated that most of the watch faces available for the Charge 3 show your real-time heart rate, either in a corner or at the bottom of the rectangular display. I like being able to glance down and know my pulse.
Battery life and charging options: Charging your smartwatch is a hassle and the biggest downside to trading in your manually-wound or button battery-powered watch. A Fitbit Versa might last 3 - 4 days between charges, but a smartwatch like the Samsung Gear Sport or Apple Watch will need recharging every couple of days and sometimes every night if you are tapping on the screen regularly and using its apps.
Like previous Gear watches, the Gear Sport uses a rotating bezel and two side buttons for most of its navigation. This works better than you’d think by looking at it, and it’s a boon to those who wear gloves for part of the year. In fact, we actually prefer this approach to Wear OS or the Apple Watch: Rotating through your home screens, notifications, lists of apps, or messages happens at remarkable speed for a tiny device. The screen is 1.2 inches and 360 pixels in diameter, but it’s brighter than our pick’s, and it looks decent enough while displaying most content, though text isn’t as sharp as on the Fossil screens. The watch itself is not small, at 43 and 44 millimeters wide and tall, respectively, and 11.6 mm thick, but it’s nowhere near as beefy as our prior pick, the Gear S3.
Software may include digital maps, schedulers and personal organizers, calculators, and various kinds of watch faces. The watch may communicate with external devices such as sensors, wireless headsets, or a heads-up display. Like other computers, a smartwatch may collect information from internal or external sensors and it may control, or retrieve data from, other instruments or computers. It may support wireless technologies like Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and GPS. For many purposes, a "watch computer" serves as a front end for a remote system such as a smartphone, communicating with the smartphone using various wireless technologies. Smartwatches are advancing, especially their design, battery capacity, and health-related applications.
Samsung’s three second-generation smartwatches arrived with real improvements and refinements. At $300, the Gear 2 is the most sophisticated—and expensive—of the trio. The Gear 2 Neo is basically a less expensive version of the Gear 2: It has similar functionality, but it's housed in a plastic body instead of metal and has no built-in camera. And the slimmer Gear Fit is a hybrid smartwatch and activity tracker.
The Asus ZenWatch 3 was a previous top pick for a Wear OS smartwatch. As of now, it has reached the end of its Wear OS updates (after a very long delay getting to Android Wear 2.0). Its rotating crown does not actually work to turn or scroll anything on the screen. Its proprietary watch band connections mean that your options are limited to what is available from third parties on Amazon. And the watch is hard to find new.
Samsung’s new Galaxy Watch is the one to get if you need a smartwatch that can do it all. In our full review, we mentioned that it’s a fantastic all-around smartwatch, fitness, and health tracker. It has a great display, solid build, comes with Samsung Pay support, and offers wireless charging. Plus, the Tizen operating system has tons of great apps and watch faces.
The Huawei Watch 2 comes into its own if you’re looking for a smartwatch that can double as a sports watch, thanks to built-in GPS and a heart rate monitor on its rear. Use the 4GB of built-in storage to save your Google Play Music playlists offline and you can pair Bluetooth headphones for a phone-free experience. The Huawei Watch 2 will work with Huawei’s own suite of fitness apps, Google Fit, or other third-party apps such as Strava, offering excellent choice.
Samsung’s Gear Sport is not as stylish as Fossil’s Q watches, and because it runs Samsung’s Tizen operating system instead of Wear OS, it has nowhere near the app support of Wear OS. But as a smartwatch that shows your phone notifications and lets you respond to them, lasts all day, and tracks your recreational workouts, it is a great device. It’s not meant for competitive speed training, but it has built-in GPS and heart-rate sensing, offline Spotify storage, and a rotating bezel that’s much easier to use while exercising than a touchscreen. It does suffer from weak voice transcription and a barely-there S Voice “assistant,” but it fits a lot of core smartwatch functions into a relatively smart-looking package that’s better for fitness-minded wearers than our top picks.
As far as the number of sports available to track: while it's more of the same, there are some notable exclusions - like golf tracking and open water swimming (pool swimming is a there though). Heart rate monitoring is decent if not class-leading, and it won't keep you waiting around for a GPS signal. There's also all the stress tracking goodies from Garmin's fitness trackers, too. As multi-sport smartwatches go, this is the best in our eyes, and builds on all the good work Garmin did with its previous iterations.
If you want a smart watch that uses cellular data without using up the battery, consider upgrading to the Samsung Gear S3. A close cousin to the Gear Sport, the S3 has all the perks of an LTE smart device (downloading apps, texting, checking email) and, unlike the Apple Series 3, it won’t quit after three hours. In fact, you could feasibly get 72 hours out of this LTE version of the Samsung Gear Sport.
The problem is that to monitor your sleeping patterns, a valuable feature most of these new smartwatches support, the watch needs to be on your wrist. So leaving your watch charging overnight while you slumber isn’t going to work. But smartwatches have small batteries compared to smartphones, so should only take 2 - 4 hours to fully charge, depending on the model.
In China, since around 2015, smartwatches have become widely used by schoolchildren. They are advertised on television throughout the country as a safety device whereby the child can call in case of emergency. The devices are commonly colorful and made of plastic. They normally have no display unless a button is pushed. These smartwatches have limited capability compared to other smartwatches; their main functions consist of being able to conduct calls, displaying of time, and sometimes have air temperature sensitivity. They cost around $100 to $200 USD.
At the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show, Razer released the Nabu Watch, a dual-screen smartwatch: integrates an always-on illuminated backlit display, that takes care of some pretty standard features as date and time, and a second OLED screen, which is activated by raising your wrist, allows access to extra smart features. Luxury watchmaker TAG Heuer released TAG Heuer Connected, a smartwatch powered by Android Wear.
For instance, I rarely use the touchscreen on my Fitbit Versa because the shortcuts to my most-used smartwatch features are available via the three physical buttons on the watch. Gesture recognition is hit and miss on smartphone screens, nowhere near as responsive and accurate as on your smartphone screen, so bear that in mind too. Force Touch is a useful feature that has come to smartwatches, notably the Apple Watch. Just press down or tap the screen to activate different features.
As a piece of hardware, the Gear Sport is probably the best smartwatch we’ve used. It’s not stylish, it has deep flaws in its voice software, and it’s only a beginner-level fitness tracker. But if you want a smartwatch that has a bit of fitness motivation—and if you also happen to have a Samsung phone, or might get a deal on a bundle of phone and watch—the Gear Sport is a good option.
For deeper integration with your Android phone, you can give Google's Wear OS platform a try with Fossil's $275 Q Control touchscreen smartwatch. It lacks GPS and support for NFC payments, which is why the Gear Sport is a better fitness-focused smartwatch for Android users, but Fossil's Google Assistant integration and stylish design make it a solid contender. However, smartwatches with Qualcomm's new Snapdragon Wear 3100 processor start shipping in October, so you may want to hold off until we put them to the test.