Some smartwatches have robust offerings of apps, either preinstalled on the watch or available for download in an app store. Apps can be as simple as a timer or stopwatch, or can control your smart-home devices, switch up your music, or provide turn-by-turn directions for walking or driving. In our testing and everyday use, however, these watch apps rarely offer a great experience. But there are some exceptions, including some fitness apps and apps that track things like water or food intake.
Basically, smartwatches are wearable-technology devices that maintain a relatively persistent wireless connection to your mobile device—usually a smart phone—and can receive notifications of incoming calls, texts, instant messages, social-network updates, and more, from that device. Some can also let you accept and conduct phone calls right on the watch. And even newer models (the Samsung Gear S, for one) can act as smart phones all on their own, without needing a paired phone nearby.
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.
In the same year, Microsoft announced the SPOT smartwatch and it began hitting stores in early 2004. SPOT stands for Smart Personal Objects Technology, an initiative by Microsoft to personalize household electronics and other everyday gadgets. For instance, the company demonstrated coffee makers, weather stations, and alarm clocks featuring built-in SPOT technology. The device was a standalone smartwatch that offered information at a glance where other devices would have required more immersion and interaction. The information included weather, news, stock prices, and sports scores and was transmitted through FM waves. It was accessible through a yearly subscription that cost from $39 to $59.
Aside from its display, the Ticwatch Pro is a pretty standard offering in the Wear OS world. It’s powered by the same Snapdragon Wear 2100 chipset, has a 400×400 1.39-inch OLED display, and has a 45mm casing. There’s also a 415mAh battery inside which charges with a magnetic charger. There’s also IP68 water/dust protection, and NFC for use with Google Pay.
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 LG G Watch was the first one we tried that uses Google’s Android Wear OS (the Moto 360 and Samsung Gear Live do as well). It includes Google Now, the company's Siri-like "intelligent personal assistant." Say “OK Google,” and you can do Google searches, compose texts, and make requests of your watch (“Show me my steps” or “Set an alarm”). Google Now also offers up a stream of "cards" on the watch's face, with information it determines is relevant to you. If, for example, the card tells you how many minutes it would take you to get home from your current location, you can click on the card and get specific traffic and navigation information.
Dropping the phone: Some models of smartwatches in the Samsung and Apple line-ups feature a mobile network chip, allowing you to plug in a micro SIM card to make and receive calls, texts and emails and access the internet without being paired to your phone. It sounds great, but remember that the smartwatch has a very small battery, so relying on it for communications will drain the power quickly.
Finally, Wear OS has a problem that’s seemingly random and hard to understand: “Can’t reach Google at the moment.” Having tested at least a dozen Wear OS watches, we can say that an unexplained failure when using voice commands is the most common negative trait for all of them. It’s impossible for the layperson to understand which part of the watch-to-phone-to-Internet relay is falling down, but it can happen at any time, even right after you’ve used the watch to do something else successfully. When Google Assistant is made the center of Android watches, not being able to reach Google Assistant lowers the value of that watch considerably.
To round off the Gear Sport’s positives, it has very solid battery life (almost never less than 50 percent of the battery remaining after a full day), it can play offline Spotify playlists (even for free accounts), and if you have a Samsung phone, it integrates easily with most of the apps you have installed there. The Gear Sport is easier to set up with a non-Samsung Android phone than previous versions of the Gear watch, too. It still requires the installation of at least four apps and some regular updating, but it’s not the hour-long trial-and-error of other Gear watches we’ve tested, working reliably in our testing.
They include a heart rate monitor, pedometer and altimeter to track steps taken and stairs climbed and often a GPS chip to record your distance covered. They will sync with your smartphone to give you a suite of tools to monitor your exercise progress. Many of them will offer notifications of incoming phone calls, text and email alerts as well. But they are designed with fitness tracking in mind. If you are happy using your smartphone for your day to day messaging, calendar, apps and music, a fitness tracker will suffice.
We actually got our hands on over a dozen of these smart watches just to get a feel for what it was like to use them. While all of them came with at least one main button (or a home button if you’re an iPhone-user), the ones that stood out had scrolling down to a science. On such a small screen, swiping isn’t always the most ideal form of navigation. Some of the best smart watches for navigation, we found, had twistable dials or bezels you could turn.