The era of the smartwatch is upon us – just look at the multitude of colourful straps and elongated or squarish screens people are wearing. From fitness trackers like the Fitbit and Garmin to the Samsung Gear and Apple Watch, there are a host of great options to combine fitness and activity tracking and message alerts on your watch, which incidentally will still tell you the time, along with the weather and even play your favourite music.
Fossil’s Q Explorist and its smaller-wrist counterpart the Q Venture are well-made, responsive, fashionable Wear OS smartwatches that offer a lot of color and band options, making them the best option around. They ably run Wear OS (more on the pros and cons of Wear OS itself in a bit) and convey your phone’s notifications to your wrist. Their buttons engage with clean clicks, the Explorist’s center crown moves through lists and notifications much more effectively than swiping, and both screens are responsive and clear.
But with a wider choice comes deeper deliberation. What's the difference between a fully digital dial, and a 'smart optimised' analog? What features will actually aid your day-to-day? And which would be totally useless? To answer these questions, and more, we've picked through the best smartwatches on the market to suit your no doubt very busy, hectic and urbane lifestyle.
All but the Martian Notifier claim some degree of water resistance: the LG, Samsung, and Motorola models can survive underwater up to 1 meter for 30 minutes, the Cookoo2 up to 100 meters, and the MetaWatch up to 3ATM, which is equivalent to 30 meters. Only the Martian and Motorola models claim to have scratch-resistant screens (the Martian has an anti-scratch acrylic crystal and the Moto 3 uses Gorilla Glass 3).
In June 2000, IBM displayed a prototype for a wristwatch that ran Linux. The original version had only 6 hours of battery life, which was later extended to 12. It featured 8 MB of memory and ran Linux 2.2. The device was later upgraded with an accelerometer, vibrating mechanism, and fingerprint sensor. IBM began to collaborate with Citizen Watch Co. to create the "WatchPad". The WatchPad 1.5 features a 320 × 240 QVGA monochrome touch sensitive display and runs Linux 2.4. It also features calendar software, Bluetooth, 8 MB of RAM and 16 MB of flash memory. Citizen was hoping to market the watch to students and businessmen, with a retail price of around $399. Epson Seiko introduced their Chrono-bit wristwatch in September 2000. The Chrono-bit watches feature a rotating bezel for data input, synchronize PIM data via a serial cable, and can load custom watch faces.
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.
The LG G Watch, Samsung Gear Live, and Motorola Moto 360—the Android Wear models—have intuitive color touchscreen interfaces and were judged easiest to interact with. The Martian Notifier, Cookoo 2, and MetaWatch M1, which have push-button navigation, were determined to be the most difficult to use. In particular, the Cookoo 2's buttons were very hard to press.
Dealing with notifications on a Wear OS watch has gotten better as the phone version of Android has improved its already impressive notification system and as phone app developers have taken advantage of new interactions. Many apps now send notifications with action options: For example, you can check a to-do as done, approve a payment, respond to a message, or, most often, just acknowledge something. The Q Explorist and Venture are no different than most Wear OS watches in relaying notifications, but in our testing they rarely showed lag in processing them, nor was either watch’s screen unresponsive to swiping or tapping options. Each watch’s vibration motor provides just enough buzz and movement to avoid missing things while not feeling like electric collar training for humans.
Bottom line: If health and fitness tracking is your priority, opt for a dedicated fitness tracker that gives you basic time and date information but includes the essentials of health tracking - accelerometer and altimeter, heart rate monitor and GPS chip to track distance and location. Carefully consider your exercise habits to match them to the right fitness tracker.
Battery life for the Q watches is unremarkably reliable, and that’s the best thing you can say about a touchscreen smartwatch. The Q Explorist never ran out of juice entirely while wearing it, even after having it be the primary turn-by-turn direction notifier on two 1-hour drives, followed by 30 minutes of actively tracked cycling and the usual all-day text/app notifications. While we didn’t wear the Venture for full days of testing, most reviews find no fault with the battery. The USB charger is a basic magnetic disc that slides onto the rounded back of the watch (though it could stand to stick onto the watch more strongly, like the Apple Watch’s similar disc).
Flaws but not dealbreakers: The Vívosport’s screen is highly sensitive to incidental brushes and touches; we ended up activating the screen auto-lock feature, a small annoyance. Compared with a dedicated GPS running watch, the GPS tracking on any fitness band takes longer to connect to satellites; and it’s easier to see your pace and other statistics on a running watch’s larger LCD screen while moving than on a fitness band’s relatively miniscule display. Garmin doesn’t have the motivating social network of Fitbit, so it’s less likely that your friends or coworkers will connect and challenge you, or that a corporate fitness challenge will work with your Vívosport. A fitness band falls short of a full-featured smartwatch, because typically it won’t give you a voice assistant, let you install apps, or let you interact with phone notifications, and many of those notifications will be difficult to read on the Vívosport’s small screen.
The TicWatch Pro shares the TicWatch E model’s older processor and late arrival, and it would be just another big (45 mm case), thick (12.6 mm) Android smartwatch, if not for its trick of having an old-fashioned-looking LCD screen that the watch switches to when you’re not actively looking at it or using it. This feature extends battery life significantly, especially if you go for periods in Essential Mode, where you see only the LCD screen showing the time, date, and your step count. But the transition from the LCD screen back to a “smart” OLED screen is not smooth or quick, and if you switch the watch to Essential Mode, you have to reboot it to get back to regular smartwatch functions.
The launch of Samsung's Gear S smartwatch was covered by the media in late August 2014. The model features a curved Super AMOLED display and a built-in 3G modem, with technology writer Darrell Etherington stating on the TechCrunch website, "we’re finally starting to see displays that wrap around the contours of the wrist, rather than sticking out as a traditional flat surface." The corporation commenced selling the Gear S smartwatch in October 2014, alongside the Gear Circle headset accessory. At IFA 2014 Sony Mobile announced the third generation of its smartwatch series, the Sony Smartwatch 3 powered by Android Wear. Also, the Fashion Entertainments' e-paper watch was announced.
None of the newly tested models’ time displays time out when the watches are inactive, which we’ve seen happen on previously tested smartwatches. The time displays of the LG, Samsung, and Motorola models have a setting to keep them always on, though they dim after a little while. The Martian Notifier and Cookoo2 have traditional analog watch faces.
What’s on display?: Most smartwatches have full-colour displays, though the underlying technology will determine how good the screen looks. There has been a move towards AMOLED (active matrix organic light emitting diode) displays, as used in the Apple Watch which present a bright screen, crisp text and accurate colours. Fitness trackers tend to have lower-quality screens and may not present in full-colour, partly to save battery life.
As mentioned, the rotating crown on the Q watches is a bit stiffer than it should be. This makes it somewhat more difficult to spin through notifications or scroll through a longer bit of text with the tip of one finger. The fix is to push the crown forward or backward from a lower angle, or roll more of your finger over it. It’s easier to turn with two fingers, but that’s definitely not a convenient gesture; you’ll likely just learn to get the rolling right.
As of 4 September 2013, three new smartwatches have been launched: the Samsung Galaxy Gear, Sony SmartWatch 2, and the Qualcomm Toq. PHTL, a company based in Dallas, Texas, completed is crowd-funding process on Kickstarter for its HOT Watch smartwatch in September 2013. This device enables users to leave their handsets in their pockets, since it has a speaker for phone calls in both quiet and noisy environments. In a September 2013 interview, Pebble founder Eric Migicovsky stated that his company was not interested in any acquisition offers, but revealed in a November 2013 interview, that his company has sold 190,000 smartwatches, the majority of which were sold after its Kickstarter campaign closed.
When we compared the storage space of the Samsung Gear Sport with the other contenders, it didn’t have the most. With 4 GB — only a quarter of what you’ll get with the Apple Watch Series 3 GPS — you will have to manage your apps so you don’t run out of room. If you like to carry all of your music with you and you have an extensive library, you might run out of space with the Gear Sport.
The Samsung Gear S3 was our prior pick for Samsung phone owners because of its smooth dial rotation and interface. But it was notably large, with a 46 mm face, and the Frontier model was half an inch thick, notably bulky even for a smartwatch. The Gear Sport, our runner-up pick, is less bulky, less expensive, less overtly masculine-styled, and provides most of the same features, minus the LTE option.
As you’d expect, it has GPS and GLONASS alongside a heart rate monitor to bolster its fitness credentials. Other features include offline Spotify support, which is great for anyone who wants music without having to carry along their phone. Tizen is currently the only watch operating system to offer offline Spotify, too. Unfortunately, Tizen app support is otherwise lacking compared to rivals.
But your phone will play an important part if you do get a Fitbit or Garmin device with the aim of tracking your activity. It will be the place where your health data is synced to, you can tinker with your tracking settings and review your progress. There’s also a whole ecosystem of health apps that plug into tracking devices, combining them with exercise and diet advice - MyFitnessPal, Runtastic and Strava are three of the most popular ones worth checking out.
Unlike the Apple Series 3, you can get third-party watch faces along with the default options. Many of these third-party faces also come with customizable widgets so you can manage layout without cluttering up your watch. From the homepage (which displays the time and date), you can twist the bezel to access fitness tracking data, like steps taken and calories burned, check the weather, change the song you’re listening to, or use any number of custom widgets.