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.
The Passport is versatile in that it works with Android and iOS mobile devices. And it features the ability to make phone calls with its built-in microphone and speaker. You can use voice commands (the Passport leverages your phone's voice recognition system; such as Apple's Siri for iOS devices or Google Now for Android) to control the mobile device from the watch. And because of the analog watch face, you can easily see the time in bright sunlight.
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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.
Out of a vast field of similar watches, we picked the Q Explorist and Q Venture because of their middle-of-the-road prices, wide availability, and variety of styles. These two models are flagships for the Fossil Group’s collection of 14 style brands producing more than 300 planned smartwatches. This means that if you find a smartwatch from Diesel, Skagen, Tag Heuer, Kate Spade, Movado, or another Fossil-connected brand that fits your style better, you should feel free to buy it, because it will have roughly the same internal hardware as our picks.
The Martian Passport wants to give you the best of both watch worlds, by offering a mechanical, analog watch face and a small LCD. If you prefer a traditional-looking watch and want the “smart” component to be unobtrusive, this model may work for you. It comes in three varieties, all with silver bezels: a white face with a black or white band or a black face with a black band.
Aside from its jack-of-all-fitness-trades, master-of-none nature, the Gear Sport has other drawbacks. Chief among them is that voice dictation is significantly less reliable than on the Apple Watch or Wear OS and is best used for short phrases and quick replies. Then there’s S Voice, the digital assistant that can’t do much—and you probably don’t have time to learn how to make it do the few things it can do. And major apps still do not have a presence in Samsung’s marketplace—the Sport runs Samsung’s Tizen operating system instead of Wear OS—so any app or device you want to control directly on your phone is a gamble on an indie developer having the same need.
Other reviewers also like the Q watches. Simon Hill at Digital Trends writes that the Q Explorist is “an attractive smartwatch to use with an Android phone that will blend in at work or play at an affordable price,” and that, aside from the Apple Watch and the Gear Sport (for Samsung phone owners), the Q Explorist “compares favorably with the rest of the field.” Gerald Lynch at TechRadar summarizes the Venture as “a sharp-looking, comfortable smartwatch with a great display and responsive processor,” but knocks it for lacking GPS and a heart-rate monitor. Matthew Miller at ZDNet believes the Explorist and Venture are “priced fairly for nice looking fashion watches that also serve as smartwatches.”
Its only drawback is its use of Samsung’s own Tizen OS. Tizen is a custom OS that’s based on Linux. On paper it’s pretty good, letting you pair the Gear S2 with any Android smartphone, not just Samsung Galaxy phones. But it’s nowhere near as developed as Wear OS, which itself isn’t perfect. There aren’t nearly as many apps available as the Wear OS app store, but the core functionality is at least present from what is available.
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.
Of the three second-generation Samsung smartwatches, the Gear Fit is the most creative and stylish departure from the original Samsung Galaxy Gear. It's just as much an activity monitor as it is a smartwatch, and it has a markedly new look—slim, sleek, and light. It also has an unconventional sideways display that’s unlike any of the other tested watches; it takes a bit of wrist-twisting to view it. (You can opt to view your display vertically, but you'll be reading a lot of truncated words that way.)
The Apple Watch Series 4 is now on sale, and it's the best smartwatch you can buy right now. The redesigned device, which starts at $399 for the GPS model and $499 for the cellular version, is the best smartwatch you can buy. It has a larger display and slightly bigger case size while retaining the same rounded square design the watch is known for. Even more importantly, Apple received FDA clearance for a new electrocardiogram feature that can take a 30-second EKG and diagnose atrial fibrillation.