Apple is back with the Apple Watch Series 4, the latest in the smartwatch game that's focused on helping wearers live a healthier lifestyle. Running on Apple’s S4 64-bit dual-core processor and the new WatchOS 5 operating system, it’s twice as fast as its predecessor. Available in two sizes — 40 mm and 44mm — it has a 30 percent larger display than the Series 3 and comes in six different aluminum and stainless steel finishes. New improvements include Walkie Talkie mode and a speaker that is 50% louder than in the Series 3. The microphone has been moved to the watch’s opposite side to reduce noise and create clearer phone calls. The bottom, now made from black ceramic and sapphire crystal for better radio wave transmission, is intended to help with cellular reception and call quality.
Wirecutter writers have been researching, testing, and writing about smartwatches since early 2013, just after the first Pebble watches were shipped to Kickstarter backers. I’ve personally worn nearly every notable smartwatch since that first Pebble and have written about them for a number of publications, including IT World and Fast Company. I also have extensive experience with Android phones, having written the (since outdated) Complete Android Guide and numerous articles about Android. I also contribute to and help edit the Wirecutter guide to the best smartwatch for iPhones.
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.
The Explorist and Venture cases are an average thickness for a round smartwatch (at 12.5 and 11.5 millimeters, respectively), with widths of 45 mm and 42 mm, respectively. Neither watch feels too heavy or awkward on a larger wrist, though even the smaller Venture watch is still quite chunky on a smaller wrist. Each model’s battery regularly lasted a whole day in our testing, and the voice-dictation functions are on a par with those of most smartwatches; the same goes for Google Assistant’s accuracy. Both watches and their Google Fit system track day-to-day activity, and although Wear OS apps don’t have quite the buy-in from app makers that the Apple Watch does, you can likely find your favorite apps in Google’s Play Store, and most phone apps provide rich notifications that you can interact with through the watch. Both show signs of good build quality, with thoughtful attention to detail on all surfaces and no cheap connectors or pieces.
The company claims that the SpO2 monitor will help its devices look for signs of sleep apnea and other breathing problems, potentially great features for devices that are meant to be worn 24/7. It'll be used primarily in Fitbit's forthcoming Sleep Score Beta, which further analyzes sleep quality using heart rate and breathing data. Starting sometime this November, users with devices that only have heart rate monitors can get a "sleep score" after each night's sleep. Those with an Ionic, Versa, or Charge 3 will presumably have better data thanks to the SpO2 monitor collecting breathing data.
No other smartwatch offers this much variety and customization, especially when it comes to female-friendly options. The Apple Watch is the only smartwatch I've ever worn regularly each day for months on end. I've reviewed dozens of WearOS watches, and although many of them are nice looking as well, they're not as fully featured or easy to use as the Apple Watch.
For a device that gives you more of the functionality you enjoy with your smartphone, you’ll want to opt for a dedicated smartwatch. The leading players at the moment are the Apple Watch for iPhone users and the Samsung Gear S3 for those with Android phones. Apple Watch has its own operating system, Samsung employs its Tizen OS, and a host of other smartwatches use the Google Wear operating system.
My personal favorite watch for Android on the market today actually isn’t an Android Wear device, rather coming from Samsung and running atop Tizen. The Samsung Gear S3 Frontier is all the smartwatch you’ll ever need, with a sporty, circular gray design with a 1.3-inch Super AMOLED display that is the best I’ve personally ever used and is protected by Corning Gorilla Glass SR+.
Waterproof to 165 feet and tested to military standards for durability, it includes features like a digital compass, altimeter, and barometer that you won’t find in most other smartwatches, as well as more standard tools such as GPS. The WSD-F20 can also function as a flashlight — handy in an emergency — and lets you download maps for offline navigation when you’re far from the nearest cell signal.
"Sport watch" functionality often includes activity tracker features (also known as "fitness tracker") as seen in GPS watches made for training, diving, and outdoor sports. Functions may include training programs (such as intervals), lap times, speed display, GPS tracking unit, Route tracking, dive computer, heart rate monitor compatibility, Cadence sensor compatibility, and compatibility with sport transitions (as in triathlons). Other watches can cooperate with an app in a smartphone to carry out their functions. They are paired usually by Bluetooth with a smartphone. Some of these only work with a phone that runs the same mobile operating system; others use a unique watch OS, or otherwise are able to work with most smartphones. Paired, the watch may function as a remote to the phone. This allows the watch to display data such as calls, SMS messages, emails, calendar invites, and any data that may be made available by relevant phone apps. Some fitness tracker watches give users reports on the number of kilometers they walked, hours they slept, and so on.
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.
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The Gear S3 also offers a dual-core Exynos 7270 processor, 768MB of RAM, and 4GB of storage. The watch also features sensors such as GPS, NFC, and even optional LTE. The standout features, though, include Samsung Pay (on any smartphone) and the rotating bezel. The Gear S3 is a pretty big watch, though, coming in at 12.9mm thick with a 46mm diameter.
Samsung Gear S3 Frontier: Until we see what Google can pack into a smartwatch with its long-awaited Pixel Watch, the best smartwatch for Android users is the Samsung Gear S3 Frontier. It pretty much has everything a user with an Android phone needs in a smartwatch - GPS, heart rate monitor, water resistance, near field communications, an always-on digital display, messaging alerts and app support. I don’t see a real need to opt for the 3G version yet, which would untether you from your phone completely but adds around $100 to the price. ($549)
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.
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 of July 2013, the list of companies that were engaged in smartwatch development activities consists of Acer, Apple, BlackBerry, Foxconn/Hon Hai, Google, LG, Microsoft, Qualcomm, Samsung, Sony, VESAG and Toshiba. Some notable omissions from this list include HP, HTC, Lenovo, and Nokia. Science and technology journalist Christopher Mims identified the following points in relation to the future of smartwatches:
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.
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