We've just completed lab tests on six of the newest smartwatches to hit the market. Three run on the very promising Android Wear operating system, which Google created specifically for wearable devices—the LG G Watch, Samsung Gear Live, and Motorola Moto 360. We also tested several basic models: the Martian Notifier, Cookoo 2, and MetaWatch M1. And we included reviews of nine smartwatches that we tested previously; all are still available, and we updated their prices. Find out what we liked and didn't like about the six newly tested models.
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.
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.
I go for a middle-of-the-road approach—I enable alerts for most of my installed apps, save for ones that are niche (mostly shopping apps that alert me to coupons) or ones I don't use regularly. All alerts make the Charge 3 vibrate and show the message on its screen, and all past alerts live in the notification drawer that you can access by swiping down from the top of the Charge 3's display.
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.
Two watches from LG, the Watch Sport and Watch Style, were designed in collaboration with Google to launch Android Wear 2.0. The Sport is loaded with features, offering integrated GPS, LTE calls and texting (sharing a phone number with an Android phone), a speaker, a heart-rate monitor, two buttons, a rotating crown, and NFC support for using Android Pay directly from the watch. Reviews, however, suggest that the Sport suffers for those add-ons in thickness, comfort, and appearance. The Style, for $100 less than the Sport, is thinner and more comfortable; it offers Bluetooth and Wi-Fi but has a look that The Verge’s Dan Seifert describes as “kind of cheap” with a “homely design.” Neither model is easy to find at online vendors, especially in all colors.
The watch faces themselves are classic Kate Spade designs. You get a sultry winking moon face with perfectly curled lashes, calling you a leading lady; cute bubbly balloons for a digital watch face with numbers; a speeding cab that reassures you that you'll be there in a New York minute; and a daisy that loses petals as the time ticks away in a classic game of "He loves me; he loves me not."
If you’re trying to decide which one is right for you, allow us to help. The Versa is smaller and looks good on most wrist sizes, while the Ionic is probably best for large wrists. The other main difference is GPS connectivity — the Ionic comes with built-in GPS, while the Versa does not. However, you can pair it with your smartphone if you don’t mind bringing it with you on a run.
You can choose from five different watch faces for the Charge 3, making it less customizable than the Ionic or the Versa. Those smartwatches have the advantage of running Fitbit OS, which includes a library of many third-party-developed watch faces. The Charge 3 isn't a smartwatch, so its version of Fitbit's software isn't as robust as what we see on the Ionic and the Versa. It's not as critical for the Charge 3 since it isn't designed to run more than a few basic apps, but those looking for interesting watch faces will have to do with just a handful of options.
None of these smart watches are necessarily waterproof but they are water-resistant. The Samsung Gear Sport is good to go so long as you don’t go any deeper than 50 meters. Same for the Apple Watch. However, the Q Venture is a little more delicate and can only withstand some splashing and momentary submersion in a meter of water. In other words, the Q Venture will survive if you drop it in a sink full of water and you scoop it out almost instantly.
You’d be amazed how hard it is to text something as simple as “hi” on many smart watch interfaces. Still, most designs take this into consideration. We tested all kinds of watches from auto-scrolling screens where you drew the letters with your finger to pre-smartphone layouts more akin to the alphanumeric layout of a payphone keypad. While the drawing features were nice, we felt that the texting was a little more manageable on keyboards.