The best smartwatch is the one that’s compatible with your smartphone and your needs. Here’s what you need to know before buying a smartwatch.
From big names such as Apple and Fitbit to traditional watchmakers like Tag Heuer and Fossil, dozens of companies are creating smartwatches that deliver notifications, apps and more to your wrist. Although features and designs vary, smartwatches can help save you time and keep better tabs on your health.
Many smartwatches have built-in fitness features, such as a heart rate sensor and GPS. The Fitbit Versa, for example, is marketed as a health-focused device rather than as smartphone replacement.
Some smartwatches, such as the Apple Watch Series 3 and Series 4, even work independently of a phone, but most are designed as companion devices. How do you decide which smartwatch is the best smartwatch for your needs and budget? Here's a quick guide.
If you're in a hurry, here are the most important things to consider before you buy a smartwatch:
· Don't buy a smartwatch without confirming that it will work with your smartphone. For example, Apple Watches only work with iPhones. Google's Wear OS platform and Samsung's Tizen watches will work with both Android phones and iPhones, but with fewer features than if you use them with Android devices.
· Pick a watch with a heart rate sensor and GPS (to track your runs) if you're a fitness buff.
· Pay attention to rated battery life when shopping. Hybrid smartwatches that look more like analog timepieces tend to have the longest battery life, but they don’t have touchscreens.
· Check that the watch band's clasp or buckle is easy to use and easy to swap. Also make sure that it’s easy for you to find replacement bands.
· The selection of apps is a factor, but it’s not as important as compatibility, design and other features.
OS and Device Compatibility
Because most smartwatches are designed to serve as companions to your smartphone, device compatibility is very important. For instance, Samsung's Tizen-powered Gear S3 and Gear Sport work with multiple Android handsets as well as iPhones, but it’s easier to use those watches with an Android device (and specifically a Samsung one).
The Fibit Versa works just as well with Android phones as it does with iPhones. Android phone owners do get one extra feature: quick replies to incoming text messages.
Google’s Wear OS smartwatch operating system runs on watches from LG, Huawei and others and works with Android 4.3 and higher smartphones. Google makes it easy to check whether your smartphone is compatible: just go to g.co/WearCheck from your smartphone browser. Some Wear OS watches will work with the iPhone, but many features (such as adding apps and connecting the watch directly to Wi-Fi) aren't available when the watch is linked to iOS devices.
Android Wear 2.0, which rolled out in early 2017, brought a slew of new features to smartwatches, including advanced fitness-tracking features, support for Google Assistant and the ability to install apps directly on the watch itself. Google rebranded its smartwatch platform from Android Wear to Wear OS in March 2018 to reflect its cross-platform compatibility. All you have to do is download the Wear OS app to connect the watch to a smartphone.
Not surprisingly, the Apple Watch only works with the iPhone. The preinstalled Apple Watch app for the iPhone is where you'll find the watchOS App Store. There, you can install the watch versions of your favorite iOS apps or find new ones: The store features everything from games to fitness-tracking apps to extensions of your most-used productivity apps so you can get Slack notifications or see Trello cards.
Bottom line: Don't buy a smartwatch unless you know that it will work with your smartphone.
MORE: Best Smartwatches
Nearly all smartwatches now available use a colorful LCD screen or AMOLED display, which let you view photos, apps and other content in richer color, and tend to be brighter. The trade-off is shorter battery life, though smartwatch makers are improving the devices' efficiency.
Color displays use so much power that many watches turn off their screens while they're asleep, so you can't even see the time without waking the device. LCD displays tend to be thicker than OLED ones, which is why Apple developed its first OLED display for the first-generation Apple Watch: to make it as thin as possible. Samsung created the first OLED smartwatch, the Galaxy Gear, in 2013.
Interface: Buttons vs. touch
On the surface, opting for a touch screen on your smartwatch would seem to be a no-brainer. Still, it can sometimes be difficult to target items on a smaller touch display, and some of the gesture-based interfaces aren't intuitive. Wear OS does a nice job of presenting card-based notifications you can easily dismiss with a swipe, but there's a lot of swiping involved to get to other apps and options within apps. The latest update lets you switch between cards with a flick of your wrist.
With the Apple Watch, Apple opted for a combo approach, offering a touch display and both a digital crown and side button on the right side. You can use the crown to quickly zoom in on content or to scroll, and the screen uses Force Touch, which knows the difference between a tap and a long-press. A press of the side button brings you to your dock of frequently used apps.
Bottom line: Over time, we see touch screens winning out in the smartwatch space, but if you crave simplicity and a more old-school aesthetic, physical buttons will do the trick.
Design and Personalization
The better smartwatches offer a choice of straps and/or the ability to swap them out for a third-party option. This is important if you want to personalize the look of your device.
Most smartwatches today offer plenty of customization options before purchase. For instance, you can pick the band color and material, as well as face color, finish and size for such watches as the Moto 360 and the Apple Watch.
Keep in mind that comfort counts for a lot, as does the ease with which you can fasten the watch to your wrist. We would definitely avoid any smartwatches with cumbersome clasps that require too much force to open and close. Thankfully, most new watches use standard buckles.
More and more smartwatches are sporting round faces now, making them look more like traditional timepieces. Newer ones are getting slimmer and smaller.
Traditional watchmakers are also joining the fray with Android Wear devices that combine the style of an analog watch with the smarts of Google's watch operating system. Movado, Tag Heuer, Emporio Armani and even Louis Vuitton have jumped on board the smartwatch bandwagon with fashion-forward devices (and price tags to match).
Notifications and Alerts
Any good smartwatch will alert you to incoming calls, emails and text messages with a quick buzz to your wrist, which can help you discreetly check whether it's worth answering right away. But you should also look for social network integration for notifications from sites such as Facebook and Twitter.
Be sure that you'll be able to quickly check all of your most recent notifications, even if you miss them when they first come in. For example, the Apple Watch lets you swipe down from the top of the screen to see Notification Center, while Wear OS lets you swipe up from the bottom to see your latest messages.
Some smartwatches offer more customization options. The Samsung Gear S3, for example, uses the Gear Manager app on your phone to help you decide which notifications come through to your wrist. There's also a Smart Relay feature. Just picking up your phone with the notification displayed on your Gear watch will open the corresponding app on the larger screen.
The Apple Watch allows you to adjust notification settings on the Apple Watch app for iOS. You can choose to mirror the notifications from your iPhone or customize them.
APPLE WATCH FACES
The smartwatch category is maturing, and some models now have hundreds or even thousands of apps.
The Apple Watch has the most well-rounded app roster thus far, with more than 20,000 available, including ESPN, MapMyRun, Uber and even Rosetta Stone. You can do everything from control your lights with the Philips Hue app to order out lunch with Seamless. There's a dedicated Apple Watch App Store for installing those apps in the Apple Watch app for iOS.
While Google hasn’t released an official figure, Wear OS has thousands of apps optimized for its platform. You install apps directly on the watch itself, rather than having to go through your smartphone first. Wear OS has many of the same apps that watchOS does, including Lyft, which enables you to schedule a ride, and WhatsApp, which lets you reply to messages with your voice.
Other proprietary systems, especially Samsung's Tizen OS for the Gear S3 and Gear Sport, tend to be deficient in the apps department. This platform currently offers about 1,400 apps.
With the exception of budget devices from no-name brands, most smartwatches will cost between Rs. 6000 for older devices such as the Moto 360, all the way up to $1,600 for the Tag Heuer Connected. You'll find most smartwatches in the $200 to $500 range, depending on features and accessories. For example, the Apple Watch Series 3 starts at $329 for a basic aluminum case and silicone band without built-in GPS, but the cost is north of $1,349 for the ceramic case with GPS.
You'll need to decide what combination of form and function works best for your budget.