This time of year we start anticipating the new arrivals of the latest and greatest in wearable technology. The new, highly anticipated Fitbit Ionic is now available, as is the brand new Apple Watch. The tech industry is speculating about a new Apple watch. And, not to be left out, Samsung announced a better-than-ever addition to its line of smartwatches.
Even with the constant updates and anticipation of new products, there are still plenty of excellent smartwatches available now, and many of the upcoming releases are available for preorder.
This guide will take a look at the hottest and smartest in smartwatches.
What is a Smart Watch?
We focus a lot on fitness trackers, so let’s first talk about what a smart watch is, and how it differs from a fitness or activity tracker.
A smart watch is wearable technology that connects to your smartphone. It usually has a touchscreen, has different apps that it supports, and tracks your steps and sometimes your heart rate.
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How to Shop for a Smart Watch
There are several different key features that you can look for in order to find the smart watch that will best suit your needs.
- Fitness tracking: If activity or fitness tracking is important to you, you might consider an activity tracker, or a smart watch that places a high value on fitness (such as Fitbit). Otherwise, check out what the watch tracks and how accurate it is before you buy.
- Compatibility: Make sure the watch you’re interested in works with your smartphone. For example, Apple watches only work with iPhones.
- Apps: Check out the available apps for the watch and also do some investigating about the customer ratings. A lot of the appeal of a smart watch comes down to what apps it can support and what it can do with them, so make sure the one you get matches your expectations.
- Notifications and communications: All smart watches will notify you, but some will let you respond to texts or answer calls. There are plenty of options when it comes to capabilities, so determine what’s important to you to help you narrow the selection.
- Battery life: The battery life of a smartwatch can be anywhere from a few days to several months. A lot of it depends on the features – GPS and heart rate monitoring will use up the battery faster. Do some checking into both the advertised battery life and what real customers are saying about how long it lasts.
- Design: For many consumers, the design and style of the smartwatch is the key factor in their selection. There’s no shortage of options, either. Many smartwatches look just like a regular watch. Some are sporty; some are sleek. Take into account the design and interface of the display when you decide – not just the overall look of it. Good looks won’t make up for a wonky interface or buttons you can’t push very well.
Newest Smart Watches
The good thing about wearable tech is that it keeps getting better with each new iteration. There are plenty of new smartwatches that will be out in the coming months, but there are three in particular that are generating the most buzz.
Fitbit’s forthcoming fitness smartwatch, the Ionic, is going to be at the top of plenty of wish lists this holiday season. Its design and functionality puts it into direct competition with Apple watches, but it maintains Fitbit’s mission to focus on fitness. The Ionic is water resistant, has integrated GPS, will have smart notifications and the ability to store and stream music, and should have some improved tech features including better sensors.
It’s too soon to say for sure, but we predict the Ionic will be a major player in both smartwatches and fitness trackers.
Samsung Gear Sport
Though sales of Samsung’s wearables have been rather disappointing, it appears that the company is ready to keep competing for consumers’ wrist space. Their recent announcement of three upcoming products has tech experts pretty excited. The Gear Fit2 Pro and the new earbuds are for the fitness buffs, but the Gear Sport is, much like the Fitbit Ionic, a clear blend of fitness tracker and smartwatch.
The release date of the Gear Sport has not yet been released, but early reviews are positive. Some of the buzziest features include app partnerships with MyFitnessTracker and Spotify, a smaller and lighter design, and water resistance. Some are predicting that this could be the wearable tech that helps Samsung better compete with Apple and Fitbit.
Garmin Vivoactive 3 and Vivomove HR
Yet another smart fitness watch announcement that beat Apple to the punch comes from Garmin. We’re always pretty excited by new Garmin products, and this time there are two to cheer about: the flagship smartwatch-esque Vivoactive 3 and the hybrid smartwatch-fitness tracker Vivomove HR. The more expensive Vivoactive 3 will give you more in terms of apps, plus it has a more sophisticated interface and built in GPS. It definitely feels more like a smartwatch with great fitness tracking options. The Vivomove HR has heart rate monitoring and great fitness options, but lacks the app compatibility and GPS functions of the Vivoactive. However, it will save you $100.
H3Apple – Announcement Soon
An unveiling of the newest Apple watch is expected to come on September 12.
The Fitbit Ionic will *technically* be the first smartwatch by the fitness giant, but many consider the Fitbit Blaze to be a smartwatch (it’s a “smart fitness watch”). The Blaze does a wonderful job of giving the fitness-minded community a device that focuses on fitness while providing some of the key features of a smartwatch.
In terms of price, the Blaze is and will continue to be relevant in the world of smartwatches because it is less than $200 and has many stellar features. It does lack built in GPS (though it can connect to your smartphone to enable GPS) and it is not water resistant (only splash resistant). Those two missing features are what turn many away from the Blaze. However, if those aren’t as important to you, it’s worth checking out – it’s an excellent device at a good price point.
The Apple Watch Series 2 is known for style, functionality, and that familiar apple symbol. The bestselling smartwatch is water resistant, has GPS and a heart rate monitor, and works seamlessly with the iPhone. But that last feature is what makes it so exclusive – it only works with iPhone, so Android users have to look elsewhere (which they’re usually happy to do, and don’t have any shortage of options). The Series 2 isn’t perfect, but plenty of owners are perfectly happy. The upcoming announcement of a new Apple Watch might change things considerably, but for now we’re happy to recommend the Series 2 to anyone who wants an excellent smartwatch experience with one of the best names in the biz.
**For a more fitness-focused smartwatch experience, check out the Apple Watch Nike+
Basically any watch that isn’t Apple will be an Android smartwatch, but it’s worth talking about the sheer number of really excellent choices you have in smartwatches. Apple tends to get all the glory (and Fitbit is often discussed in the same conversation, despite it being primarily a fitness tracker brand), but there are some really incredible brands making great products right now.
As we mentioned earlier, the soon-to-be-released Samsung lineup sounds pretty great. But the current model, the Gear S3, definitely deserves your attention. Plus, with the new Gear Sport on its way, chances are you can get the S3 at a nice price – keep an eye out for sales! You can find our full review of the Samsung Gear S3 here.
We’ll cover a few of the other popular brands next, but first here are some other recommendations for smart watches to investigate:
- Polar M600: Another fitness-focused smart watch. The M600 boasts GPS and heart rate monitoring, plus plenty of fitness features to help you stay on track. It’s also waterproof.
- ASUS ZenWatch 3: For something different yet stylish, check out ASUS’s venture into the land of smartwatches.
- Motorola Moto 360: Like the ZenWatch, the Moto 360 is an attractive smartwatch that doesn’t look like a smartwatch. It works great with iOS, so it’s also a good alternative to the Apple Watch.
Huawei has quietly become a trusted and highly rated smartwatch brand. The Huawei Watch 2 launched earlier this year, bringing some welcome updates to the popular first-gen Huawei Watch. Both are available and are currently discounted, so let’s take a look at these two watches.
The first Huawei watch was highly rated, with the Watch 2 receiving some less stellar reviews from tech experts. In terms of design, the second version is much sportier, with the original watch boasting a more classic design. The biggest differences you’ll see are what the Watch 2 offers that the original doesn’t: GPS, LTE, NFC, and slightly more water resistance.
LG has a few options for smartwatches that run Android Wear 2.0. The LG Watch Urbane is our favorite of the bunch. We like
With LG’s most recently announced wearable canceled earlier this year and no indication that new products are in the works, your best bet if you want to go LG is the Urbane. Otherwise we think there are way better options available that have a better battery life, more features, and a more comparable price.
Garmin has a pretty substantial selection of wearable tech, from fitness trackers to advanced running watches, but the only device that falls under the category of “smartwatch” is the Vivoactive HR. Since Garmin recently announced the newest version (the Vivoactive 3), you might be wondering why both with the Vivoactive HR. For starters, you can save yourself quite a bit of cash by picking up the HR. the primary differences between the two will be style (the newest version features a round face), mobile payment capability, and some interface upgrades. We think it’s worth checking out, especially if you’re on a budget. We did a full review of the Vivoactive HR, available here.
Interested in a smartwatch but don’t want to drop a few hundred dollars on it? There’s still hope. One of the easiest ways to find a good, quality smartwatch while sticking to a budget is to find one of the older models when a new model comes out. Typically, when a new smartwatch is announced (and as it gets closer to the launch date), the prior model starts being discounted – often heavily discounted.
- Pebble Time Smartwatch: Pebble was bought out by Fitbit, so Pebble watches are no longer being manufactured. You can find some great deals on them right now while they last.
- Martian Watches Notifier: Very few cheap smartwatches have good reviews, but the Martian is an exception. The Notifier is a perfect entry to the world of smartwatches without having to spend much.
- Fossil Q Crewmaster: This Fossil device is a bit more than the other two options we just listed, but it’s definitely worth a look. It’s still nicely priced and stylish, water resistant and compatible with iOS and Android.