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It’s been nearly a decade since Apple launched its first iPhone. It doesn’t seem like it’s been that long, but what’s even more amazing is that the same amount of computing power in the iPhone is now available on a device that fits on your wrist.
We’re now in an era where smartwatches are everywhere. You can choose between round or square screens, different strap colors or materials, and from a huge variety of manufacturers. There are fitness trackers like Garmin and Fitbit and standard smartwatch options like Apple Watch and Samsung Gear.
There are also a great many options that combine both activity and fitness tracking and message alerts on your device. These devices will still give you the weather, tell you what time it is, and even play your preferred music playlist.
The smartwatch industry is inundated with options. It can be complicated and confusing and as a result, you could wind up buying a device that doesn’t fit with what you need. Maybe you’re buying your first smartwatch. Or maybe it’s time for a new one. Either way, here’s a guide to help you find the best smartwatch for your needs.
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For the most part, the smartwatch or fitness tracker you choose to purchase will largely depend on what type of smartphone you have. This is due to the fact that the vast majority of fitness trackers and smartwatches are simply an extension of the phone. They store your health and fitness information in an app on your smartphone using its network connectivity. Then, it keeps you connected through Bluetooth.
For instance, if you prefer to use Apple products, then an Apple Watch might be the best option for you. You can use it as both a smartwatch and a fitness tracker. However, keep in mind, that this isn’t your only option. Jawbone and Fitbit are two devices that offer iPhone compatibility. Garmin also has a smartwatch that you can use in tandem with your iPhone.
You can also use many of the smartwatches that support Google Wear with your iPhone. Samsung’s Gear and Tizen devices will also work with your iPhone. You just won’t get the full amount of functionality that you would if you paired them with an Android device.
For example, some Android devices will support Samsung’s smartwatch lineup. While these devices may not be Samsung devices, your smartwatch will still work. However, you’re going to have the best experience in pairing a Samsung smartwatch with a Samsung smartphone.
No matter how much you may want to, you cannot connect an Android smartphone to an Apple Watch. Apple has completely removed that option. The only way to use an Apple Watch is if you have an iPhone.
When you’re looking for the smartwatch that works best for you, remember that some devices will work just as well with an Android device as it will an iPhone. However, some are made specifically for a certain OS, so you may have trouble pairing and connecting in addition to enjoying the full intended functionality of the device.
Your current phone OS will play an important role in which smartwatch you can choose. To get the full amount of features out of your smartwatch, be sure that the one you select works as it should with your smartphone.
How Intense Are Your Workouts?
Once upon a time, Fitbit was just a straightforward black band that offered no digital display and barely resembled a watch. This popular fitness tracker has since moved on and now offers a wide variety of models and colors. It has also adopted many watch-like features, primarily a visual display that is always on, just like you’ll find with many smartwatches.
However, it’s important to bear in mind that there are distinct differences between a smartwatch and a dedicated fitness track. The last thing you want is to buy one when what you really need is the other.
Fitness trackers like the ones offered by Garmin and Fitbit are specifically designed to make exercise and sports the forefront of your experience. These types of devices include a pedometer, a heart rate monitor, and an altimeter to keep track of the number of flights of stairs you go up and down.
They also typically include a GPS chip to track how much distance you’ve covered throughout the day. These trackers will also connect to your smartphone so you have all the latest tools to monitor your progress as you exercise. Several, but not all, offer alerts when you get an incoming call, email, or text.
These devices are designed specifically for fitness tracking. If you are happy with the basics from your smartwatch – messaging, apps, music, and calendar – then a fitness tracker might work best for you.
If you’ve determined that a fitness tracker makes the most sense for your needs, then you’ll want to decide which exercise activity you’ll be engaging in the most. For instance, if you’re focused solely on hitting your daily 10,000 steps, then a basic Fitbit might be just what you need.
For other activities, there are other fitness trackers. Garmin offers a tracker which is made primarily for cyclists and runners. This device gives you an accurate representation of how much distance you’ve covered when you bike or run.
Other models are completely waterproof. These types of fitness trackers let you use them while you’re swimming laps in the pool. Additionally, there are options that are more rugged and shock-proof, which are perfect if you’re into extreme sports or mountain biking.
The key thing to remember is that if you’re more into exercising and health tracking, then a typical smartwatch may not provide the feature and tracking capabilities that you’d prefer to have. Accelerometers, GPS tracking, heart rate monitors, and altimeters are not always part of smartwatches. Be sure to carefully determine how important health is to before you decide which way to go.
Importance of Design
Ever since they were first invented, analog wrist watches have been fashion accessories worn on our wrists. The first wave of smartwatches, on the other hand, were clunky, and dull. These devices focused more on functionality than design.
Fortunately, things have changed for the better over the past few years. Now, you can select between thousands of different watch faces, or you can design your own. You can switch out wrist straps on a whim, with designers being forced to get creative so you can quickly and easily swap them out.
A very large market for smartwatch accessories has developed, and many traditional timepiece makers are joining in. You can find smartwatches from names associated with quality and style like Tag Heuer, Louis Vuitton, and Fossil.
The thing to be most aware of, however, is how comfortable the device feels when you have it on your wrist. It is too bulky? Does it sit at an awkward angle? Do the physical navigation buttons and features work for your needs?
Be sure to answer these questions and others as you give consideration to the design of the smartwatch. The last thing you want to do is drop a considerable amount of money on a smartwatch only to discard it a few weeks later because it doesn’t fit with your lifestyle needs.
If you’re looking for a device that will give you much of the functionality of your smartphone, while augmenting its features, then you may want to select a dedicated smartwatch. Currently, the leaders in this category are the Samsung Gear devices for Android users and the Apple Watch for iPhone.
Apple Watch boasts its own unique operating system while Samsung’s devices use not only its Tizen OS but can handle the Google Wear operating system as well.
If you prefer iPhone devices, then it only makes sense that you would want to go with the Apple Watch. This is especially true since the Apple Watch provides seamless connectivity with both the iPhone and Apple’s cloud services. If this is the route you take, the Apple Watch is a quality device that will provide plenty of the features and functionality their users have come to expect.
For everyone not Apple, there are many more choices, but of course features and quality will vary depending on which device you select.
There are some key features that you may want to consider before you make your decision.
The majority of today’s smartwatches have full-color displays, however, remember that it’s the technology under the screen that determines how well it looks. You can select an AMOLED (Active Matrix Organic Light Emitting Diode) display, which is the same one Apple uses in its smartwatches.
This type of display offers crisp-looking text, accurate colors, and a bright screen. Fitness trackers usually have a lower quality display to save battery life. These types of devices may also remove full-color displays to save on battery life.
Since you likely won’t be staring at photos all day or reading lots of text, screen display may not be as important as some other features, but you do want to take the time to visit a store so you can see the device in person before making a final decision. It might turn out that it’s not as bright or colorful as it looks online.
Touch vs. Buttons
There are many fitness trackers and smartwatches on the market which have touchscreens. The Apple Watch, Fitbit Versa, and Samsung Gear S3 all have screens which you can swipe and tap to move about between features and applications. There are also some smartwatches that combine the best of each world and provide both button or touchscreen options.
If you’re interested in gesture recognition on a smartwatch screen, you should know that it’s pretty hit or miss. It’s nowhere near as accurate and responsive as it is on your smartphone. However, force touch is one useful feature which has emerged with smartwatches. You’ll find it especially useful on the Apple Watch, as all you have to do is tap the screen or press down to initiate different behaviors.
Some smartwatch manufacturers have started using the rotating bezel concept that many dive watches make us of. The rotating bezel gives you the ability to scroll through features and apps as you turn it. Once you get used to it, it’s a great method of navigating through a smartwatch.
If you didn’t already know it, the Apple Watch application is native to the iPhone, which makes syncing easy and simple. It also introduces you to the App Store via WatchOS, which offers a variety of apps which you can download to your Apple Watch.
Additionally, the Apple Watch also has Apple’s Health application, which allows you to focus on health and fitness. Along with Apple Health is HealthKit, which lets developers create additional features and add-ons for users. Apps like TuneIn, Shazam, Uber, Flipboard, Nest, and Spotify can also be found on the Apple Watch.
Smartwatch manufacturers load their devices with a basic set of applications on their watches so you can get going right from the start. You’ll typically see a weather app, news information, calendar, messaging, and exercise monitor.
Fitbit devices include a fair number of apps which are compatible with its operating system. When you first get started, the fitness tracker will sync with your smartphone and pair with the appropriate versions of the apps whether you’re using an iPhone or an Android device.
Samsung’s smartwatch operating system also includes a fair number of applications, which also sync and pair with applications from both Android and iOS.
Last, but not least, comes Google’s smartwatch operating system, Wear OS. While this operating system is having a little trouble gaining market share in the world of smartwatches, it’s still a solid option. It offers many nice features and provides users with a great experience as long as they’re paired with their Android device.
Charging and Battery
The biggest tradeoff in moving from your standard analog watch to your fancy new smartwatch is the hassle of charging up the battery. Most smartwatches require charging every couple days, but more than likely you’re going to have to charge the device every night if you use it regularly.
This isn’t really a problem unless you want a device that will monitor your sleep patterns. This is a valuable feature to use that a lot of the newer smartwatches offer, however, it means that your smartwatch needs to be on your wrist while you sleep.
The good news is that newer, more advanced batteries only take a few hours to charge up, so maybe you can let it charge while you get ready to turn in for the night.
Many smartwatches now include the option for wireless charging. This is very valuable as it means you don’t have to worry about another cable or wire hanging off your nightstand or dresser. One nice accessory available for the Apple Watch is a charging pad that will charge both your smartwatch and your phone at the same time.
Samsung smartwatches and smartphones also support wireless charging if you want to go the Android route.
Alerts and Messaging
No matter which smartwatch you choose, you can use it as a productivity tool. It will allow you to quickly and discreetly glance at your wrist to view incoming texts, phone calls, emails, and meeting reminders. For the most part, your phone is pushing the notifications to your smartwatch via Bluetooth.
The great thing here is that you can be aware of what’s going on without the need of pulling your smartphone out of your pocket. If you decide to go with a fitness tracker like a Fitbit, you’ll get text messages, emails, and incoming call notifications. Apple Watch, Wear OS, and Samsung OS devices, on the other hand, provide a more fully-featured experience when it comes to messaging.
Some of the smartwatches that connect using Android integrate with Google Assistant. So if you need to find out some information quickly, you can just ask your smartwatch. This is a great feature to have especially given the real-estate limitation on your smartwatch.
Many smartwatches also include a “Quick Reply” feature which allows you to send a short response to a message without the need to access your smartphone.
Go Phone Free
If you’re interested in a smartwatch without a phone, there are a few devices with both Samsung and Apple that feature a mobile chip slot. You can plug your SIM card right into the device and receive calls, text message, emails, and connect to the internet without being connected to your phone.
This sounds great in theory, and it’s nice to have this option, however, it’s important to remember that your smartwatch battery is much smaller than the one in your smartphone. Relying on it as your sole means of communication will result in a loss of power very quickly.
While they might be ideal for heavy usage, these types of smartwatches would come in handy if you need to stay connected while you’re out exercising. This way, you don’t have to worry about strapping your phone to your arm. You can simply rely on the device on your wrist to give you all the necessary information.
Just remember that when it comes to selecting the right smartwatch, it’s important to get the simple things right. Consider the type of display you’d like to have, the apps the smartwatch is compatible with, how long the battery lasts, and how the device handles alerts and messages before you make your final decision.
As you can see, there are plenty of smartwatches from which you can choose on the market today. These devices offer plenty of features and capabilities, all of which help to keep you connected and aware of what’s going on in your life. Whether you want a fancy smartwatch or a simple fitness tracker, there is no shortage of options.
But before you make your final decision, take the time to do your research. You know what works best for your lifestyle. Whether it’s Android or Apple, fitness tracker or smartwatch, now you have a better idea of how to find the best smartwatch for your needs.
Patrick Sinclair is a geek; make no mistake about that. He runs All Home Robotics in his spare time so he doesn’t have to think about his depressing cubicle and it gives him an excuse to buy expensive gadgets to review!