What Is The Best Smartwatch?
When first dipping a tentative toe into the waters of the smartwatch revolution, so many people ask the following question: “What is the best smartwatch?” Of course, this is a difficult question to answer, and one which carries a high degree of subjectivity. However, your brave (or foolhardy) researcher/writer is prepared to dive head-first into this sometimes hotly-debated subject to try to separate fact from fiction; common sense from bias; and practicality from seductive twinkling doodads. Here goes…
Firstly, I’m going to make a slight but crucial change to the question to make it much easier to answer, and less subjective: “What is the best smartwatch—for you?” See what I did there? You see, despite this being a website dedicated to Pebble smartwatches, I’m fully aware (and appreciative) of having a diverse market available to us. Each type of smartwatch offers distinct advantages (and sometimes disadvantages) to individual people. We are not all the same. How could one type of smart watch perfectly fit the needs of all people? It can’t. Just as one type of car cannot work for all individuals and families. Being a self-confessed geek and hopeless technology slave, I make it a point to study and keep informed about the latest advances in smartwatch technology. I’m going to use this knowledge to make things easier for you. But first, let’s get this one out of the way: do you actually need a smartwatch at all?
Do You Need a Smartwatch?
Let’s get this clear right at the outset: the answer is no. Nobody needs a smartwatch. But that’s OK… really. One could argue that nobody needs a DVD player either; or that automatic coffee maker; or that latest and greatest smartphone. No, these things are squarely in the “nice to have” category. “We did very well, thank you, without these things for many years.”, I can hear many people of middling years say (or write—in pencil, of course). However, we live in exciting times technology-wise, and what a boring place it would be if we only bought things we can prove a pressing need for. Thriving industries are built around the “nice-to-haves”, rather than the “needs”. 3.75 gazillion QVC viewers can’t be wrong, can they? OK, they may be, but that’s not the point here. As it turns out, smart watches actually provide a quite useful function. One which is difficult to appreciate until you’ve worn one for a few days. Let’s try to answer the question of whether you actually need a smartwatch by taking a look at what a smartwatch does:
So, What Does a Smartwatch Do?
I’m assuming you have a smartphone. If not, please bookmark write down the address of this web page (don’t forget to lick the tip of your pencil), click here, and return when you’ve joined us in the twenty-first century. We’ll wait…
OK. All here? So, at its core a smartwatch performs one major function: it mirrors notifications from your phone onto your watch. This may not seem like much, but consider this: how many notifications do you get every day on your smart phone which do not require immediate action? That e-mail confirming your order has shipped; that notification that someone liked and retweeted your latest witty “bon-mot”; that reminder to pick up some dog food on the way home. Do these need you to take action on your phone? Probably not. However, each of these require you to fish your phone out, unlock the screen (and enter your passcode if you use one), navigate to the notification screen, read the notification, dismiss it, lock the screen and return the phone to its previous place. For some people this happens tens or hundreds of times a day. With a smartwatch, all of this is replaced by a quick and inconspicuous glance at your wrist. That’s it. If the notification requires no action on your part, that’s all you have to do! This freedom from your smartphone is often not appreciated until you live with one for a few days. It truly can be liberating.
Of course, smartwatches can do a lot more that the above, but that is the core function of the little wrist-born computer. For examples of the many more useful things you can do with a smartwatch you may wish to read this article.
So, having established the need or want for a smartwatch, let’s get to the meat of this article, and take a look at your options:
Types of Smartwatches
Currently, there are four major types of smart watches available—separated by their operating system:
- Apple Watch
- Android Wear Watches
- Pebble Watch
- Tizen Watch
Let’s give a brief outline of each:
The Apple watch is Apple’s first foray into the smartwatch world. Like all Apple products, good design is a first priority, and it exhibits a modern and capable look. They are available in two sizes. Interaction is through a touch screen, and a scroll wheel on the right of the watch. The Apple watch will only work with iOS, so if you don’t have an iPhone, this one isn’t for you. Battery life is not the best at around eighteen hours. Various models are available which range in price from $350 to $10,000!
|Designed for iOS||Only works with iOS|
|Siri integration||Relatively poor battery life|
|Good App selection||Screen can glare and wash out in bright daylight|
|Excellent night-time visibility||Cost|
Android Wear Watches
Android wear watches probably make up the bulk of the smart watch market. They are made by numerous manufacturers and all sport a largely unmodified version of the Google Android Wear operating system. Google allows minimal changes to the operating system which is both a benefit and a drawback. On the positive side, this means that once you have used one type of Android Wear watch, you will be familiar with any of them. On the negative side, once you have used one type of Android Wear watch, you will see little difference with any of them. At best, you will find different built-in watch faces, and the differences will be confined to hardware and design.
Interaction is almost exclusively through a touch screen—much like your smartphone. As of writing, most manufacturers are producing their second generation of devices such as the Moto 360, the Huwei watch or the Asus Zenwatch 2. Battery life ranges from less than a day, to two days.
|Google Now integration||Android Wear is a relatively immature operating system. Can be “fiddly”.|
|Excellent app selection||Mediocre battery life.|
|Excellent night-time visibility||Screen can glare and wash out in bright daylight.|
|Some compatibility with iOS (limited by iOS constraints)||Limited functions with iOS.|
It could be argued that Pebble started the smartwatch movement. They launched the original Pebble Watch via a Kickstarter campaign in April of 2012. They stand alone in the smartwatch world by eschewing the use of a touch screen, believing that the most practical way to interact with your watch is through the time-tested method of physical buttons. As such, the operating system is streamlined and eminently practical. Not having a touch screen has the added benefit of avoiding accidental triggering of your watch when, for instance, you cross your arms and find that you have accidentally pressed the screen of the watch. A benefit of the use of an e-paper screen (a highly-reflective LCD screen)—rather than a relatively power-hungry touch screen—is that stellar battery life is possible. Some models in the Pebble range can claim ten days on a single charge.
|Best in class battery life.||Lacks Google Now or Siri Integration|
|Water resistance. Better than most smartwatches.||Less visibility in dim lighting—may require use of backlight.|
|Physical buttons.||Fewer apps available than with either iOS or Android wear.|
|Excellent visibility in daylight.||
|Compatibility with Android and iOS.|
|A more mature interface designed for efficient control with buttons.|
Tizen is an open-source operating system based on Linux. It can, and does, power many devices from smart TVs through cameras and smartphones to smart watches. Tizen seemed a long-shot in the smartwatch world until Samsung announced its use of Tizen at the Mobile World Congress in 2014. Since then, they have released the Samsung Gear S2, an interesting maverick in the smartwatch world.
Interaction with the Samsung Gear S2 is through a combination of a touch screen, and a novel rotating bezel. I must admit to not having used this particular watch yet, but reports seem to be overwhelmingly positive for the bezel and button-based interface. Battery life is a claimed three days, although user reports are that two days is a more realistic estimate.
|Unique.||Poor App availability.|
|Novel rotating bezel proves a useful control method.||Lacks Google Now or Siri integration.|
|Excellent night-time visibility.||May suffer from lack of support in the future.|
|Two to three day battery life.||
Hopefully the above information has given you some food for thought, and helped you to find out which may be the best smartwatch for you. Ultimately, it may depend on your lifestyle, where you spend most of your time or even your ideal "bling to practicality" ratio. To sum up, I have created a table of considerations which may swing you towards one type of watch or another:
|Spend a lot of time outdoors?||Pebble Watches offer the best outdoor visibility.|
|Is an abundant and ever-growing list of apps the most important to you?||Apple watch or Android Wear.|
|Want the very best battery life?||Pebble Watches.|
|Need Google Now?|| Android Wear watches.
|Need Siri?||Apple Watch.|
|Best Water resistance?||Pebble Watches.|
|Heart Rate Monitor?||Apple watch, many Android wear watches, or a Tizen-based watch. Pebble does not natively have a heart rate monitor.|
|Ease of use; the least attention needed in use?||Pebble watches have a very streamlined interface with physical buttons.|
|Do you like to swim or do water sports while wearing your watch?||Pebble Watches offer the best water resistance.|
Which is the best type of smartwatch for you? Let me know in the comments below!