The top performers in our review are the Apple Watch Sport, the Gold Award winner; the LG G Watch R, the Silver Award winner; and the ASUS ZenWatch, the Bronze Award winner. Here's more on choosing a smartwatch to meet your needs, along with information on how we arrived at our ranking of 10 smartwatches.
Why Use a Smartwatch?
We are drowning in notifications and are constantly being interrupted by beeping and buzzing smartphones. It's an endless race to keep up to date on email, text messages and social media. No matter where you go, you see people entranced by the glowing screen of their smartphones. Some would argue our phones have become too invasive.
Enter smartwatches. Smartwatches aren't designed to be used for several minutes at a time. Not sure? Just try raising your wrist for more than 30 seconds. It's uncomfortable and looks awkward. The best smartwatches reduce the number of times you remove your smartphone from your pocket or bag. They keep you informed, unobtrusively, as to what is happening online without pulling you from the real world.
You shouldn't expect take phone calls with your smartwatch. Most aren't watch phones, but you can, though, respond to text messages using your voice with some smartwatches.
Smartwatches: An Accessory for Your Smartphone
Smartwatches save you time for simple tasks, like controlling music and video playback, or reminding you of impending appointments and meetings. Some even have fitness-tracking abilities. And, of course, they tell time.
Smartphones, on the other hand, should be used to crank out long emails, read articles or watch videos on the mobile web. Think of smartwatches as accessories to your smartphone – they aren't intended to replace your smartphone. Instead, they act as an extension, offering you quick snippets of information – incoming messages, tweets, sports scores and weather, for instance.
Design: Smartwatches Come in Different Shapes, Styles and Sizes
Watches are accessories that complement your look. They not only tell time, they also make a statement. We know how important appearance is when purchasing something that you will physically wear on your body. So we tested several different styles of smartwatches. The perfect smartwatch shouldn't just look good, it needs to fit your wrist well and be comfortable, too.
Features and Specs: Not All Smartwatches Are Created Equal
We wore smartwatches – just like you would in an array of real-world scenarios – while running, at the movie theater, to a concert, on a hike, playing tennis, all sorts of places. The obvious goal of smartwatches is helping to make your day easier, whether it's tracking your steps, measuring sleep, responding to a friend's message or setting an alarm. Nearly every smartwatch tracks your steps, but not all have heart rate sensors. Also, most do not have a built-in GPS chip, so if you want to map out runs, you still need to run with your phone.
We found that smartwatches can help ease the burden in always relying on your smartphone to complete small tasks. It's crazy convenient to raise your wrist and say to your watch, "OK Google, what time is it in London?" to find out if it is too late to message a friend overseas. On a smartphone, this process would require unlocking your phone, entering a passcode, scrolling through the apps, opening a folder, tapping the clock icon and then typing "London," if the location isn't already saved. With a smartwatch, it takes two steps.
When jogging, smartwatches are extremely handy. You can instantly see your pace and quickly switch songs (even though your phone is in your pocket) without having to stop. Some smartwatches even have built-in storage for music, tether to Bluetooth headphones and can be used independently from your phone for music. And after you are done running, you can use your smartwatch to check your heart rate.
However, the biggest complaint with smartwatches is the battery life. Some don't even last for an entire day. It's incredibly frustrating to remove your smartwatch to charge it midday. It's even more irritating when you check the time only to be greeted with a black screen. A dead battery renders your smartwatch useless. The best smartwatches should last an entire day – minimum. Unfortunately, several smartwatches just aren't there yet.
Top Ten Reviews seeks, whenever possible, to evaluate all products and services in hands-on tests that simulate as closely as possible the experiences of the typical consumer. We obtained the units in our comparison both on loan from the companies and through retail purchase. These manufacturers had no input or influence over our test methodology nor was the methodology provided to any of the manufacturers in more detail than is available through reading our reviews. The results of our smartwatch evaluations were not provided to the companies in advance of publication.
What Else is Important in Selecting a Smartwatch?
A smartwatch should be stylish and useful. A good smartwatch makes a person's day easier and helps you accomplish small tasks, like marking an email "read" or checking into a flight with a QR code boarding pass.
Almost all smartwatches rely on your smartphone to function. They piggyback off your phone's data connection and connect via Bluetooth. Most run Google's Android Wear software, but others have their own operating system. For instance, several Samsung smartwatches run an OS called Tizen. Pebble created its own custom firmware for its smartwatch, and the Apple Watch runs a modified version of iOS. You want to ensure that whichever smartwatch you choose, it's compatible with your smartphone. For instance, an Android Wear smartwatch will not work with an Apple iPhone, and vice versa, the Apple Watch won't work with an Android device. Some Samsung smartwatches only work with Samsung smartphones.
Some watches have an AMOLED (active-matrix organic light-emitting diode) display while others have a full analog face with a smaller screen that only displays your text messages and notifications as they come in. Even screen shapes vary; some are round while others are square.
Smartwatch's internal specifications also tend to vary. When it comes to smartwatch's internal components, bigger numbers typically are better. Most have RAM (random access memory) of around 512MB and provide you with 4GB of storage space for apps and music.
Since you will be wearing your watch practically every day, you want one that suits your style. Not all smartwatch bands are swappable, and if they are, you have to purchase them separately, so pay attention to the material that the included watchband is made of. The material can range from synthetic rubber to leather and even stainless steel. Unfortunately, very few smartwatches come in different sizes, so some look very large on small wrists – especially women's wrists. Most smartwatches appear masculine and feature thick straps and large faces.
You should also pay attention to levels of water-resistance. The International Electrotechnical Commission classifies degrees of protection in smartwatches against water and dust. Most smartwatches are only splash-resistant and are not completely waterproof. You are only able to swim or shower with a select few brands.
And, as a final consideration, if your smartwatch somehow manages to get damaged or doesn't work for some reason or another, you should know beforehand what help and support options are available. Most smartwatches come with a one-year warranty.
Smartwatches: Our Verdict and Recommendations
Three top smartwatches – the Apple Watch Sport, our Gold Award winner; the LG G Watch R, our Silver Award Winner; and the ASUS ZenWatch, our Bronze Award Winner – stood out in comparison to other smartwatches, mostly due to their design, battery life and wide range of features.
The Pebble Steel Smartwatch also deserves some recognition. It is stylish and boasts a seven-day battery life, and you are free to swim and shower with it. If you are looking for a cheap smartwatch and don't necessarily need the premium model made of stainless steel, the original, plastic Pebble Smartwatch is a great value. For additional information, take a look at our articles on smartwatches.