2014 was without a doubt the coming out party for smartwatches. They are the perfect gift for that person on your list who is always “connected.” Smartwatches offer a significantly more engaging experience than a fitness band. While they might not track everything a fitness band does, most do offer some form of activity tracking. Smartwatches offer a much deeper connection to your smartphone though, connecting to apps and allowing you to interact with your phone from your wrist. Some are even fully self-contained phones.
PEBBLE / PEBBLE STEEL
The original Pebble smartwatch launched via one of the most successful Kickstarter campaigns ever. This year the famous monochrome smartwatch was updated with a new look, featuring a metal face. Other than their outward appearances though, the two devices are identical. The more significant update from Pebble this year was the launch of the Pebble App Store. This smartphone accessible marketplace offers scores of watch faces and apps for the device. Among the apps are some big names: an ESPN app, a GoPro remote app, and a Pandora app. The device also displays notifications from your phone, such as emails, text messages, and phone calls. You cannot respond to texts from the device though. The Pebble has a few activity tracking abilities (steps and sleep) but can be connected with your Jawbone device for more detailed tracking. The decently stylish smartwatch has a 5 to 7 day battery life and can be connected to your iOS or Android device with Bluetooth 4.0.
MOTOROLA MOTO 360
The Moto 360 made a huge splash this Spring when it was announced. The almost circular full color display was ground breaking and promised to offer the first smartwatch that looked like a watch. The stunning device cuts no corners in craftsmanship, constructed from stainless steel, Horween Leather, and Gorilla Glass. It is powered by the stock version of Android Wear and is compatible with phones running Android 4.3 or higher that have Bluetooth 4.0. Besides the usual assortment of Android Now features (“OK, Google” and Google Now), the Moto 360 also features an optical heart rate sensor and is able to track steps and calories burnt. Running the large screen unfortunately requires a lot of power, so the device is not small. At 46mm, it has the potential to dwarf a small wrist. Also the battery life has been the major complaint about the device, barely lasting a day. Thankfully, Motorola has made it easy to charge with a wireless charging cradle.
Round Android Wear watches might have been all the talk this year, but from a design standpoint, nothing comes close to the simple but elegant Asus ZenWatch. The ZenWatch runs a slightly modified version of Android Wear and behaves similar to other Android Wear devices. It has integrated Google Now, “OK, Google,” and the ability to interact with notifications. You can also use the watch to unlock your phone without a passcode, remotely control your phone’s camera, and quickly silence your devices. The ZenWatch can track steps, heart rate, and calories burnt. Unlike some other Android Wear devices, this watch does not include a GPS, but given the impact on battery life, Asus probably made the right call. The watch has a battery life of approximately one day. Since it runs Android Wear, the ZenWatch is only compatible with Android devices.
The ZenWatch lists for $199.99 and is available at Best Buy.
Not launching until early next year (gift cards make a good stand-in until it launches), the Apple Watch is one of the most anticipated smartwatches of the year. Apple wants its first generation connected device to be a fashion piece. As such, the company did its best to allow every user to be able to express themselves. When Apple Watch finally launches, it looks to be the most customizable device yet, with tons of finishes, bands, and adjustable virtual watch faces. While there are a lot of unknowns about the watch, we do know that it will run apps, display notifications and allow for responses, and utilize Siri. Similar to Android Wear’s Google Now panes, the watch uses cards called “Glances” to allow the user to quickly access information. In an aim to make the device feel very personal, it offers silent haptic feedback and you will be able to communicate directly with a friend’s Apple Watch. From an activity tracking standpoint we know that the device can track steps and had an optical heart rate sensor. Apple Watch will be for iOS devices only and is expected to have 1 day worth of battery life.
Apple Watch will list starting at $350 and likely will have a model that costs thousands.
SAMSUNG GEAR S
Typically Samsung Gear devices are fairly limited, running a custom operating system and only connecting with select Samsung devices. With the Gear S this is no longer a problem. Sporting a 2.0″ curved display, the watch is actually a self contained 3G phone. You can make and receive phone calls on the device without being tethered to your phone and connect to your email accounts and calendars. Of course you will need a new cell phone plan and the watch will have its own phone number, but for those who don’t want to lug their phone everywhere this is a great way to stay connected. The Gear S is able to run apps that have been designed for it, such as Nike+ and Deezer, and has a GPS to help with directions and track your runs. It also has voice interactivity and a heart rate sensor.
The Samsung Gear S is sold by wireless carriers for between $349.99 and $399.99.
The sporty, round Android Wear LG G Watch R. Lists for $299.
The will.i.am designed smart watch / self contained cell phone PULS. Lists for $399 and is available only by lottery currently.