Last year we really witnessed the launch of the smartwatch. This year the market became much more mature, crowded, and competitive. We saw everyone from the Chinese to the Swiss, from traditional watchmakers to startup companies, releasing devices. We are also closing out the year with smartwatches having a higher average price than at the beginning of 2015. Existing players increased their prices and new entries averaged around $350 – there are even some device priced well over a $1,000 and you can buy a gold Apple Watch for $17,000! Smartwatches are probably still not mature enough for everyone, but they might provide a set of compelling features that you (or a loved one) have been longing for.
Around Circuits And Cable Knit, we love them for looking at our calendar or the temperature outside with a glance. Also the ability to quickly and easily read and reply to text messages without digging out our phones is amazing. But perhaps the most amazing thing about smartwatches is how everyone uses the device in a different way. Almost daily I use my watch to easily check in on Swarm, receive breaking news alerts, check the wait for an MTA bus, and to pay for things.
If a smartwatch sounds right for someone you know, here are some of the most notable from the past year:
TAG Heuer Connected
For some people, a watch is not a watch if it doesn’t come from Switzerland. While the quaint Swiss villages aren’t (yet) home to chip fabricators, TAG Heuer this year released their take on the smartwatch. The TAG Heuer Connected was designed by the Swiss watchmaker with the help of both Intel and Google. Powered by Android Wear, the device features a large circular 46mm face with a titanium body. It is designed after the company’s Carrera line and in two years the innards can actually be swapped out for mechanical timekeeping parts (though you will have to pay $1,500 for the feat). While the device is more expensive than most of its competitors, it does not ship with either leather or metal straps and does not come with a heart rate sensor…but it does have the TAG Heuer name.
The TAG Heuer Connected is available for $1,500 from the company’s stores and website.
Do you use an iPhone? If the answer was “yes,” the Apple Watch should be at the top of your list of smartwatches to look at. Since it is also made by Apple, the Apple Watch is able to function with your iPhone in ways that no other wearable can. This means seamless integration with Apple’s messaging app, the ability to use Siri, universal applications, and even being able to use the watch as a viewfinder for your phone’s camera. Pebble, Samsung’s Tizen, and Google’s Android Wear cannot achieve these things when connected to an iPhone. The only issue with the Apple Watch is, much like an iPhone, if you don’t like the way it looks…tough luck. The Apple Watch is only available in one design, but there are so many combinations of colors and materials that it can make your head spin. The company has even partnered with fashion house Hermès on a model featuring the designer’s famous leather. Depending on the watch size and the material of both the strap and the body, you can expect to spend anywhere from $350 to $17,000 on Apple’s first wearable. Oh…and there is the haunting knowledge that a new version might only be 5 months away!
The Apple Watch is available from Apple, Best Buy, Target, and other select retailers. The aluminum Sports version starts at $350, the stainless version at $550, the Hermès Edition at $1,100, and the gold Edition at $10,000. For a limited time several retailers including Best Buy and Target are offering $100 off, either as a discount or as a gift card.
If you have been thinking about an Android Wear device, this year has been an embarrassment of riches. Manufactures have been cranking out more and more impressive devices that are finally beginning to feel somewhat refined. Perhaps the most anticipated Android Wear device to hit the US this year is the Huawei Watch. While Huawei is not a well known brand in the US yet, the company is huge in China and has its sights set on America. The 42mm Huawei Watch is a top of the line Android Wear device, featuring a crisp 1.4″ AMOLED screen, a speaker (a rarity on Android Wear), and a microphone. Overall, it is a reasonably sized, great looking, full featured smartwatch that perfectly illustrates how far the platform has matured this year.
The Huawei Watch is available at a number of retailers including the Google Play Store and Amazon. The leather version is $350, the stainless link or mesh versions sell for $400, and the black stainless link version retails for $450.
Fossil Q Founder
Having a watch made by a giant tech company might not be your first choice but the TAG Heuer Connected might be way too expensive. If that describes you, then the Fossil Q Founder might be the ideal device. Just released, the oversized (46mm) smartwatch was designed by Fossil with help from Google and Intel. The wearable runs Android Wear and is compatible with both Android and iOS devices (but expect restricted functionality on iOS). Style wise, the Q Founder is attractive, looking like something you would expect from Fossil, and even includes some classic Fossil watch faces. Unlike most other Android Wear devices though, the Q Founder does not include a heart rate sensor, but it is also less expensive than the competing Huawei Watch and Moto 360 2015 version.
Samsung Gear S2
Samsung surprised the tech community in August when it unveiled the sequel to the not-so-popular Gear S. Not only was the new Gear S2 halfway stylish, it also was the company’s first Tizen device usable with non-Samsung gadgets. Since 2013 Samsung has released almost more wearable devices than we can count. It seemed the company was trying to get out in front of its competitors by releasing every design their engineers could think of – throwing them against the wall (so to speak) with the hope one would stick. Well the smartwatch market ended up growing up around Samsung while the company struggled to find its place and, unsurprisingly, Samsung has now become “inspired” by some of the other devices on the market. But Samsung did come up with one clever and unique feature. The Gear S2 has a rotating bezel that behaves similarly to Apple’s Digital Crown. The bezel allows you to zoom in and out, control elements of the interface, and even switch apps. While the Digital Crown logically makes a lot of sense, we feel Samsung’s bezel is more natural to use. The Gear S2 also marked Samsung’s first attempt to make a smartwatch with a small form factor. The wearable is available in either a 42mm and 40mm (Classic) version. Frankly, we have a tough time finding anything to complain about with the Gear S2; it is decent looking, works with Android and, sometime in 2016, iOS and has a clever control scheme – there is even a 3G cellular version! Our only niggle is the lack of software; there are limited apps since it runs Tizen instead of Android Wear. Otherwise, the Samsung Gear S2 is a solid device.
The Samsung Gear S2 is available at a number of retailers including the Google Play Store and Amazon. The 42mm S2 lists for $300 but can be found for as little as $270 and is available in either white or black. The 40mm S2 Classic costs a bit more at $350, but can be found for $330. The 3G version is available from either Verizon or T-Mobile.
There is no getting around it, with fancy high resolution touch screens and flashy animations, smartwatches require a trip to the charger every day or two. If you feel like the last thing you need in your life is another device to keep charged, the Pebble Time might be worth a look. While the non-touch e-ink screen (and giant bezel) aren’t likely to win any awards, a battery life of up to 10 days could be worth the tradeoff. Earlier this year the company used Kickstarter to launch the Time family of devices, which has since grown to include the Time Steel and Time Round. The new smartwatches mark Pebble’s first use of a color screen and a new interface concept. Pebble Time makes use of a concept called Timeline to organize your calendar, notifications, and missed calls all in one place, all arranged by time. The wearable is also the first non-Apple device that allows iPhone users to send text messages from their wrist. The company has achieved this by working with the carriers (only AT&T for the moment) to send SMS messages directly from the Pebble iOS app, but this means texts you send will not appear in the Messages app. Pebble Time works with both Android and iOS devices and is available in either a square plastic or metal (Time Steel) design or in a round design (Pebble Round). Note: The Pebble Time Round only has a 2 day battery life.
The Pebble Time is available at a number of retailers for $199, but can be found for as little as $150 at Amazon. The Pebble Time Steel lists for $250 (Amazon has some colors for $205). And the Pebble Time Round also sells for $250.
Olio Model One
Olio Model One is a high end smartwatch that is trying to rethink what the device should be. Instead of relying on downloadable apps that end up cluttering up the user experience, Olio builds app functionality into their watch’s operating system. The company plans to implement support for everything from calling an Uber to controlling your Sonos. The watch has a handy assistant function that is designed after the “Yes,” “No,” “Maybe” memo system used by the President. For example, when you go into a meeting, the Olio Assistant will simply ask if you want for your calls to be held. Olio has been selling their Model One smartwatch in waves. The current wave (batch 3) is approximately 75% sold out and consists of 4 different finishes. It is compatible with both iOS and Android.
The device is priced from $595 to $1395 depending on you choice of band and casing. It is only available via Olio’s website.