It’s that time of year when the holidays are upon us and everyone is so busy it's hard to find that perfect gift. At the very least, if you intend to purchase something, you should make the buy a proper and incredible one; the same goes for your favorite wearable tech such as smartwatches, activity trackers, and smart fitness bands.
We decided to give you a little information that may prove useful to you as you look around online and in retail stores this holiday season. Buying a smartwatch, activity tracker, or fitness band can be a real pain if you’re a first-time buyer who seems to hear that every wrist wearable is “the same” or “the same thing with different designs and brand names.”
Let’s cut through the red tape and get a wearable on your wrist, shall we? First, we should ask the basic question, “what is a smartwatch?”
What is a Smartwatch, and is it useful?
A smartwatch is a wrist wearable that looks similar in design to current luxury and more consumer-friendly brands on the market. Current smartwatches that lack smart capabilities have round and square forms, and the same goes for their smarter counterparts. In other words, smartwatches tell the time but are smarter than your old watches: old watches solely tell time, but smartwatches tell time, provide notifications from your phone on your wrist, let you reply to texts, make phone calls, check your heart rate, exercise levels and data, and even pay for items via mobile payment systems such as Apple Pay, Samsung Pay (Gear S2 only, for now), and Android Pay (for both Samsung’s Gear S2 and all Android Wear smartwatches).
Keep in mind, too, that smartwatches have computers within them (ever heard of the “computer on the wrist” or “wrist computer” claim? It’s true), and this means that, unlike luxury watches such as a Rolex or Tag Heuer (not the Connected Carrera model, mind you) that have batteries that may last for years, you may only get 2 years or so of connectivity out of your smartwatch. This is important for people who don’t mind an expensive purchase that will last for 5 years, for example.
Smartwatch vs Fitness Bands and Activity Trackers
Smart fitness bands and activity trackers fall within the same broad “smartwatch category,” though they are, particularly speaking, somewhat similar yet distinct from smartwatches as we know them. Smart fitness bands look like normal fitness bands but now track calories, exercise routines and goals, miles walked, and so on. Smart fitness bands differ in price, just as specific smartwatches do, so just remember that, the smarter the band, the bigger the price. The Microsoft SmartBand costs $200 while you could pick up a JawBone fitness band on Amazon for a great price!
Activity trackers are designed to track your activities only (hence the name), but these utilize GPS so that you don’t need an app to track your information or location. Smartwatches do the same, but depending on your needs and preferences, you may want to get an activity tracker and save some money from that smartwatch that will cost twice the price.
Now that we’ve given a small introduction into the major categories of wrist wearables you’ll shop for this holiday, let’s get into what to look for in a wrist wearable of your choice. Just to note, the category below will pertain to smartwatch buyers, but fitness band and activity tracker buyers will also benefit.
What To Look For In A Smartwatch
Operating System and Cross-Platform Compatibility
Since smartwatches are wrist computers, and computers have operating systems, so do smartwatches. This means that you’ll need a smartwatch that is compatible with your smartphone. Do you own an Android, iOS, or Windows Phone device? Depending on the operating system you use on your phone, you may find it best to purchase a smartwatch running the same operating system. For example, if you own an iPhone 6 or iPhone 6s and want to purchase a smartwatch for the first time, it may be helpful to purchase an Apple Watch. For some, though, Apple’s Bubble UI and 18-hour (less than stellar) battery life may prove to be a turnoff – so at that point, you’ll want to shop around for other options, such as the Pebble Time which has amazing battery and a simple design.
You may own an Android smartwatch from a few Android manufacturers such as HTC, LG, Sony, Motorola, Samsung, Google (Nexus), and you may like a smartwatch designed by a different manufacturer than that of your phone. If you live within Android, you have the option of pairing an Asus ZenWatch 2 or second-edition LG Watch Urbane with your Motorola Droid Turbo (first-gen.) or HTC One M9, for example. All Android OEMs have Android Wear watches, and Android Wear and your phone’s Android OS are designed to pair nicely together. Android consumers have a buffet of choices, while, prior to late, iPhone users were out of luck.
The $100 discount off the Apple Watch from the [Black Friday Deals] is back, with Best Buy, Target and B&H with great discounts on Apple's wearable. Best Buy and B&H have the best deals, with $100 off to bring the price to $249 for the 38mm Sport version or $299 for the 42mm Sport. The pricier Steel models are also $100 off.
Target's offer bundles a $100 gift card with the purchase, but you still have to pay $349 or $399 upfront for the Sport version, and then buy something else at Target. Most of these deals last through Christmas.
Pebble / Time Round
The Pebble is certainly not a new kid in the block, as they were the first ones to invent and bring a smartwatch to market. The new Pebble Time Round watch is razor thin and is available in Silver, Black, or Rose Gold. The reason it’s so thin is because this watch is different type of smartwatch altogether. Everything from the screen, the battery, and the way it operates is totally different than the Apple Watch, or any other Android smartwatch.
The Pebble is different because it feature an e-color display with LED backlight, splash resistance, Marine Grade stainless steel, 2.5D Gorilla Glass display (this means that it simply has a round display made out of the toughest glass display on the market), with the choice of 14mm or 20mm leather bands for the one that fits and satisfies you. The Pebble Time Round, as is the case with the Pebble Time Classic, Pebble Steel, and the original Pebble Classic, all work with both iPhone and Android devices running 4.3 Jelly Bean and higher and iOS 8 and higher.
Android Wear Watches Are Now Compatible with iPhone
Google has unleashed Android Wear for iOS, so iPhone users can now purchase Android Wear smartwatches if they don’t like the look of Apple’s first-gen Apple Watch. Of course, Pebble, Martian, and other smartwatch makers have nearly always been cross-platform compatible (their smartwatches work no matter the operating system), so these smartwatch makers will all provide notifications and other capabilities regardless of the smartphone you’re holding. If you’re the type of person that owns a few devices on different operating systems (Android smartphone, iPad tablet, Samsung Smart TV running Tizen, for example), you may want to pick up Samsung’s Gear S2 this year: it has Android, iOS, and Tizen compatibility – the trifecta for most consumers who own mobile devices.
Windows Phone and Mobile users factor into the equation as well, seeing that Windows Phone is the third major mobile platform, but there are few compatible devices for Windows Phone. Microsoft offers its SmartBand fitness band for $200, which is compatible with all three operating systems (Android, iOS, Windows Phone), and smartwatch company Vector has its Vector smartwatch out and about for Windows Phone and Mobile devices for $240 versus the original $299 price tag.
Android and iOS are the major platforms, so most smartwatch makers (take your pick) will have devices that work across these platforms. Windows Phone is a small platform and doesn’t have much platform support when it comes to wrist wearables, so you may have to rethink your access to wrist wearables or restrict your options to fitness bands and activity trackers if you are a veteran Windows Phone user who doesn’t plan to jump platforms anytime soon.
Battery Life and Charging
Battery life is important to consumers (as it should be), but smartwatch manufacturers don’t offer the same battery life depending on brand. The Apple Watch will offer 18 hours of battery life and 5 hours of on-screen time (or SOT), but Android Wear watches like the Moto 360, G Watch R, Watch Urbane, and Sony Smartwatch 3 will last at least twice as long (36 hours) or as high as two days (Sony Smartwatch 3, according to some). If you’ve never considered Android Wear for iOS as an iPhone user, these battery stats may convince you to give it a try. On the other hand, Samsung’s Gear S2 provides up to 4 days of battery life on a single charge. The Pebble watches also have fantastic battery life with up to 7 days!
As for charging, the same rule applies: not all smartwatch makers create their smartwatches equal. Some Android wear smartwatches like the Moto 360 feature wireless charging, which frees you from the pain of dealing with watches such as Samsung’s Gear Live that require the use of a “snap”-in-place cradle that won’t work after so many “snaps” into place. Samsung’s Gear S2 also features wireless charging, which means that your device can charge on a charging pad but it won’t connect to wires (though the charging pad will). Wireless charging isn’t truly wireless yet, so some technophiles will refer to it as “remote charging,” which seems to be more appropriate in the current context. You may not want to deal with a cradle that no longer attaches to the back of the watch due to “wear and tear,” so buying a smartwatch that only uses wireless charging will help you avoid the frustration later.
Square versus Round Shape
Do you prefer a square or round smartwatch? You may be neutral on this question, but you won’t believe how many consumers aren’t. To see this, you need look no further than Pebble’s own Pebble Time Round (as opposed to the Pebble Time Classic).
Square smartwatches are better at providing more information on the same screen with a smaller need for scrolling and swiping, while round smartwatches have reduced content on their displays. Round smartwatches seem more formal and luxury-like, so it’s not a surprise that many Android Wear manufacturers (Motorola having led the way with its Moto 360) are turning to the round shape for financial salvation. LG has followed suit with the G Watch R, Watch Urbane, and Watch Urbane LTE models, as has Huawei with its $400 Huawei Watch and Fossil with its new Q Founder.
Android Wear still has some “square” manufacturers though, such as Samsung (Gear Live), Asus (ZenWatch 2), and Sony (Smartwatch 3), and cross-platform Pebble still has the Pebble Classic, Pebble Time Steel, and Pebble Time Classic models. Smartwatch shape is important for some individuals, but you shouldn’t let it be the top priority regarding your smartwatch. Other things may matter far more.
Internet Connectivity: 3G, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS?
Android Wear has now been given Wi-Fi connectivity to go with the usual Bluetooth pairing capability. Wi-Fi now prevents you from having to rely on Bluetooth connectivity alone, but keep in mind that Wi-Fi isn’t in operation everywhere; you’ll still need Bluetooth when you get in an area where Wi-Fi is absent. The Apple Watch also features Wi-Fi. For example, if a compatible Wi-Fi is available and your iPhone isn't in Bluetooth range, your Apple Watch uses Wi-Fi.
Bluetooth-only smartwatches are in abundance, with Bluetooth being the basic internet connectivity for watches. 3G data smartwatches are in the minority, and Samsung’s Gear S2 and Gear S (from 2014) seem to be the top smartwatches in this category at this time. If you’re an AT&T customer who just heard about the launch of AT&T’s new NumberSync service and want to use your current phone number to make calls on your smartwatch, the Gear S2’s $99.99 offer with a two-year agreement ($10 monthly for 24 months) looks like a great plan to take advantage of. NumberSync will allow you to take your current phone number and attach your Gear S2 to it so that friends and family can access you on either device, no matter which one you’re using at the time (even both simultaneously).
The Gear S2 will offer you 3G/4G data, Wi-Fi, GPS, and Bluetooth connectivity, while Android Wear offers just Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. The Pebble smartwatches do not have Wi-Fi and only really on Bluetooth. The Sony Smartwatch 3 offers standalone GPS which will allow you to track fitness info without apps, but it stands alone on the Android Wear platform with in-built GPS. Verizon had a $99.99 deal on the Smartwatch 3 that we’re hoping will return, and in-built GPS, coupled with good battery life and a rubber wristband that’s made for the elements, makes this watch a buy when Verizon’s new Sony Smartwatch 3 stock returns.
Best Deals on Smartwatch and Fitness Trackers
We’ve kept the suspense going long enough, haven’t we? It’s time to point out the deals because, regardless of your preferences from the list above, the price deals have a better track record at making the most convincing case for which wearables will go home with you this holiday season.
1) Pebble Classic on sale for $69.99, $30 off the original price of $99.99
2) Pebble Time Round now $50 off, down from $249.99 to $199.99
3) Gear S2 is now $249.99, $50 off the original price:
4) Gear S2 Classic now on sale for $299.99, down from $349.99:
5) Huawei Watch - $299 at Amazon save $50
6) Save $70 off on the Pebble Time (square smartwatch), discounted from $199.99 to $129.99:
7) Gear 2 Neo, discounted from $199.99 to $129.99:
8) Garmin VivoActive Smartwatch now on sale for $169.99, down from $249.99 ($80 discount):
9) Samsung Gear Fit fitness band discounted $70, from $149.99 to $79.99:
10) Sony Smartwatch 2, down from $199.99 to $89.99 (50% off):
11) LG G Watch, discounted from $229.99 to $99.99 ($130 savings):
12) Martian Watches Notifier smartwatch discounted 67%, from $117.83 to $38.49:
13) The White Martian Notifier smartwatch is mow $49.99, down 61% from $129.99:
14) LG G Watch, White, discounted from $229.99 to $89.99 (61% price drop):
Note: the White G Watch won't be back in stock until December 19th.
15) Samsung Gear Live discounted from $199.99 to $104.99 (48%):
16) Moto 360 discounted from $299.99 to $99.99 via the Google Store with free overnight shipping through December 22nd (currently out of stock)