A smartwatch can help you stay connected and multitask so you never miss a beat. Whether you’d rather keep your phone stashed away or you always find yourself missing important calls, smartwatches sync with your smartphone so you can manage your digital life conveniently and discreetly. Many even double as activity trackers, helping you monitor your health. Use this guide to help you choose the best smartwatch for your needs.
What can a smartwatch do?
Smartwatches do much more than just keep time. They act as a companion to your smartphone by delivering alerts, notifications, apps and more right to your wrist. They can even double as activity trackers. In order to have full functionality, nearly all smartwatches must connect via Bluetooth and be within wireless range of an Android or iOS smartphone or tablet. However, a few connected smartwatches actually have 3G/LTE capabilities and can operate without a connection to another device.
As smartphones have become essential to staying connected and organized, smartwatches are truly designed for the world we live in today. Have you ever missed a call or text because you didn’t hear your phone? Or been somewhere it wasn’t suitable to check your e-mail or social media? There are countless situations that call for hands-free, discreet access to your smartphone, and smartwatches provide that — subtly, conveniently and without the disruption that a phone can cause.
Smartwatch operating systems.
Smartwatches require pairing to a smartphone for notification functionality. It’s important to understand that not all smartwatches will work with all smartphones.
Most smartwatches are compatible with an Android or iOS device, or, in some instances, both. Some have their own operating systems and will only work with specific devices of the same brand. Others might be compatible with a select variety of operating systems. Since smartwatches are devised to accompany your smartphone, you’ll want to be sure it’s compatible with your phone’s existing operating system.
When choosing a smartwatch operating system, there are a few things to consider beyond basic compatibility. For the most part, Android Wear and Watch OS are more similar than not. Watch OS has a reputation for being quick, clean and consistent. Only apps that go through Apple’s strict approval process get released. Android Wear uses an open-source model, creating many customization options.
Tizen is a newer operating system used by Samsung and is similar to Android Wear. It too is an open-source platform for smartwatches, smartphones, tablets and more. Tizen has its own applications and allows for a user experience that you can take from device to device.
The Microsoft Band 2 uses the Windows 10 operating system to deliver notifications, e-mail preview and calendar notifications. The Band will work with iOS, Android and Windows phone. When paired with Windows phone 8.1, Microsoft Band 2 also supports Cortana personal digital assistant functionality.
Style and display.
It’s important to choose a smartwatch that you’ll feel comfortable wearing every day.
Do you like the way it looks on your wrist? Does the watch face display what you want? Here are a few considerations to think about:
- Watch bandsSmartwatches come in a variety of styles and designs, and some are compatible with standard 16mm, 20mm and 22mm watch bands that you can change out to personalize the look of your device. Some straps have a quick release, making it even easier to change up your style with additional watch bands. If you prefer a classic style that resembles a traditional watch, you may want a device that has a leather or stainless-steel band. Other watches feature flexible silicone bands, which are a good choice if you plan on using it for outdoor or fitness-related activities. Some smartwatch brands sell additional band options. Or, for even more options, multiple 3rd-party brands sell their own watch band collections compatible with multiple smartwatch models.
- Display features
- OLED and AMOLED
OLED (organic light emitting diode) and AMOLED (active-matrix organic light emitting diode) displays work without a backlight, individually illuminating each pixel, producing deep blacks and high contrast ratios. Usually, they are also thinner and consume less power than other types of smartwatch displays. OLED screens can display single,
multi- or full color, while AMOLED is always a full-color screen.
These displays use a backlight to produce images on the screen. LCD (liquid-crystal display) screens with reflective designs typically perform well in sunlight and other
These screens are known to save on battery life, often lasting longer between charges than color displays. Some black-and-white displays use E-Ink or E-Paper, which enables you to view your screen outdoors or in brightly lit environments without glare.
Some smartwatch displays are always on, while others are motion-activated to preserve battery life.
If you know you’ll be using your device for outdoor activities like running or biking, you may want to consider a smartwatch that’s water-resistant. You’ll want to check the specifications carefully for how much water your smartwatch can withstand.
- Chemically strengthened glass
Watches with fortified glass, such as Corning Gorilla Glass, are built to handle the wear and tear of daily life so you don’t have to worry about scratches, dust or other damage.
- Touch screen
These displays are gesture-based and allow you to operate your device with a tap or swipe, for easy, intuitive scrolling and navigating.
- Buttons and bezels
Interact with your device using buttons located on the watch face that allow you to do things like snap a photo, check in on social media and more. If you prefer a more traditional, simple approach to operating your device, this might be a good option. Some smartwatches are controlled with a rotating bezel around the display that allows you to navigate apps and systems menus. Some also have pushbuttons, as well as a bezel, for home and back commands.
Smartwatches are capable of displaying a variety of notifications like incoming calls, missed calls, text messages, e-mails, social media posts, appointment reminders,
alarms and much more.
Many watches are fully customizable, allowing you to choose what notifications you receive, what’s displayed on the home screen, background picture, widgets and more.
Do you want to receive a basic notification and view the rest of the content on your
phone, or do you want to receive the full message on your smartwatch? Some devices
will simply alert you of a notification with an icon, beep or vibration, while others can display the full message.
Similar to Bluetooth headsets, a few smartwatches allow you to make and receive phone calls directly through your device rather than just receiving an alert (provided it’s within wireless range of your smartphone).
Additional features will vary from device to device, so you’ll want to think about how you’ll be using your smartwatch in your daily life. Here are some features to consider:
- Activity trackers
- If you want a device that has health and fitness capabilities, look for a built-in pedometer (measures steps), accelerometer (measures intensity), heart rate monitor or other tracking technology. These features let you measure and track activity like steps taken, speed, calories burned and heart rate. Some smartwatches actually have their own, fully-integrated health experience that offer customized workouts or healthkits.
- Voice control
- Give voice commands, record memos, send and receive text messages, search the Web and much more, hands-free.
- Store music on your device’s internal memory for instant access to your media library.
Or, download an app that lets you access music stored on your smartphone.
- Link alarm
- Provides an audible or vibrating alert when you are out of wireless range.
- Some smartwatches also come with GPS, so you can track and map your run, or just find your way around town.
Do you often misplace your phone? Download a phone locator app, which sounds an alert on your missing phone if it’s within Bluetooth range. View real-time traffic cams to estimate your ETA. Or, customize your watch face by changing the colors, design, text and from analog to digital clocks for a smartwatch that’s uniquely yours.
Many popular smartphone apps are joining the smartwatch world, and the library of cool, new apps is growing rapidly. Many devices let you arrange widgets on your screen so the apps you use most are readily available. From social media feeds to fitness trackers and games, downloadable applications let you tailor your smartwatch to fit your needs.