Wearable tech is fast becoming the next big thing. We’ve seen fitness trackers gain popularity, smart jewellery take off, and even luxury brands start to sit up and take notice. However, it’s smartwatches which are one of the most popular choices amongst early adopters of wearable tech. The affordable Pebble works regardless of what phone you use, while big names such as Samsung, Motorola, Sony, and LG all have Android-based products on sale. Now, Apple is taking them all on with the Apple Watch.
Google’s Android Wear offers a wide range of features across a growing catalog of notable devices, some with desirable circular faces. The recently launched Apple Watch offers much of the same functionality — voice-controlled navigation, fitness-tracking capabilities, the ability to run little apps, and so on — along with Apple’s Force Touch technology and the cool Digital Crown, which attempts to alleviate the woes associated with navigating around a smaller display.
If you’re ready to strap one on, which one should you look closely at, and which should you avoid? We’ve compared the specs, features, and even design to help you decide which to buy.
Updated 4-27-15 by Brandon Widder: Added in new smartwatches, including the Apple Watch, along with new details on availability, features, and designs of the latest Android Wear models.
|Interface||Touchscreen, depends on manufacturer||Touchscreen, “Digital Crown” dial|
|Voice Control||Yes, via Google Now||Yes, via Siri|
|App friendly||Yes, via Google Play||Yes, via Apple App Store|
|Fitness and health monitoring||Yes, via Google Fit||Yes, via Apple Health|
|Heart rate sensor||Depends on manufacturer||Yes|
|Waterproof||Depends on manufacturer||Splash/water resistant to IPX7|
|Smartphone compatibly||Android 4.3+ and Android Lollipop||iPhone 5 and later|
When you’re dealing with a smartwatch, its design is just as important as functionality. A watch is not just a timepiece, but also a piece of jewelry for your wrist. Both Google and Apple have gone out of their way to ensure their flagship smartwatches bring out the best in design and aesthetics. For Google, devices such as the Motorola 360 and the classically stylish LG Watch Urbane flaunt a round face.
The Watch Urbane’s screen, which looks fantastic, measures 1.3-inches and has a 320 x 320 pixel resolution, but Android Wear is sometimes more awkward to use on a round screen than models with a rectangular display, like the Sony Smartwatch 3. Many Android Wear smartwatches provide ample opportunities for customization, from changing the watch face to buying an aftermarket strap.
To the surprise of many, the Apple Watch has a square screen, and while the choice of faces is limited for now, Apple has an extensive range of alternate wristbands to cater to fashionistas and fitness freaks alike. Each of the three watch models — the Apple Watch, the Apple Watch Sport, and the Apple Watch Edition — allow you to choose between a slew of different bands and case materials, while giving you the option of either a 38mm or 42mm case.
The Watch Sport, for instance, has an aluminum case and a soft, flexible sport band, while the Apple Watch is available in one of several stainless-steel cases with an accompanying band made of metal or leather. For the rich, the Apple Watch Edition even comes in luxurious 18-karat gold, and has a price tag to match. The design is the same across the range, and is characterized by the Digital Crown, a clever, functional digitized wheel that adds a touch of flair to the design. No matter what though, both Apple and Google’s smartwatches will leave people staring in envy at your wrists.
In terms of features, there’s a slew of parallels between Android Wear and the Apple Watch. First off, Wear boasts voice integration. Saying “OK Google” and then asking a question regarding flight times, game scores, and myriad other topics gets a detailed, curated response. The software even uses voice for sending texts, setting alarms, and other smartphone-compatible actions. Likewise, Apple’s first wearable touts many of the same capabilities via Siri, granting users the means to look up directions, launch apps, set alarms, send texts, and most other actions baked into newer iterations of Apple’s iOS experience.
Fitness also plays a pivotal role in both products. Android Wear touts features for setting exercise goals, reminders, and fitness summaries, along with the ability to provide real-time speed, distance, and pace information. All of these features are built into Google Fit, and designed around easy-to-use APIs for third-party developers. Much of the same fitness and health tracking plays an integral part of the Apple Watch, too, especially given the device’s robust integration with Apple’s wellness app, called simply Apple Health. Whereas the Activity app conveniently monitors your daily fitness in regards to standing and moving, the Workout app tracks your progress and milestones in regards to distance, calories, heart rate, pace, and other notable facets common to Android Wear.
Android Wear allows users to access and control devices directly from their wrist with specific voice commands, such as a music playlist on their phone or to cast their favorite show onto a compatible TV set. Additionally, Android Wear’s heavy integration with Google Now will showcase all manner of information in what Google refers to as the “context stream,” which is essentially a vertical list of cards you can swipe to display information regarding text messages, weather, flight times, and more. Once you take action on any of Android Wear’s features a corresponding action takes place on your smartphone. Google’s seamless integration of the two devices aims to make every users life much easier. Any notifications you swipe away on your watch also swipe away on your smartphone so you’ll never see the same notification twice.
The Apple Watch features a similar level of integration when it comes to notifications, though. Notifications — whether text messages, email alerts, or missed calls —appear on the Watch when you’re wearing it and it’s unlocked. You won’t receive alerts on the Watch when you’re actively using your phone, and once you view the notification on either the Watch or your iPhone, they will fade into the background on the opposite device. The Apple Watch also renders notifications more discrete than most Android Wear watches, though, given you can set it to subtlety vibrate instead of light up with every new notification.
Both Android Wear and the Apple Watch also take note of your exact location to give you issue relevant notifications and contextual reminders. Any applications you have downloaded on your smartphone automatically installs on your Android Wear watch once the two sync together. Applications also update simultaneously on your smartphone and smartwatch to ensure you’re always using the most up to date version of the app. The same goes for the Apple Watch, meaning new apps will automatically install on your Apple Watch when you download a compatible app on your iPhone after the initial setup process. Furthermore, the Apple Watch features a cool messaging system that’s more personal than any found in Android Wear. Using iMessage, you can send a sketch, tap, or even your heart rate with those you connect with most. It sounds a bit creepy, but sent to the right person, it’s surprisingly personal.
Price and availability
There is a healthy choice of Android Wear smartwatches already on sale, and deciding which one is for you will probably come down to which you find the most attractive. Prices vary, but are mostly between $200 and $300. We’ve enjoyed using the Moto 360, the G Watch R, and its more stylish cousin, the Watch Urbane. Sony’s Smartwatch 3, especially with the metal strap option, is also recommended.
We’ve outlined each Android Wear-compatible smartwatch below, with their accompanying review score and price tag, if available.
|LG G Watch R||$300||4 out of 5 stars|
|Motorola Moto 360||$250||3.5 out of 5 stars|
|Asus ZenWatch||$200||3 out of 5 stars|
|Samsung Gear Live||$200||2.5 out of 5 stars|
|Sony SmartWatch 3||$250||3.5 out of 5 stars|
|LG G Watch||$230||2.5 out of 5 stars|
|Huawei Watch||TBA||Hands on|
|LG Watch Urbane||$350||Hands on|
The Apple Watch went on sale on April 24, after selling out of its initial stock within hours during pre-orders. The Watch is currently only available for purchase online — aside from a several boutique fashion stores around the world — but potential buyers can test drive the watch in Apple retail stores. The prices between the various Apple Watch variants range between $350 and an upwards of $10,000. The 38-millimeter version of the Watch Sport, for instance, retails for $350 while the 42-millimeter version runs $400. Prices for the high-end Watch Edition and the stainless steel bodied Watch vary depending on your desired size, strap, and casing.
Related: Our guide to buying an Apple Watch
Deciding which smartwatch you want depends just as much on what smartphone you own. Both Android Wear and Apple Watch offer tons of functionality and plenty of choices, though if you have to buy a new smartphone along with your new smartwatch, then the decision might be a harder one. For now, Android Wear works with Android phones, and the Apple Watch is only compatible with Apple iPhone devices.
We consider the Apple Watch to be the best smartwatch we’ve tested to date, but it comes at a high price point and remains limited to Apple’s ecosystem. Both Google and Apple have worked hard to bring the best they have to your wrists, though, and Google’s offerings remain more than enticing for Android and iOS users alike. Try them all out before making your final decision, and remember to pay attention to comfort. After all, you’re potentially going to be wearing it all day, every day.
This article was originally published March 10, 2014.