Smartwatches have been slowly getting better at offering true value as both extensions of smartphones and activity trackers with fitness in mind.

It’s important to distinguish the difference between smartwatches and fitness trackers, since they both fall under the wearables category. Where fitness trackers are designed to be functional devices focused on daily activity, smartwatches are supposed to be more multifaceted, including wireless support and app integration.

Smartwatches can also be more distinct, as in the difference between a running watch and all-encompassing model for one’s wrist. Let’s look at some of the notable smartwatches from 2018.

Apple Watch

Apple released its fourth iteration of its popular smartwatch in the fall, aiming to add more value than before. The biggest buzz around it was probably the ECG feature, an electro cardiogram built into the device. This would enable the watch to capture heart rate data and identify anomalies. While now available in the United States, the feature has to meet regulatory approval from Health Canada before it rolls out in the Great White North.

That’s where the Apple Watch Series 4’s other features come in. A larger display, reworked crown and enhanced mobility features are meant to provide a comprehensive toolset. There’s even fall detection and SOS communication. The watch can recognize when you fall and offer the option to call for help directly without using your phone.

Cellular LTE connectivity is back again, should you choose that option. That enables you to use various functions without pulling your phone out. Calls, messages and music can work right from the watch itself. You could also go the non-LTE route and rely on your phone to handle the cellular duties, relaying to the watch via Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.

Apple has also pushed the fitness side of things. There’s automatic workout tracking, extra features for runners and gamified activity tracking to compete with friends. Just bear in mind that the Apple Watch Series 4 only works with iOS devices.

Fitbit Versa

The Fitbit Versa came on the heels of the Ionic, Fitbit’s first attempt at making a real smartwatch. It was also the first product after the company acquired Pebble, the once popular wearables startup.

The Versa isn’t quite as rugged or fully-featured as its sibling, but is no less capable. It has the same waterproofing, heart rate sensor, sleep tracking, music storage and app support. The Special Edition Versa also offers Fitbit Pay, though its functionality is still pretty limited in Canada. The one thing it’s missing (that the Ionic has) is built-in GPS. If you’re an avid runner and don’t want to carry your phone with you all the time, the Ionic is the better bet.

Internal storage leaves enough room to carry up to 300 songs on the go, all playable from the Versa to a pair of Bluetooth headphones. No phone required for that. Battery life is rated at about four days, which isn’t quite as long as the week the Ionic can last.

Changing the Versa’s bands also changes how fashionable the watch is. Put on a leather one for a subtle, yet sophisticated look, or a metal one for a classier look that would fit in any setting. Rubber bands for the gym or a good workout are always the right way to go when breaking a sweat. Put on a fabric one for every casual scenario.

App support is nice, but it’s not extensive. You can see incoming messages and calls, but won’t be able to act on them. There’s definitely room for growth there. The one upside is you get to customize your watch face and menu layout. Plus, the Versa fully works with both iOS and Android phones.

Samsung Galaxy Watch

The Galaxy Watch follows in the footsteps of Samsung’s Gear Sport, maintaining its focus on staying fit with a fashionable twist. It comes in three versions with two sizes. The 46mm and 42mm come in black or silver, with an additional 42mm model coming in rose gold.

As before, this watch uses standard lugs, so replacing the bands is really easy. You can even use bands from any watches you own, provided they’re the same size.

It’s a fairly deep smartwatch, equipped with a heart rate sensor, GPS, altimeter, waterproof body and up to 2.5GB of free internal storage. That waterproofing includes saltwater, by the way, and is good to depths of up to 50 metres.

It runs on Tizen, Samsung’s own operating system, offering an app store specifically for the Galaxy Watch. The OLED touchscreen is bright and vibrant, though you also have the rotating bezel and physical buttons to get around when using it.

As an activity tracker, the Galaxy Watch automatically recognizes up to six different workouts—with a total of 39 and counting available to use. The built-in heart rate sensor keeps track of how fast or slow your heart beats, while keeping tabs on various metrics, like calories and sleep, among others.

It’s possible to go up to four days before needing to recharge this smartwatch, though it depends on the size. The smaller 42mm model won’t get that far, no matter what. Either way, the Galaxy Watch works with Samsung phones, Android devices (running version 5.0 and up) and iPhone (from iPhone 5 and newer).

Garmin Vivomove HR Sport

This is a smartwatch that teeters a little more into hybrid smartwatch territory in that it doesn’t offer onboard apps. At first glance, the Vivomove HR Sport looks like a standard analogue watch, but there is a digital display nestled into the watch face. It’s monochrome and only fits two lines of text (at the very most), yet is also touch-sensitive and responsive.

Despite the limited screen real estate, notifications do come in. Text and WhatsApp messages will appear, albeit with very limited space. For quick responses of two or three words, it’s fine. Weather information and music playback controls will also pop up.

The Garmin Connect app largely governs the fitness and activity tracking features by collecting all the data. Sleep tracking is also thrown in, and for swimmers, the Vivomove HR Sport is waterproof to the same level of the Galaxy Watch. The heart rate monitor tracks beats per minute, either when active or stationary.

If you want to keep the screen off to avoid any distractions and maintain the classic timepiece look, you can do that, too.

More than the group above, there’s a wide range of smart watch solutions available today.

 

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Editor Cellular/Mobile Technology
I’m a fortunate man in being able to do the fun job of following and reporting on one of the most exciting industries in the world today. In my time covering consumer tech, I’ve written for a number of publications, including the Globe and Mail, Yahoo! Canada, CBC.ca, Canoe, Digital Trends, MobileSyrup, G4 Tech, PC World, Faze and AppStorm. I’ve also appeared on TV as a tech expert for Global, CTV and the Shopping Channel.

10 COMMENTS

  1. At the moment I am still happy with my normal watch. I find at the moment I don’t need what a smart watch can give me, but this is an article that I will definitely come back to if that changes. There are some good things to think about here.

  2. I have had two Garmin watches in the past but both have had the plastic wrist band which has broken with use. It would be great if you could replace them without replacing the watch also but I cannot find replacement bands. Can anyone assist? Maybe Garmin can build a more long lasting band?

    Scott

  3. Thanks for the amazing list Martin. In the emerging technical world, everyone is fond of getting a smart watch and I am also one among them. Your post helped me to choose best one out and now I am having my dream watch with me. Once again thanks for the great post.

  4. Hi Martin,
    Thanks for the great list. I personally love the Apple series and wish I could have a one for me soon. Also you could consider adding the Sony Series to this list.

  5. Tried to buy a watch at store in Richmond Hill today. Price in the case does not match the sale price on the web site and after waiting patiently for 4 different employees to finish with their existing customer only to see them walk away from me I gave up, left the other items I was going to purchase and left the store. It was not that busy – just complacent and/or lazy I guess. No wonder people are choosing to shop on line more and more.

    • Hi Jim

      Thanks for reaching out with this issue. I have forwarded your problem to our customer service department and they should be reaching out to you soon. I wish you the best for the holidays.

      Martin Renaud
      Blog Editor-in-chief

  6. I love that the S3 Frontier also lets you use any brand of straps to customize the watch to your style. Theoretically, you could have a strap for each day of the year!

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