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 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.
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.