What are wearables?
Wearables are accessories with integrated technology. They come in various forms including wristbands, necklaces, pendants and clothing. A classic example would be the Casio TV remote and calculator watches, but today’s wearables are far more sophisticated than those schoolyard favourites.
Wearables broadly fall into two distinct categories:
Health and fitness trackers
Fitness devices like the Fitbit, Jawbone and Nike Fuelband track information about your activities and pass them back to a smartphone, integrating with apps such as Runkeeper and MyFitnessPal. Some may be little more than Bluetooth connected pedometers while others include GPS location tracking and heart rate monitors.
High tech wristwatches such as the Apple Watch, Moto 360 and LG G Watch do a lot more than just tell the time. Many smartwatches dispense with traditional watch faces and internals in favour of a digital display, and they’re increasingly likely to have their own apps or even the ability to make phone calls. There’s a lot of crossover with fitness wearables as smartwatches often feature step tracking and heart rate monitors too.
How to choose a fitness wearable
The first thing to decide is what you want to achieve with your wearable. It could be that you simply want a smarter pedometer, like a Jawbone Up, Fitbug or Fitbit, which tracks steps and syncs to a smartphone or computer. Combine this with additional information such as water intake and food (which is entered manually) and they’re an inexpensive way to monitor health and work toward a goal.
For more advanced features such as heart rate monitor, GPS tracking and smartwatch functionality you’ll need to spend a bit more on devices such as the i-gotU by Mobile Action Technology or the Samsung Gear Fit. As well as providing additional data for serious workouts, these may be more suited to particular sports and activities such as long distance running and cycling where a step counter doesn’t work as well or does not provide enough detail.
Another thing to check is software and hardware compatibility to ensure a wearable will work in conjunction with your smartphone and favourite app. For example, the Samsung Gear Fit only works with selected Samsung smartphones and is largely designed around syncing with Samsung’s own S Health app.
Also important is build quality, durability and battery life. Any device designed for fitness tracking should be at least somewhat resilient to the elements but if you’re into any sports that involve immersion in water or dirty and dusty conditions then check that it will be able to withstand some punishment.
When comparing any fitness bands and other wearables you should keep in mind that some of the features they tout are not particularly useful or accurate. Calorie counting is a standard function but this is a very rough estimate which isn’t based on actual data (accurately counting calories requires expensive equipment) so you should not be relying on it too heavily to guide your eating habits. We’d also question the usefulness of sleep tracking, which is often promoted as a major feature. This is simply using the step tracker to monitor movement and does nothing beyond telling you when and how much you moved during the night - interesting perhaps but of no help if you have a genuine sleep problem.
How to choose a smartwatch
A smartwatch is essentially a secondary display for your phone, allowing you to view information and perform simple tasks without taking out your phone. At their most basic a smartwatch will display notifications such as incoming texts and emails, but they’re increasingly likely to offer more powerful functionality and run their own apps.
Consider the following when comparing smartwatches:
The size and type of display has a major impact on both battery life and functionality. Some models have a simple single line mono display nestled amongst the hands of a traditional watch face, which is very light on battery usage but provides limited smart features.
Instead most smartwatches now have larger screens which make it easy to read long texts and emails and make use of more complex apps. In most cases these are attractive colour displays which look very slick but reduce battery life to a few days at best. As a compromise the Pebble range uses a black and white screen which isn’t quite as desirable but provides both sufficient display space and a reasonable battery life.
- Battery life
The power demands of cutting edge smartwatches are high so depending on the model, settings and amount of usage you might need to charge daily. If that’s going to be an issue you’ll need to look for a model that emphasises battery life, however this will also mean missing out on some features like colour screens and heart rate monitors.
- Build quality and design
With fitness trackers you’re probably going to want something that’s durable and protected from the elements, but with a smartwatch fashion may be more of a concern. Early smartwatches were almost universally square to accommodate the display but there is now a much wider choice, including round faces and high tech curved screens that wrap around the wrist.
If you would prefer to use your own watch strap check that the smartwatch supports standard strap fittings as some are proprietary so replacements are only available from the manufacturer or cannot be changed at all.
What are you looking for from a smartwatch? If it’s just basic notification functionality then you could opt for one of the models that pair a classic watch face and mechanism with a basic display for the best battery life and simple aesthetics, but if you’re going to want to be able to do more without using the phone and fancy playing around with customised watch faces then a higher end model like the Apple Watch offers lots more horsepower, a variety of sensors and a wide array of apps.
Some smartwatches are capable of acting as phones all by themselves using a 3G or 4G SIM card to provide calling, texting and mobile broadband connectivity. When comparing these watch phones on Broadband Genie we’ll include the same information you’d expect to find on a mobile broadband or tablet listing, including data usage cap and monthly fee.
Smartwatches are very limited when not connected to a handset so it’s important to check that your desired smartwatch will be compatible with your smartphone. Some work on both Android and Apple iOS while others may be restricted to one of those platforms, and others may only be compatible with particular models of smartphone.
If you buy a smartwatch you probably don’t need to get a fitness tracker too. Most now include at least step tracking and fitness app integration, but it’s also increasingly common to find heart rate monitors and other advanced fitness features. Firms like Garmin have also made smartwatches geared specifically toward outdoor activities which offer an extensive suite of fitness-focused features and durable design.
For more detailed information on smartwatches read our guide on finding the best smartwatch.