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LAB TESTS

Smart watch review

We tested the Moto 360, Samsung Gear Live, LG G Watch, and three other new models to help you make a smart choice

Last updated: November 2014

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Samsung Gear Live smart watch

Smart watches are still a relatively new electronics category, but these devices are poised to hit the mainstream. This year we saw major players such as LG and Motorola throw their smart watches in the ring, along with Samsung, Sony, and a host of smaller companies like Pebble and Martian. And Apple finally confirmed its entry, the innovative Apple Watch, expected to arrive early in 2015.

We've just completed lab tests on six of the newest smart watches to hit the market. Three run on the very promising Android Wear operating system, which Google created specifically for wearable devices—the LG G WatchSamsung Gear Live, and Motorola Moto 360. We also tested several basic models: the Martian Notifier, Cookoo 2, and MetaWatch M1. And we included reviews of nine smart watches that we tested previously; all are still available, and we updated their prices. Find out what we liked and didn't like about the six newly tested models.

What is a smart watch?

What sets a smart watch apart from a conventional digital watch, or, for that matter, a wearable activity tracker? The lines are blurring, at least between the last two.

Basically, smart watches are wearable-technology devices that maintain a relatively persistent wireless connection to your mobile device—usually a smart phone—and can receive notifications of incoming calls, texts, instant messages, social-network updates, and more, from that device. Some can also let you accept and conduct phone calls right on the watch. And even newer models (the Samsung Gear S, for one) can act as smart phones all on their own, without needing a paired phone nearby.

Smart watches, like smart phones, can also run apps, via your smart phone or right on the watch. These include health and fitness apps (thus the comparison with activity trackers), apps that control functions such as music and the camera on your phone, navigation apps, and more. Because most smart watches have open software platforms (at least so far), developers are coming up with new and innovative apps that can increase the functionality of the devices.

Ask yourself these 5 questions before you buy a smart watch. And check our reviews of these previously tested—and still available—smart watches: Martian PassportPebble Steel and Pebble WatchSamsung Gear 2 andGear FitSony SmartWatch 2, and MetaWatch Frame and Strata.

Manufacturer claims

All of the tested smart watches pairs via Bluetooth with iOS and/or Android mobile devices to receive notifications of incoming calls and messages and other information from the mobile device. Each model is Android-compatible, and the Martian, Cookoo, and MetaWatch models also have iOS compatibility.

All but the Martian Notifier claim some degree of water resistance: the LG, Samsung, and Motorola models can survive underwater up to 1 meter for 30 minutes, the Cookoo2 up to 100 meters, and the MetaWatch up to 3ATM, which is equivalent to 30 meters. Only the Martian and Motorola models claim to have scratch-resistant screens (the Martian has an anti-scratch acrylic crystal and the Moto 3 uses Gorilla Glass 3).

None of the newly tested models’ time displays time out when the watches are inactive, which we’ve seen happen on previously tested smart watches. The time displays of the LG, Samsung, and Motorola models have a setting to keep them always on, though they dim after a little while. The Martian Notifier and Cookoo2 have traditional analog watch faces.

How we tested

Our testers subjectively evaluated each model for ease of pairing, ease of interaction, and readability of the display in bright sunlight. All were judged to have about the same ease of pairing; each also requires an app to be downloaded to the mobile device.

The LG G Watch, Samsung Gear Live, and Motorola Moto 360—the Android Wear models—have intuitive color touchscreen interfaces and were judged easiest to interact with. The Martian Notifier, Cookoo 2, and MetaWatch M1, which have push-button navigation, were determined to be the most difficult to use. In particular, the Cookoo 2's buttons were very hard to press.

As for screen readability, the Notifier and Cookoo 2 were judged best for reading the time in bright sunlight, but worst for reading text. The other watches were judged to have about the same readability of both time and text in bright sunlight.

We evaluated the watches’ claimed water resistance, with one exception, the Cookoo 2: It claimed water resistance to 100 meters or 300 feet, but we can test only to 220 feet. Each of the other models met its water-resistance claims, and the Cookoo 2 met its water-resistance claim to the maximum depth to which we could test.

And finally, we tested “scratch hardness”—the resistance of the watch’s screen to scratching. All were rated as very good or excellent, except the Martian Notifier, which claimed an “anti-scratch acrylic crystal” yet was rated as poor.

We did not test battery life, as smart watches vary widely in how they’re used and how much power each needs throughout a typical day.

—Carol Mangis

Latest watches

Check the watch comparison to see what we liked and didn't like avout each model. And read about Android Wear, Google's OS for wearable tech devices.

 

Cookoo 2 Connected Watch, $150

Claimed battery life: 3 years
Claimed water resistance: 100 meters
Weight: 2.6 ounces
Works with: Devices running Android 4.3 and later; Apple iPhone 5s,5c and 5, iPhone 4s, iPad (4th and 3rd generation), iPad mini

If you like traditional analog watches and want just a few smart features, the Cookoo 2 might be more appealing than its more full-featured rectangular competitors. Behind its hands is a monochrome display that delivers basic notifications: incoming calls (with Caller ID), missed calls, texts, e-mail, social media alerts (for WhatsApp, Line, QQ, WeChat, Skype, Facebook, Twitter), and calendar alerts. Just bear in mind that it's a very basic smart watch, with little configurability.

The Cookoo 2 is available in six colors, including, black, white, blue, and purple.


LG G Watch W100, $230

Claimed battery life: Not stated
Claimed water resistance: 1 meter no longer than 30 minutes
Weight: 2.2 ounces
Works with: Smart devices using Android 4.3 and higher

The LG G Watch was the first one we tried that uses Google’s Android Wear OS (the Moto 360 and Samsung Gear Live do as well). It includes Google Now, the company's Siri-like "intelligent personal assistant." Say “OK Google,” and you can do Google searches, compose texts, and make requests of your watch (“Show me my steps” or “Set an alarm”). Google Now also offers up a stream of "cards" on the watch's face, with information it determines is relevant to you. If, for example, the card tells you how many minutes it would take you to get home from your current location, you can click on the card and get specific traffic and navigation information.

The G Watch comes with a black or white rubber strap, but you can swap it out for any standard 22mm watch strap.

Martian Notifier, $130

Claimed battery life: Up to 6 days
Claimed water resistance: None stated
Weight: 1.8 ounces
Works with: Android smart phones using version 2.3.3 or later, Android tablets using version 2.3.3 or later; iPhone 6, 6+, 5S, 5C, 5, 4S, iPod touch (5th generation) iPad Air, iPad mini, iPad (3rd generation)

The Martian Notifier combines a traditional analog watch with a small, narrow OLED screen at the bottom of the watch’s face, on which alerts appear—just tap the screen to dismiss them. You can also customize vibrations for different kinds of alerts. The Notifier is compatible with a wide range of apps; check Martian's website for a list.

The Notifier comes in black, white, or red, and you can swap out the silicone strap; Martian offers eight other colors ($20 each).

MetaWatch M1, $349

Claimed battery life: 5 to 7 days of battery life
Claimed water resistance: 3 ATM
Weight: 5.8 ounces
Works with: Android 4.3 and higher, iOS 7.0 and higher

The MetaWatch M1, like the Cookoo 2 and Martian Notifier, is a basic smart watch. It shows alerts for texts, e-mails, social media updates, calendar appointments, weather, and Caller ID, and can control your phone's music app. The notifications are configurable in terms of what you are alerted to and how: whether via a vibration or on the watch’s display. Also built in are a timer, a stopwatch, and an alarm

We tested the Stainless Silver model, but the stylish-looking M1 comes in a variety of materials, including rubber, leather, and stainless steel. Other models are priced lower and higher, ranging from $250 to $450. At 5.8 ounces, the steel model is also heavier than rubber or leather models.

Motorola Moto 360, $250

Claimed battery life: All day, mixed use
Claimed water resistance: 1 meter no longer than 30 minutes
Weight: 1.8 ounces
Works with: Smart devices using Android 4.3 and higher

The Moto 360 was the first round smart watch we got our hands (or wrists) on, and the design was a standout, for us. It looks like a traditional watch and fits more comfortably than rectangular smart watches, but still packs the full functionality of an advanced smart watch. Like the LG G Watch[anchor link] and Samsung Gear Live, it runs the Android Wear OS, allowing voice commands and pushing relevant information to the wearer.

This smart watch comes with a plastic case and metal or leather straps. We tested the black body with black leather straps; prices for other styles range from $250 to $350.

Samsung Gear Live, $200

Claimed battery life: None stated
Claimed water resistance: 1 meter no longer than 30 minutes
Weight: 2 ounces
Works with: Smart devices using Android 4.3 and higher

The Samsung Gear Live is the first of the company’s smart watches to be compatible with any Android phone running Android 4.3 or higher; other Gear models can be paired only with specific Samsung phones. Like the LG G Watch and Moto 360, it runs the Android Wear OS, allowing voice commands and pushing relevant information to the wearer. Compared with the LG G Watch, we prefer the style and fit of the Gear Live. The watch body is slightly curved, which made it more comfortable. The Gear Live also has a heart-rate monitor, which the G Watch lacks.

The Gear Live comes with either a black or wine non-swappable plastic strap.

Model

What we liked

What we didn’t like

Cookoo 2 Connected Watch ($150)

• Works with both Android and iOS devices

• Has an analog watch face for those who prefer a traditional look, and which makes it easy to view the time in bright sunlight

• Claims 3 years of battery life

• Has a high water resistance of 100 meters or 300 ft (tested and shown to perform up to 220 feet)

• Has a tiny, monochrome, button-based (non-touchscreen) interface that (along with the Martian Notifier and MetaWatch M1 interfaces) was judged the least easy to interact with

• Buttons were very hard to press

 

LG G Watch W100 ($230)

 

• Has an intuitive color touchscreen interface that (along with the Moto 360 and Gear Live interfaces) was judged the easiest to interact with

• Features include an accelerometer; a built-in microphone, which allows for voice control of the mobile device from the watch; a gyroscope, which allows for things like orientation sensing

• Screen tested as excellent for scratch resistance

• No iOS compatibility; works only with devices running Android 4.3 (Jellybean) or higher

• No information in the included literature or online on how long its battery lasts

 

Martian Notifier ($130)

 

• Works with both Android and iOS mobile devices

• Has an analog watch face for those who prefer a traditional look, and which makes it easy to view the time in bright sunlight

• Features customizable vibration-notification patterns

• Includes an accelerometer, which allows for applications such as those that count steps

• The only smart watch in this batch to notify with a vibration (not just an icon on the display) when you’re out of range of the paired mobile device

• 6 days of claimed battery life

• Has a tiny, monochrome, button-based (non-touchscreen) interface that (along with the Cookoo2 and MetaWatch M1 interfaces) was judged the least easy to interact with

• Readability in bright sunlight of the OLED portion of the watch’s display was judged to be the worst

• Claims to have an anti-scratch acrylic crystal but had poor scratch resistance in our tests

 

MetaWatch M1 )$349)

 

• Works with both Android and iOS devices

• Screen was excellent for scratch resistance in our tests

• 5 to 7 days of battery life (claimed)

• Has a less intuitive, button-based (non-touchscreen), monochrome interface that (along with the Martian Notifier and CooKoo2 interfaces) was judged the least easy to interact with

 

Motorola Moto 360 ($250)

 

• Has an intuitive color touchscreen interface that (along with the LG G Watch and Gear Live interfaces) was judged the easiest to interact with

• Features a built-in microphone and voice control of the mobile device from the watch, a pedometer and a heart sensor

• No iOS compatibility; works only with devices running Android 4.3 (Jellybean) or higher

 

Samsung Gear Live ($200)

 

• Has an intuitive, color touchscreen interface that (along with the Moto 360 and LG G Watch interfaces) was judged the easiest to interact with

• Features a built-in microphone and voice control of the mobile device from the watch, a gyroscope, an accelerometer, and a heart sensor that  uses optical sensors to read your pulse

• No information in the included literature or online on how long its battery lasts

• No iOS compatibility; works only with devices running Android 4.3 (Jellybean) or higher

 

Previously reviewed models

Martian Passport

Price: $300
Claimed battery life: More than 2 hours of talk, 7 days of standby
Weight: 2.4 ounces
Claimed water resistance: None claimed
Works with: Any phone with Bluetooth and an HPF (hands-free profile); additional features with Android and iOS devices

The Martian Passport wants to give you the best of both watch worlds, by offering a mechanical, analog watch face and a small LCD. If you prefer a traditional-looking watch and want the “smart” component to be unobtrusive, this model may work for you. It comes in three varieties, all with silver bezels: a white face with a black or white band or a black face with a black band.

The Passport is versatile in that it works with Android and iOS mobile devices. And it features the ability to make phone calls with its built-in microphone and speaker. You can use voice commands (the Passport leverages your phone's voice recognition system; such as Apple's Siri for iOS devices or Google Now for Android) to control the mobile device from the watch. And because of the analog watch face, you can easily see the time in bright sunlight.

Features that aren't so versatile: The Passport’s monochrome OLED display is very small, and it's not a touch screen. You use buttons to navigate, so it's not as intuitive to use as the watches with touch-screen displays. And in bright sunlight, we judged the OLED display to have the worst readability in this tested batch.

Pebble Steel

Price: $200
Claimed battery life: 5 to 7 days
Weight: 1.9 ounces
Claimed water resistance: 5ATM
Works with: Devices running Android 2.3.3 and up; iOS 4 and up; iPhone 4, 4s and 5; and iPod Touch, 3rd and 4th generation

The Pebble Steel is a stylish new version of the Pebble Watch, which we reviewed previously. But as its name states, the Steel is made of stainless steel and comes in either a steel or black finish. It ships from GetPebble.com with either a a leather or metal watchband (an extra band is $20).

On the inside, though, it’s the same as the original Pebble—except for the Steel’s water resistance. The device passed our water-resistance tests.

Our testers judged the Steel’s display readability in bright sunlight to be the best in this batch. But like the original Pebble, it’s a basic device, with a small monochrome non-touch-screen interface that you navigate using buttons. This may be enough functionality for many people—it's a personal choice.

Samsung Gear 2

Price: $300
Claimed battery life: Up to 6 days, typically 2 to 3 days
Weight: 2.4 ounces
Claimed water resistance: 1 meter, no longer than 30 minutes
Works with: Most Samsung devices running Android 4.3 or higher

Samsung’s three second-generation smart watches arrived with real improvements and refinements. At $300, the Gear 2 is the most sophisticated—and expensive—of the trio. The Gear 2 Neo is basically a less expensive version of the Gear 2: It has similar functionality, but it's housed in a plastic body instead of metal and has no built-in camera. And the slimmer Gear Fit is a hybrid smart watch and activity tracker.

Like the other Gears, the Gear 2 works only with some Samsung devices. The company has been increasing the number of compatible devices, but check before you buy. Also, these three Gear watches run on the Tizen OS, not on Android. Apps come from the Samsung app market.

The Gear 2 has a metal body and comes a variety of color combos, including all black, a rose-gold-color body with a brown strap, or an orange body and strap, You can change out the strap with any aftermarket strap.

Like the other two new Gear watches, the Gear 2 has an intuitive and vivid color touch-screen interface. It also has an abundance of features: You can make phone calls with its built-in microphone and speaker, and use voice commands to the watch to control your paired mobile device.

The Gear 2 also includes a gyroscope, an accelerometer, and a heart-rate sensor. It also can control a TV or set-top box remotely using a built-in IR blaster, and it has the ability to function as a stand-alone music player. And its built-in camera—handily built into the watch itself rather than on the band, like the original Galaxy Gear—takes 2-megapixel stills and 720p video.

It passed our water resistance tests.

Samsung Gear Fit

Price: $150
Claimed battery life: Up to 6 days, typically 2 to 3 days
Weight: 0.9 ounces
Claimed water resistance: 1 meter, no longer than 30 minutes
Works with: Most Samsung devices running Android 4.3 or higher

Of the three second-generation Samsung smart watches, the Gear Fit is the most creative and stylish departure from the original Samsung Galaxy Gear. It's just as much an activity monitor as it is a smart watch, and it has a markedly new look—slim, sleek, and light. It also has an unconventional sideways display that’s unlike any of the other tested watches; it takes a bit of wrist-twisting to view it. (You can opt to view your display vertically, but you'll be reading a lot of truncated words that way.)

Like the other Gears, the Gear Fit works only with some Samsung devices. The company has been increasing the number of compatible devices, but check before you buy. Also, these three Gear watches run on the Tizen OS, not on Android. Apps come from the Samsung app market.

Also like the other two new Gear watches, the Gear 2 has an intuitive and vivid color touch-screen interface. It also includes a gyroscope, an accelerometer and a heart sensor, for tracking your physical activities.

It passed our water resistance tests.

Pebble Watch, $100

Claimed battery life: 5 to 7 days
Weight: 1.4 ounces
Works with: Android 2.3.3 and up; iPhone 4, 4S, 5 and 3rd and 4th gen iPod Touch, iOS 5 or newer required

The Pebble Watch was one of the first to market (check our first-look Pebble review). Although it's more basic than the offerings from Samsung, Sony, and Qualcomm, it's pretty useful, channeling e-mails, texts, and other notifications from your smart phone or tablet.

The Pebble also runs a wide variety of apps from third-party developers, including fitness apps for bikers, runners, and golfers. In fact, Pebble very recently announced its own App Store, which is reachable through the Pebble phone app. The company says that more than 1,000 apps are available currently.

The Pebble comes in five colors. There's also a new, stylish-looking version of the smart watch shipping soon, the Pebble Steel ($200), that comes in stainless steel or black matte finishes.

What we liked
The Pebble works with Android and iOS mobile devices. Its so-called "e-paper" monochrome display has excellent readability in bright light. And there's a very active user community at the company's online forums. We had fun turning on its backlight with a flick of the wrist, and the magnetic charger is easy to use.

What we didn't like
The Pebble doesn’t have NFC, and you have to find the smart watch app in the appropriate app market for your smart device, download it, and install it. And it has a button-based (non-touch screen), small monochrome interface.

Bottom line
Of the basic watches, we like the Pebble best, for its display, platform, and engaged online community.  

Sony SmartWatch 2, $150

Claimed battery life: 3 to 4 days
Weight: 1.6 ounces
Works with: Android 4.0 and later

The SmartWatch 2 is a streamlined version of Sony's first smart watch (which went on sale in 2013) with a number of new features. The SmartWatch 2 has a thin bezel; it's almost all screen, which gives it a modern, sleek look. You choose from one of two strap designs, black plastic or black stainless steel, or you can swap those out for a leather strap in one of seven colors ($20 each). We tested the model with the plastic strap, which is light and flexible and can fit close to your wrist.

The Sony SmartWatch 2 uses Android apps only. Sony has an open app platform, so third-party developers contribute apps too. There is a very wide selection of available apps, and many are free.
 
What we liked
The SmartWatch 2 has NFC, in addition to Bluetooth, and pairing is quite fluid. It works with any phone with Android 4.0 and above (not iOS).

The  attractive color touch-screen interface is intuitive to use. The OLED color display had very good readability in bright sunlight, and the touch-screen interface is intuitive. It's one of the lighter watches, at 1.6 ounces.

What we didn't like
Setup is more time-consuming with this smart watch than with others, as you need to download extension apps to your mobile device for every function you want, including messaging and phone call notifications. It's compatible only with Android (4.0 and later) mobile devices, so forget about it if you own an iPhone.

Bottom line
This is a good-looking and versatile smart watch. We love the easy NFC pairing. But it's a pain to have to download additional extension apps for basic features or functions, which you don't have to do on most other

MetaWatch Frame, $100

Claimed battery life: 5 to 7 days
Weight: 2.7 ounces
Works with: Android 2.3 and up, iPhone 4S and 5 with iOS 6

We looked at two versions of the MetaWatch. The Frame is a little sleeker looking and slightly heavier than the Strata (below). The Frame comes in black or white; there isn't much difference otherwise.

Basic features are preloaded, and you use apps that are on your phone already for notifications, as you do with the Toq. Some third-party apps are also available. The Frame has no touch screen, so all your menu navigation is done by button presses. It's not particularly intuitive.

What we liked

The Frame works with Android and iOS devices.

What we didn't like
To charge the watch, you have to clip on the charger and align it with contacts that you can't see when you're clipping. Why make it so complicated? There's no NFC for easy pairing, and you have to find the smart-watch app in the app market, download it, and install it on your mobile device. The Frame's display readability in bright sunlight was judged to be only good. It's relatively heavy, at 2.7 ounces (only the Toq is heavier).

Bottom line
This is a truly basic smart watch with a small, monochrome screen. There's not much to recommend it.

MetaWatch Strata, $80

Claimed battery life: 5 to 7 days
Weight: 2.1 ounces
Works with: Android 2.3 and up, iPhone 4S and 5 with iOS 6

The Strata is a little heavier looking than the Frame (although it weighs less, at 2.1 ounces). It comes with a choice of five strap colors. Deciding between the Strata and the Frame is more a style decision than anything, as pretty much everything else is the same.

Basic features are preloaded, and you use apps that are on your phone already for notifications, as with the Toq. Some third-party apps are also available. The Strata has no touch screen, so all your menu navigation is done by button presses. It's not particularly intuitive.

What we liked
The Strata works with Android and iOS devices.

What we didn't like
As with the Frame, you have to clip on the charger and align it with contacts that you can't see when you're clipping. There's no NFC for easy pairing, and you have to find the smart-watch app in the app market, download it, and install it on your mobile device. The Strata's display readability in bright sunlight was judged to be only good.

Bottom line
This is a truly basic smart watch with a small, monochrome screen. Like its sibling, it has little to recommend it.

Editor's Note: We review and update prices and availability regularly, but please check companies directly for the most current information.

   

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