5 questions to ask yourself before you buy a smart watch

Thinking of trying one of these new devices? Here's how to figure out what's right for you.

Published: September 17, 2014 10:15 AM
The Gear Live is Samsung's first watch to pair with phones from other brands.

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Smart watches have been in the tech news a lot lately—particularly since Apple introduced its much-anticipated Apple Watch last week. Still, while some analysts suggest smart watch sales will grow rapidly, others aren’t so sure. A Parks Associates survey released in June reported that just 4 percent of U.S. broadband households are very likely to purchase a smart watch in the next 12 months.

So, if you’ve thought about getting one of these devices for yourself, bravo for being a tech adventurer! But you should consider a few key things before you take the plunge.

1.    Do I like being an early adopter?

This is a really new gadget category, though it’s evolving quickly. Right now, most smart watches are large and bulky. Battery life is not impressive. Some of the devices have quirky shortcomings, such as hard-to-use chargers, difficulty pairing, and displays with poor outdoor readability. And many can only be paired with a limited number of mobile devices.

Smart watches a year from now could (and really should) look very different from today’s models: sleeker, more fashion-savvy, and lighter. And they’ll probably do a lot more than they can today. On what they'll do, we can speculate, but count on innovative developers and designers to figure that out.

But early adopters are the pioneers of electronics devices, and we support them. If you want to be the first on your block to wear a smart watch, don't let those caveats stop you.

For more information, Read our Smart Watch Reviews.

2.    Which functions do I want?

Smart watches range from basic to very sophisticated. For example, the $150 Pebble Watch has a monochrome display that’s not a touch screen (you navigate its menus using buttons). It channels e-mails, texts, and other notifications from your smart phone or tablet, and runs a fairly large variety of apps. The Samsung Gear Live ($200) does those things too, but it also has Google Now (which you can use with voice commands), a heart-rate monitor, and a vivid color touch screen. And you can make phone calls using the watch even if you’re nowhere near your phone.

Find out what current smart watches can do and see what appeals to you in our review roundup.

3. How much do I want to spend?

Smart watches retail from about $150 to $300. You can find deals on some older models, and pick one up for even less than $150, if you don’t need the latest and newest smart watch.

4. Will my phone be compatible with my smart watch?

Make sure any smart watch you're considering is compatible with the phone or other mobile device that you plan to pair with it. Some watches work with Android OS and iOS devices, some only with the Android OS, and some only with some versions of Android. Most of Samsung's smart watches work only with phones from that company.

5. How comfortable will it be to wear all day?

For now, most of these watches are large, and most are rectangular. It's kind of like wearing a mini smart phone on a wristband. A few newer models, such as the Moto 360, are round, and feel a bit less bulky, so they may be more comfortable if you have small wrists. Of course, some small-wristed people are fine with big watches. It's a personal choice. But regardless of your wrist heft, if there is any way you can try a smart watch on before you buy it, do so.

—Carol Mangis

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