Top 4 smart watches of 2014

Style and function put these devices ahead of the pack

Published: December 11, 2014 03:00 PM

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We've tested a wide range of smart watches this year, from very basic to very sophisticated, and from clunky and awkward to sleek and stylish. The four models featured here really stood out for us and they should be on the top of your wearable-tech list, whether you're in the market for a smart watch for yourself or as a holiday gift.

—Carol Mangis

Motorola Moto 360, $250

The Moto 360 was the first round smart watch we tried out, and the design was a standout for us. The round face gives it the look of a traditional watch and helps it to fit more comfortably on the writst than a rectangular smart watch, but the Moto 360 still packs the full functionality of an advanced smart watch. Like the LG G Watch and Samsung Gear Live, it runs the Android Wear OS, allowing voice commands and searches, and pushing relevant information to the wearer.

The Moto 360 has an intuitive color touchscreen interface that our testers judged the easiest to interact with; it also has a pedometer and heart sensor built in. It works with smart devices running Android 4.3 or higher. This smart watch comes with a stainless steel case and metal or leather straps. We tested the black body with black leather straps; prices for other styles range from $250 to $350. [corrected 1/27/15]

Martian Notifier, $130

For those who prefer traditional-style watches, The Martian Notifier combines an analog watch with a small, narrow OLED screen at the bottom of the watch’s face, on which alerts for phone calls, texts, e-mail, appointments, and social-media posts appear—just tap the screen to dismiss them. You can also customize vibrations for the various kinds of alerts. It's more basic than pricier smart watches that do more, but what it does may be just enough for many users.

The Notifier works with many iOS and Android devices, and is compatible with a wide range of apps; check Martian's website for a list. Claimed battery life is up to 6 days. It comes in black, white, or red, and you can swap out the silicone strap; Martian offers eight other colors ($20 each).

Check our smart-watch review page for full test results on new devices.

Pebble Steel, $200

The Pebble Steel is a stylish new version of the Pebble Watch, which we reviewed last year. But as its name states, the Steel is made of stainless steel and comes in either a steel or black finish. On the inside, though, it’s the same as the original Pebble—except that the Steel adds water resistance (to 5ATM).

Like the Martian Notifier, the Pebble Steel works with both iOs and Android devices, and is a basic device, with a small monochrome non-touch-screen interface that you navigate using buttons. It alerts you to e-mails, texts, and other notifications from your paired smart device. The Pebble also runs a wide variety of apps from third-party developers, including fitness apps for bikers, runners, and golfers. This may be enough functionality for many people—it's a personal choice.

The Steel ships from with either a a leather or metal watchband (an extra band is $20). It's claimed battery life is 5 to 7 days.

Samsung Gear Fit, $150

The Gear Fit is a creative and stylish descendent of the original Samsung Galaxy Gear. It's just as much an activity monitor as it is a smart watch, and it has a striking, original look—slim, sleek, and light, wiht a slightly curved display that helps to make it comfortable to wear. The unconventional sideways display that takes a bit of wrist-twisting to view. (You can opt to view your display vertically, but you'll be reading a lot of truncated words that way.)

The Gear Fit features an intuitive and vivid color touch-screen interface. It also includes a gyroscope, an accelerometer, and a heart sensor, for tracking your physical activities.

Like most of the Samsung Gear smart watches, the Gear Fit works only with Samsung smart devices (most that run Android 4.3 and higher). The company has been increasing the number of compatible devices, but check before you buy. It runs on the proprietary Tizen OS, so apps come from the Samsung app market. It's claimed battery life is up to 6 days, typically 2 to 3 days.

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Use our interactive Gadget Gift Finder to discover the best electronic gifts for the athletes, movie buffs, music lovers, photographers, and travelers that may be on your holiday shopping list.

Visit our Holiday Gift Ideas page where you'll find our experts' picks on:

- Top tech gifts for kids and teens

- Top tech gift for Mom and Dad

- Top tech gifts for Grandparents

- Top tech gifts for $200 or less

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