Smartwatch Buying Guide

A smartwatch is a wrist-worn minicomputer that can notify you—via a wireless connection—of incoming calls, texts, instant messages, and social network updates. But if smartwatches are just an accessory for your smartphone, why give them the time of day?

Well, they can be pretty smart on their own.

• Some models come with their own network connections, so they can perform many advanced tasks without being paired to a nearby phone.
• They often include built-in sensors—including accelerometers, barometers, and heart rate monitors—to track your physical activity.
• Wireless technologies, such as near field communication (NFC), let you use your watch to make mobile payments at the register.

Smartwatch technology is evolving. Models have gone from large and clunky to more sleek and fashion-savvy. And they’re getting slimmer all the time. You can also expect smartwatches to integrate emerging operating systems and app ecosystems that could dramatically enhance their capabilities.

Plain vs. Pricey Smartwatches

Just like your computer and smartphone, smartwatches run on operating systems with distinct and separate apps. Be sure to check to see which ones are available for the smartwatch you’re considering buying.

Many watches run on versions of Google’s Android Wear, while the Apple Watch runs on Apple’s Watch OS and Fitbit smartwatches have their own operating system.

A budget-minded and basic smartwatch.

Budget-Minded and Basic

Basic smartwatches have a lot in common with fitness trackers. The difference is they support third-party apps, though the exact number and variety will depend on which operating system your watch runs on. And just about every smartwatch will notify you of incoming calls, emails, and texts.

A sophisticated black smartwatch.

Swanky and Sophisticated

More sophisticated watches do all that the basic models do, plus offer features like full-color touch screens, voice-command capability, activity tracking, GPS, mobile payments at the register, and voice calls. Models can cost anywhere between $250 and $800.

Capabilities to Consider

Some smartwatches have quirky shortcomings, such as hard-to-use chargers. A number of them can be paired with only a limited number of mobile devices. Here are a few important considerations:

• Above all, make sure the smartwatch will be compatible with your existing smartphone or other smart device that you plan to pair with it.

• The smartwatch should be comfortable to wear. Some are large and can be clunky. Many newer models are round, and some are less bulky and may be more comfortable.

• Battery life can range from one day to several, depending on how you use the watch, how much power it requires, and the sophistication of the watch technology.

• Water resistance: Most smartwatches are at least somewhat water-resistant. But only certain models can handle a dip in the pool. Check the specs if this is an important feature to you.

• Charging: Some smartwatches come with convenient wireless chargers. Others come with snap-on docks for charging. Still others require a cable that plugs into the watch itself.

Which Watch?

Smartwatch technology is relatively new, and features and functions will continue to evolve over time. Before you overcommit or overspend, decide which features are important to you.

If you want to save some money, you can choose a watch that lacks some of the more sophisticated features. And if you really only need a device that monitors your exercise, a fitness tracker might suffice.

If you’re an Android fan, an Android Wear watch offers smooth compatibility with your Android phone as well as Google’s digital assistant. Apple aficionados might gravitate to the company’s own smartwatch, but several models by other brands work with iOS, too.

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