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Quick facts about smartwatches
- A smartwatch can cost anywhere from under $100 for a more basic timepiece to up to $2,000 for a top-of-the-line model.
- Smartwatches can often double as fitness trackers.
- Make sure the smartwatch you choose is compatible with your mobile phone.
How to compare smartwatches
The most obvious function of a smartwatch is to tell the time, but they can do a lot more than that.
Due to their connected nature, they also give you a lot of access to your digital world. Typically, they'll show you your notifications straight from your phone and allow you to dismiss them or reply to them. Some smartwatches will even let you pay for things like you would with a card or with your phone.
Examples of what you can generally do with these wearable devices include:
- Making calls
- Tracking your steps
- Making mobile payments
- Monitoring your heart rate
- Checking your calendar
- Downloading and using apps
The device you're using can impact your smartwatch-wearing experience. Samsung's watches do work with both iOS and Android, but the brand notes that there may be restrictions on the smartwatch and its features if you're using an iPhone. Also, the Apple Watch doesn't work with Android devices, and there's no easy workaround to change that.
Some watches also require apps that are only available on certain versions of iOS or Android. If your phone isn't up to date, make sure that it can be updated to the required version before buying a watch.
There are a few things you should consider when looking around for a smartwatch:
Some smartwatches need to be charged up each night to avoid it turning into a shiny-but-non-functional wristband the next day. Others can last for up to a whole fortnight before the potential of suffering the same fate ever becomes a worry.
Water-resistance is now a common selling point for phones and many smartwatches also come with resistance ratings. As smartwatches are frequently subjected to the elements, look for one that's rated for water and sweat resistance.
Smartwatches typically connect to your device through Bluetooth and many also have Wi-Fi connectivity. If you want to be able to leave phone at home and head out for a run without missing an important call or text, look for a smartwatch with LTE capability.
Not all smartwatches look the same. Some have a rectangular design, whereas others feature a more traditional watch shape. Some watches feature just a screen and some buttons while others have rotating bezels to complement the display.
Having a smartwatch with a speaker can be useful. It means that you can answer calls if your phone is out of reach or if you're in a hurry. And, if you're ambitious, it means you can call people from the watch without even picking up your phone. Some smartwatches will even let you store and play music right on the device.
Sleep tracking is less common in smartwatches than fitness devices but some watches offer this feature. Sleep tracking can help make sure that you're getting as many hours as you should be, and show you information about the quality of sleep you're getting.
Heart rate monitor
Many smartwatches have heart rate sensors. Heart rate monitoring can let you measure how much of a sweat you work up during an exercise, or check that your resting heart rate is at a healthy level.
Most smartwatches come equipped with basic fitness tracking functionality, such as step counting. Some watches are filled with even more features, though. You can find things like GPS tracking, automatic workout detection and advanced exercise tracking on some higher-end smartwatches.
When it comes to the operating system of a smartwatch, most brands use a different one to each other. Lots of brands use their own operating system for their watches. For example, Apple uses its own WatchOS and Samsung uses Tizen. Some other brands make use of Google's WearOS (formerly Android Wear).
If you're still not sure where to start, check out our round-up of the best smartwatches on the market.
Smartwatches vs fitness trackers
The design is the biggest differentiating factor between most smartwatches and fitness trackers.
For the most part, smartwatches can do the same things that fitness trackers can. This includes counting steps, checking heart rates and tracking workouts. However, not all smartwatches come with these fitness-tracking features. If you want a smartwatch that does double-duty, make sure the one you buy has all of the features you need.
Smartwatches are typically more expensive than fitness trackers, but they also usually come packed with more features, such as offering app support and mobile payments.
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