Best smartwatches of 2018: The best watches to give (and get!) this Christmas
Best smartwatches: Buying the best smartwatch for you
The first question we’re always asked is: “What is a smartwatch for?”
A smartwatch delivers notifications from your phone, allows you to check your email and control music playback and functions as a fitness tracker. More advanced devices can provide alerts about the places you’re going, allow you to dictate messages, play music via Bluetooth headphones or speakers and even download apps. Others, such as Samsung’s Gear Fit or the Intel Basis Peak, concentrate more on the fitness and/or sleep-tracking side of things –indeed, the very purpose of the smartwatch is continually evolving as app developers and manufacturers get to grips with the wearables concept.
The smartwatch market is still in its infancy, but we already know the platforms that will power the most important ones. As in the smartphone market, Apple and Google are emerging as the key players.
The Apple Watch was announced alongside the iPhone 6, and is designed to work with iPhones exclusively. You won’t need an iPhone 6 or iPhone 6s to get onboard, however. Older iPhones won’t work, but the iPhone 5, the iPhone 5c and the iPhone 5s will.
Android Wear is the driving force from Google’s camp: this isn’t hardware, but software that runs on other manufacturer’s watches. Android Wear is now also available on Apple’s App Store, opening up Android watches to iPhone users.
Normally, we’d look at the substance of a product before the style, but the look and design really matter in a smartwatch. Watches have long been as much a fashion accessory as a functional tool – no one wants to carry around an ugly lump of plastic on their wrist. Thankfully, there’s already a wide range of shapes and sizes on offer, from the minimalist, round-faced sophistication of the Motorola Moto 360 to the blandly rectangular, regular LG G Watch.
The Apple Watch may be sold as a single smartwatch, but Apple is offering customers plenty of opportunity for customisation. There are smaller and larger watch faces and various case materials and straps to choose from. The one thing that’s missing is a round-faced model; aside from that, the choice is yours.
However, we’d urge you to check out the models that will launch in the next few months or so in addition to those already on the shelves. Rush into buying a smartwatch now and you may find that the model you really wanted was only a few weeks or months away.
Best smartwatch: Battery life and screen technology
The biggest issue with the Android Wear smartwatches we’ve seen so far is battery life: with a day or two of use the common denominator, you’ll be charging it up almost as frequently as your smartphone.
With this in mind, manufacturers have been hard at work to make this as painless as possible. Wireless charging is a feature that the Apple Watch and the Moto 360 have in common. With these watches, there’s no electrical contact required: just rest the watch on the plate supplied. But even the watches that require an electrical contact for charging don’t require you to plug in a USB cable directly, with manufacturers usually supplying a proprietary clip or magnetic base in the box that attaches to the rear of the watch.
If you’re not keen on such a frequent charging regime, you may want to consider something other than one of the Google or Apple watches. Their LCD or OLED touchscreens are comparatively power-hungry, so there’s a limit to how long they’ll last, no matter how efficient the components inside.
There are a few options that use screen technology designed to provide better battery life. Perhaps the most famous is the Pebble. This watch employs a monochrome LCD “e-paper” screen that uses far less power than backlit colour screens.
A rival screen technology called Mirasol offers colour and the same kind of power-saving effect. You’ll find it in the Qualcomm Toq, although that watch isn’t widely available in the UK at present.
These smartwatches will last almost a week without a charge, making them a good deal more convenient than the Apple Watch or Android Wear watches.
If you want to embrace the smartwatch revolution, however, you’ll need to go with either Apple or Google. Many of the upcoming watch apps will be designed for these devices, and, in a few months, other watches will start to look dated.
Best smartwatches: Prices
How much do you have to spend for a smartwatch? The entry-level mark for Android Wear is around £150, rising to around £200 for the more premium models.
The cheapest Apple Watch is £299, increasing to £349 for a larger-screened Watch. Apple’s wristwear has an incredible upper price limit, with models reaching well beyond the £10,000 mark.