Best smartwatches

While smartwatches have been slowly evolving for nearly five decades, they still haven't become as effortlessly easy to use as most other modern technology has. They are vastly improved compared to the smartwatches of even last decade, but the reality is that if you plan on buying one, you should expect to deal with a lot of tiny little issues.

Table of Contents

Smartwatches remain a luxury for technophiles, gadgets for people who understand a new bit of technology's limitations and problems.

As much as the smartwatch has improved even in the past five years, it still isn't quite ready to find its way onto the wrists of people who expect their technology to just work.

That said, for those of you who love watches, technology or the blissful combination of the two, here is a rundown of some of my favorites, what they have going for them and what challenges they face.

One important note: Almost the entire slate of today's fully functioning smartwatches rely on smartphones to deliver robust access to not just a handful of functions, but full apps and games. That means that the smartphone you own will have a big impact on the sort of smartwatch you can get the most out of.

The Apple Watch only works with the iPhone, and while the newer Android Wear watches include support for iOS, it's so limiting in its current state as to be easily dismissed. Only the Pebble Watch has full app support on both platforms.

One thing all of these smartwatches have in common is a base level of performance: notifications. Early on, these latest smartwatches were pitched as peripherals for your smartphone, devices that could eliminate the need to pull a phone out of your pocket to check who's calling, see an email, respond to a text or change your music.

All of these watches can do that, but how they do it and what they provide beyond those basics is what sets the company apart from one another.

Garmin Fenix 3 HR

fenix 3 hr

Price $599.99
Size 51.5 mm x 51.5 mm x 16 mm
Weight 86.1 g
Display 1.2-inch transflective MIP display
Water Resistance 10 ATM
Compatibility Android and iOS with Garmin app and store
Battery Life 16 hours to two weeks
Sensors GPS/GLONASS, barometric, compass, heart rate
Audio None
Other Advanced fitness training features, outdoor navigation features, wide variety of exercise profiles

Garmin’s Fenix 3 HR smartwatch may be both my favorite and the most frustrating watch I’ve ever tested.

The Fenix 3 HR is a chunky, solid piece of tech that looks like the sort of gadget you’d take into the wilderness to increase your odds of survival: And in many ways that’s exactly what it is. Packed with an abundance of sensors (GPS/GLONASS, barometric, compass, heart rate, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, ANT), 10 ATM water resistance and a surprisingly long battery life that can squeeze out two weeks, this is the sort of watch you’d want on your wrist when you go camping.

Its relatively sleek design also means that it looks as fine on the wrist of someone willing to sport a G-Shock every day. It also runs equally well on Android and iOS, forgoing both app stores for its own modest yet meaningful store of first- and third-party watch creations.

But in an attempt to do so much on so small a device, Garmin manages to gum up the experience itself, making even the most basic of tweaks to the watch the sort of lengthy, button-pushing experience that will stop you in your mountain-hiking tracks.

Fenix 3 HR

As with Casio’s outdoor-centric smartwatch, the Fenix 3 HR features a PVD-stainless steel bezel and buttons encircling a sapphire-lens round watch face. The watch doesn’t support touch controls, but the five buttons give you plenty of ways to interact with it … maybe too many. The screen uses a high-resolution color  display with LED backlighting, which makes for great visibility at night, inside or even in bright sunlight. Most noticeable, though, is the watch’s long battery life. With normal settings and the GPS on, it manages 16 or so hours. You can get 40 hours by using a mode that auto-switches the GPS on and off when needed, or two weeks if you’re just using the smartwatch mode.

Unfortunately, the watch has neither a microphone nor speaker. But the more you dive into the device, the more clear that becomes. The Fenix 3 HR is designed with sports and activity in mind first. That means even with the support of add-on apps, you’re not going to find a lot of the abilities you might have come to expect with less focused smartwatches.

There is no way to store music on the watch or check Twitter, Facebook or email, for instance. While there are a number of games, there are very few general apps that aren’t designed around an activity. Instead you’ll find a wide assortment of robust hiking, swimming, biking, triathlon, skiing, rowing and golfing apps. Because the watch measures heart rate, and can track and graph it right on your watch face, you’ll also find a lot of heart rate data apps. The watch is, in general, very good at saving, presenting and reusing data.

Where Casio’s first smartwatch is obviously activity-centric, it still feels like you’re using a watch. The Fenix 3 delivers the sort of performance that you’d expect from a computer or trainer. With the help of an add-on, for instance, it can measure the degree of bounce in your step, measure your running symmetry and air time, look at cadence and stride length. It can even work out your stress levels while working and alert you to your lactate threshold (when your muscles are basically exhausted). It’s an impressive array of technology packed into a device that doesn’t stand out much on your wrist.

The Fenix 3’s sheer volume of features and apps is also, to some degree, the watch’s downfall. The menu system, all controlled with the watch's five buttons, is contorted, confused and often time-consuming. If, for instance, I want to switch to a new watch face using my watch and not the app, I have to press and hold the middle left button to bring up a menu, press the top right button to select settings, press the bottom left to scroll down to watch faces and then press the top right button twice to first select that and then select the sort of watch face I want. Then, I use the left middle and left bottom buttons to scroll up and down through the list of faces and press the top right button to select my choice. From there, I have to either manually back out with several presses of the bottom right button, or just hold the bottom left button to return to the home screen on my watch.

Fenix 3 HR

I have to confess, I’ve discovered that between switching watches and just my regular busy, often hectic day, I find I lack the mental acuity, dexterity and memory to not screw this process up at least once almost every single time. That’s a minimum of once. It’s not unusual for me to spend a minute or two staring at my watch in frustration and saying awful things about it as I go through the button-pressing like it’s some sort of technological incantation.

The complexity of the watch doesn’t stop with navigating its user interface, unfortunately. Everything about this watch seems unnecessarily confusing at times.

Where most watches provide downloadable apps, the Fenix 3 lets you download apps, watch faces, widgets and data fields. The distinctions between some of these downloads are still relatively lost on me, but they’re all grabbed using your computer or the smartphone app from Garmin’s Connect IQ Store.

The buttons of the device are a bit less than intuitive as well. The top left button is your power and light button. The middle left is your up button, but is also used to bring up the menu with a long press. The bottom left is your down button, but a long press also returns you to the watch’s home screen. The top right is the start/stop/reset button, which also serves as essentially the enter button in a menu. The bottom right is the lap button and the back button in menus.

There is the ability to select what long-presses do on the two right buttons, but the options are oddly minimal. For instance, you can’t set either button to bring up the watch faces or apps, which seem like they could be the two most used functions for some types of users. Instead you can choose to, for instance, have a long press on the top button launch a Wi-Fi sync and a long press on the bottom button launch GPS.

On the one hand, Garmin makes up for this by offering all of the downloads for the watch for free and even opening up the development software and the store to third-parties, who are free to create their own apps. But on the other, the storage on the watch dedicated to apps and watch faces is strikingly low. It offers just 32 MB, compared to, say, the 4 GB found in the Casio.

Despite all of the negativity I just heaped on the Fenix 3 HR, I remain blown away by its battery efficiency, design and utility in a very focused area. I don’t see this smartwatch becoming my daily device — in fact, I took it on a trip to Italy and hardly used it, because it lacked a lot of the apps I like to use from my wrist when traveling — but I can see it becoming my go-to device for workouts, hiking and the like.

My personal love of watches and desire to get the most out of wearable tech leads me to believe that this sort of very focused approach to smartwatches may become more popular as the technology and its popularity broaden.

Put another way, Garmin seems to have set out to build the perfect activity smartwatch, and the company has come very close with the tech on hand. Garmin also helped push forward the argument for owning not just one smartwatch but several, each designed with specific duties or functions in mind.

Casio Smart Outdoor Watch

casio smart outdoor watch

Price $500
Size 61.7 mm x 56.4 mm x 15.7 mm
Weight 93 g
Display 1.32-inch dual layer display
Water Resistance 50 m
Compatibility Android with limited iOS support
Battery Life One day to one month
Sensors Directional, atmospheric and gyrometer
Audio Microphone
Other Tide graph, fishing timer, sunrise, sunset timer and direction, activity graph, and military-standard shock resistance

Casio, arguably the creator of the smart watch, finally released its own take on the modern device with a focus on outdoor recreation. Technically, the WSD-F10 isn’t really a smartwatch, it’s a smart outdoor watch, a sign that the company is taking seriously the mandate to focus on one very specific, relatively underserved segment of the smart watch market.

Casio has a long history of developing surprising, intriguing bits of technology; many of those creations end up getting strapped to a wrist. Over the years, Casio developed database watches, remote control watches, fitness trackers, blood pressure monitors, even a watch that helped Muslim owners figure out in which direction they could find Mecca for daily prayers. The company also released a popular line of game watches.

casio watch

For its first modern smart watch, the company decided it wanted to find a specific focus to help set them apart from the growing competition. The result is a chunky, resilient watch designed around ease of use during exercise and active outdoor activities. The watch is built around military-standard endurance tests, which means it can withstand a lot of punishment, from freezing rain and temperature drops to vibrations, humidity and falls. It also means that the watch is one of the bulkier smart watches on the market, but it embraces that design with a simple aesthetic built around the oversized round watch face. The bezel is held in place with four screws and gently, subtly slopes away from the screen to avoid any issues created while swiping across the face of the watch. The microphone is tucked neatly between the watch and the urethane band. Three large buttons on the right side of the watch allow you to return to the watch screen, bring up a designated app or launch the watch’s unique software tools. The left side of the watch houses a round port for the charger and another port for reading barometric pressure.

Significantly, this is one of the only smart watches I’ve tried that makes use of a clever dual-layer display. The watch’s screen includes both a monochrome LCD and a color LCD layered on top of one another. The watch then switches between them depending on what is needed. It’s a smart way to accomplish a couple of things. First, and most noticeably, it makes the watch easy to read, even in bright sunlight. The monochromatic display sheds glare in a way that it’s almost unnoticeable. The monochromatic display also cuts down on battery use, extending your battery life from about a day of active, color-screen use, to nearly a month if you’re just using it as a standard watch. It’s an impressive feat backed up by smart design that recognizes that there are times when the only thing you want out of your smart watch is for it to be a watch. When needed, the color LCD easily stands up to the competition, even outdoing many because of its large size and rich colors.

I was disappointed to discover that the monochromatic display doesn’t include any sort of lighting, an odd decision for such a powerful timepiece.

Because Casio’s Smart Outdoor Watch is designed with a very specific type of person in mind, the company didn’t stop with the hardware. Casio also designed several pieces of software, apps designed to highlight the watch’s abilities as a support tool for those who love to adventure in the outdoors.

The tool button launches a watch face with a number of specific uses including a digital compass, which can also be used to set a bearing; altitude measurements, which can be displayed in a current number or on a graph; atmospheric pressure measurement, which can be shown on a dial or as a graph to track weather changes; sunrise and sunset times; a tide graph; and finally, an activity graph which breaks down the exercise you’ve done during the day by four categories.

The tool button and those unique features help to turn your watch into a sort of Swiss Army timepiece, a basic tool that quickly expands to offer up a number of much more specific tools useful in the outdoors.

The watch includes two other neat tool sets: activity and moment setter.

casio

Activity is a grouping of three different watch faces and tools which can be used while fishing, cycling or trekking. Each offers unique data for the activity at hand. For instance, the trekking tool shows the current time, elapsed time, traveling speed and altitude remaining until you hit your pre-set goal. The cycling app includes distance traveled, and fishing measures atmospheric pressure changes.

The moment setter is used in conjunction with the activity tools to set up alerts for specific events happening while you’re doing an activity. You can use this to do things like remind yourself to eat or drink, when the sun rises, or the best time for fishing.

The tool, activity and moment setter features all rely on a Casio app only available on Google Play for Android phones. That means that while this watch will work on the iPhone with some functionality, the bulk of what sets the Smart Outdoor Watch apart from the competition is only accessible if you own an Android phone and download the free app.

Of course, Casio’s watch also supports the slew of third-party apps available through Google’s store and includes 512 MB of RAM and 4 GB of internal storage.

While I like the fit and feel of the watch, I did find it sluggish at times when using Android Wear and third-party apps. I also was surprised to find that while the watch is packed with measurement tools, it doesn’t include GPS. It also manages to, despite a large design and round face, still cut off a bit of the bottom of the display in what many people call the "flat tire" design.

The saving grace of the Smart Outdoor Watch is that it doesn’t need to be particularly smart to be useful if you’re out and about. Those built-in trekking tools, along with some of the other abilities, like being able to get accurate barometric measurements and graph them, turn this smart watch into something a little bit different than your standard wrist wearable. Add to that the inclusion of a low, low battery mode and that dual-screen technology, and you have a watch that can live up to your expectations or go to sleep and simply deliver the time.

Now if they could work on getting that price down and maybe including a hidden LCD game or two.

Apple Watch

apple watch four

Price $349 to $15,000
Size 38.6 mm x 33.3 mm x 10.5 mm to 42 mm x 35.9 mm x 10.5 mm
Weight 62 g
Display 272 x 340 or 312 x 390 Retina display
Water Resistance IPX7
Compatibility iOS
Battery Life A bit more than a day.
Sensors heart rate, accelerometer, gyroscope, ambient light, NFC
Audio speaker and microphone
Other Digital Crown, Force Touch

The Apple Watch is the most mainstream-ready of all of the smartwatches on the market today. That's the good news; the bad news is that the reason it is the easiest to understand and use is because it remains firmly planted inside Apple's walled-garden of content. There are no other watches that can rely entirely on Apple's operating system, and to get an app onto the Apple Watch a developer has to go through Apple. Apple sets the limitations of those apps and of how much of the watch's sensors and other hardware a developer can use.

The result is a watch that seamlessly integrates with the iPhone and provides a base level of services unparalleled among the other smartwatches.

I've never had my Apple Watch crash on me or seize up. And once it establishes a connection with my iPhone, it easily delivers a steady stream of customized alerts and notifications.

awr

While it's not the prettiest of smartwatches on the market, its sleek, edgeless rectangular design also doesn't stand out as a clunky addition to your wardrobe.

With my phone nearby, I can use my Apple Watch to maintain a semblance of connectivity with work, kill time with a growing number of interesting games, pay my bills, listen to music and even make phone calls. Built into my watch are a heart rate monitor, gyroscope, light detector, a speaker, a microphone and an accelerometer to detect when I turn my wrist to look at it.

Despite the small screen, the Apple Watch's use of both touch and Force Touch as well as a Digital Crown makes poking and playing with the device a pleasure.

There are genuine moments when I'm using the Apple Watch that I can't help but stop and wonder at the technology so lightly resting on my wrist.

Like all modern smartwatches, the Apple Watch includes a base level of notifications that make it easier to keep your phone in your pocket. But the watch can also do a few things when you don't have your phone around. If your watch is connected to the same Wi-Fi network as your phone, you can still use all of your apps. And if you're phone-free out of the house, you can use your watch to buy things, track your heart rate or amount of exercise, or even play the music you loaded onto the watch, through Bluetooth headphones.

All that said, the Apple Watch does have a plethora of issues. It has a relatively short battery life, usually getting me through an entire day, maybe a bit more. It's not waterproof enough to allow for swimming or showering, though you could likely get away with the second if you don't mind a little risk in your life. its limiting of physical controls to a button and crown means that many of your interactions have to be done with your eyes and fingers on the small screen.

awl

Given Apple's cyclical upgrade system, the watch is bound to be obsolete in just a few years.

But the biggest problem is with the watch's software.

It wasn't until the update to WatchOS 2.0 that Apple unlocked much of the bells and whistles of the device to developers. Prior to its release, developers were more constrained than is typical even with Apple. Most apps had to essentially run on the phone and communicate with the watch. That changed with the big 2.0 upgrade, but apps with this new, unfettered access to the watch have been a bit slow in coming.

What all that means is that the Apple Watch, while a fine piece of tech, is still far behind the competition in terms of third-party development. The games aren't as innovative or sophisticated, the apps still often lack speed and there are some things that you simply can't do on the watch. Key among those missing functions is the most basic of abilities: designing your own watch face, or purchasing a third-party one.

The faces that come with the Apple Watch can be customized, changing their color and the "complications" that appear around the watch face to show you everything from game status to weather or when your train is arriving. But it still lacks the depth of watch face design found on every other smartwatch I tested.

Despite all of that, the Apple Watch has become my watch of choice. This isn't because it's necessarily the best, but because it's the easiest to use if you own an iPhone and it still offers the best level of integration with the iPhone.

While I couldn't imagine a day without a smartwatch — most likely Apple's — strapped to my wrist, I still hesitate to suggest anybody but early adopters and watch lovers pick up the watch in its current state.

Pebble Time

pebble time

Price $199.99
Size 40.5 mm x 37.5 mm x 9.5 mm
Weight 42.5 g
Display 144 × 168 color e-paper display with backlight
Water Resistance Water-resistant to 30 m
Compatibility Android and iOS using Pebble OS
Battery Life Up to seven days
Sensors Accelerometer
Audio Microphone
Input Four buttons, supports smartstraps

The original Pebble watch was the first of this most recent slate of modern smartwatches to reawaken my passion for wrist technology. That first Kickstarter-funded smartwatch had a weeklong battery life, was waterproof enough to allow for swimming, worked equally well on both Android and iOS phones, and while it wasn't packed with apps initially, it allowed anyone to make watch faces and then full apps eventually.

The result was an avalanche of clever, wild, innovative ideas popping up on a tiny black-and-white e-paper screen strapped to your wrist. It felt very hacky, but I loved it.

pebble time right

When the Pebble Time was announced as a fresh Kickstarter, it drew a lot of attention from fans of gadgets, watches and gadget watches. It promised a color screen, still a week of battery life and the ability to swim with it on. It also came with an interesting way to deliver those core notifications that smartwatches are built for. Owners button-push their way forward and backwards through time to see what they've done or what's to come. Another major thing going for the Pebble Time is, like its predecessor, it works perfectly well on either an Android or iOS phone. Instead of relying on Android Wear or iOS, the Pebble and Pebble Time are both built on an open-source software platform. The company has apps for both Android and iOS, which then plug the watch into the phone's notification system and power the ability to download and install apps created for the watch. It's a clever idea that manages to deliver the best of the curated, wall-gardened world of Apple and the anything-goes, Wild West world of Android in one device.

Because anyone can download a software development kit and create watch faces or apps for the device, there is a lot to choose from, and that goes double for the games.

The drawback is that the watch isn't very high-tech when compared to its competitors. It relies on the retro aesthetics of 64-color bitsy graphics to win over gamers and watch users. And it is among the least powerful of recent smartwatches.

pebble time left

It also lacks a lot of functionality found in other watches, like a heart rate monitor, the ability to store music or make calls with it — even when attached to a phone — and even a touchscreen. Instead, the Pebble is relying on a smartstrap technology to deliver some new functionality to the watch. The Pebble Time includes the ability to connect to specially designed watch straps that can then deliver new functions, like a heart rate monitor, or even a laser pointer, seriously. The lack of a touchscreen is disappointing, but the watch does have four buttons, making it easier to do basic things, like change the song you're listening to or dismiss an alert, without having to look at the watch face.

Another thing the Pebble has going for it is the ability to always stay on, something traditional watch owners might think is a given. Because of the battery life issue most smartwatches face, many of them turn off the screen automatically after a set amount of time, like 30 seconds. This requires the user to wake it to do something like check the time.

The Pebble Time, with it's e-paper screen, can afford the battery life to stay on all of the time. That's something that might be a big draw to traditionalists looking for their first smartwatch.

This is a wonderful watch, a creation that does a great job of bridging the gap between a traditional LCD watch and a function-packed smartwatch. It manages to give users a fairly long battery life, robust app support and an expected level of water resistance, while only sacrificing processing power and graphics fidelity.

If you're the type of person who isn't sure which sort of smartphone they might own in a year or who wants to test the waters of smartwatches, this is the device for you.

Samsung Gear S2

samsung

Price $299.99
Size 42.3 mm x 49.8 mm x 11.4 mm
Weight 45 g
Display 360 x 360 1.2-inch round sAMOLED touch display
Water Resistance IP68
Compatibility Android
Battery Life About two days
Sensors accelerometer, ambient light, barometer, gyroscope, heart rate monitor, NFC
Audio microphone
Input rotating bezel and two buttons

After spending months, really years, wearing an array of smartwatches and sort-of-smartwatches, the Samsung Gear S2 is the first that feels to me like a watch that is smart, rather than a smartwatch. Because of its round shape, its clever rotating bezel controls and its surprisingly light design, it's easy to forget you're wearing anything but a regular watch.

That is, until you look down to check your current heart rate, read an email, turn on some music or do any of the plethora of things all smartwatches can do to some extent.

More than any other watch I've tested to date, the Gear S2 feels and behaves like a normal wristwatch first, a powerful personal assistant second.

s2

The S2 uses a super AMOLED round screen, what that means is that the touch layer of the watch is built right into the screen, and because of this, it reflects much less light. It also delivers a crisp, vibrant display that seems just a touch sharper than what you get with Apple's excellent watch.

The watch uses that touchscreen to let you poke and swipe at apps, but it also includes two buttons and a rotating bezel for interactions. And it's that bezel that really sets this watch apart from the rest.

Where the Apple Watch makes use of a clever crown that can both be pressed and rotated, the S2 uses the entire frame of the watch as an input device. Even knowing that the bezel is designed for rotation, you can't tell simply by looking at it; it blends seamlessly into the device.

To use the bezel, you simply rotate it with one or two fingers. It moves effortlessly, clicking slightly as you rotate to connote the movement.

When the S2's watch face is on, turning the bezel brings up an arc of tiny dots arrayed along the top of the screen. Turning to the right flips your watch screen through the glanceable apps you selected. Turning to the left rotates you through your watch's notifications. The bezel is also open for use by developers, so you can use it to read through emails, zoom in and out of a map, and control your music, for instance.

It's easily the most intuitive, slickest input device I've experienced on a smartwatch to date. The S2 backs up its clever design with an array of sensors and built-in apps rivaled only by the Apple Watch.

gear

Other neat additions include a fully functional, albeit tiny, touch keyboard for responding to messages (you can also use preset messages, emoticons or even dictate to your watch), a 24-hour activity log and an app that tracks both daily water and caffeine intake.

The one current drawback I found with the S2 was that because it uses the Linux-based Tizen operating system, there aren't quite as many apps for the watch as you'd find on the Apple Watch, Android Wear watches or even the Pebble Time.

As with other smartwatches, the S2 relies on a smartphone to be fully functional. In this case, the S2 needs an app installed on your phone to connect the two, and to find apps and install them. Currently, that app is only available on Android phones, but if Samsung were to take the Pebble approach and also release the app for the iPhone, I could see the S2 drawing in a lot more developers.

While the S2 is light on apps, and games, it has a robust library of watch faces both from Samsung and third-party developers. Like the Apple Watch, the S2 also includes features that can be accessed without a phone. Owners can listen to music with Bluetooth headphones, pay for things using NFC and track their exercise without a phone on hand.

Looking purely at design, the Gear S2 is easily my favorite watch among the bunch, but as a daily iPhone user I don't have the option of the S2. If it were to expand to include iOS support, the decision would likely come down to app support.

If I owned a supported Android phone, this would easily be my choice of smartwatches.

Samsung Gear S2 3G/4G

s23g


Price $99 with two-year contract
Size 44 mm x 51.8 mm x 13.4 mm
Weight 51 g
Display 360 x 360, 302 dpi sAMOLED touch display
Water Resistance IP68
Compatibility Tizen
Battery Life About two days
Sensors accelerometer, ambient light, barometer, gyroscope, heart rate monitor, NFC, GPS
Audio microphone
Input rotating bezel and two buttons

Samsung continues to refine its smartwatch experience. The company announced during CES 2016 plans to add iPhone support to its Gear watches, and that it will roll out versions of the S2 Classic with rose gold and platinum finish.

But what I'm focusing on here is the Gear S2 3G/4G watch.

The new version of the watch delivers a major upgrade to the S2: It's one of the first smartwatches to have 3G/4G support built entirely into the watch itself. That means you can make calls and access data even if you don't have your phone around.

Along with the new cellular support, the watch includes a built-in GPS, a slightly more robust battery and a speaker to support making those calls.

Those extras do change the watch design a bit, however.

The 3G/4G version of the watch adds 6 grams to the watch's weight, pushing it to 51 grams, and results in a thicker case by about 2 millimeters. They sound like tiny differences, and to be fair I suppose they are, but they're also noticeable. I noted that the standard Gear S2 was the only watch among those I tested that felt like a regular watch first. Unfortunately, that's still the case. The 3G/4G version is a well-crafted watch with an excellent design, but you can't help but notice that added weight and thickness.

During my time with the watch, I found that the seemingly minor additions make a world of difference.

The biggest is the idea that if you're out on a run, or simply forget your phone, you can still make phone calls with your watch. This is a major upgrade from just about any smartwatch out there. Better still, perhaps, the built-in GPS means that the watch isn't estimating your run through the use of accelerometers, or requiring you to bring your phone along. Instead it's using live GPS data to track a run. The phone also includes the Nike+ app and Samsung's S Health app pre-installed, both of which make use of that receiver.

The one major downside is that the cellular support doesn't seem to apply to the rest of the apps. So this doesn't really turn your smartwatch into a tiny smartphone strapped to your wrist; instead it provides one much needed addition.

Zen Watch 2

zenwatch 2


Price $129 to $169
Size 49.5 mm x 40.6 mm x 9.4 mm and 45.2 mm x 37.2 mm x 10.4 mm
Weight 55 g to 60 g
Display 280 x 280 to 320 x 320 AMOLED touch display
Water Resistance IP67
Compatibility Android and limited iOS
Battery Life A bit more than a day.
Sensors accelerometer
Audio microphone

The Zen Watch 2 has no chance at being the best of the smartwatches, but manufacturer Asus didn't design it to be, either. Instead, the Zen Watch 2 was made to be the least expensive way to get a smartwatch on your wrist. And in that regard Asus succeeds.

zenwatch

That may sound like a bit of a backhanded compliment, but in a market where the best of the competitors can sell for as much as $15,000 and even the low-end devices typically hit $200, delivering a decent smartwatch for a bit more than $100 is an achievement.

And the Zen Watch 2 isn't just decent; it has a lot going for it. Because the watch relies on Android Wear and an Android phone, it comes with a wide array of the same apps that will run on just about every Android Wear device. That means plenty of watch faces, tons of games and interesting apps, and a full suite of Google support.

In my time with the Zen Watch 2, I came to enjoy playing the array of games on the watch's relatively crisp touchscreen and found the built-in notifications and Google calendar, email and map support just as robust as what I used on the higher-end devices.

Because it is one of the newer Android Wear watches, the Zen also includes support for iOS. Unfortunately, for now at least, iOS support for any Android Wear watch is extraordinarily limited. It essentially gives you Google support, notification support and a few watch faces. Gone is Android Wear's biggest draw: that mammoth library of Android Wear apps.

The battery life for the Zen Watch 2 is about what the Apple Watch offered prior to its latest update, so about a day for me.

zenwatch

I'm not a big fan of the watch design. The Zen has an overly large rectangular face with rounded corners. There's a single crown button on its right side, and the version I tested, the cheaper of the two, comes with a rubber strap designed to look like brown leather. The watch itself is slightly too big for my tiny wrist, jutting out from either side by a bit. Worse, the screen doesn't take up the entirety of that large glass-faced real estate. Instead, there's a sizable frame of plain black that surrounds the screen colorful screen. That single button does very little beyond waking the device and putting it into a quiet "theater mode." Instead, all of my interactions with the watch involved poking and swiping. I also found that of all the watches I tested, the Zen was the slowest to respond, sometimes waiting long enough that I attempted a second poke or swipe.

None of these are deal breakers, especially if you're adamant about getting a smartwatch and don't have the $200 to $350 to buy into one of the others available. And compared even to smartwatches from year or two ago, the Zen Watch 2 is a marvel.

Water Resistance

Is your watch waterproof? Can you go diving with it? How about swimming, taking a shower, washing your hands or even walking in the rain?

Some smartwatch makers can be a little circuitious in their answers when it comes to how much wet their watches can stand up to. That's likely because they don't want to over-promise. Instead, they usually leave the decision-making up to owners based on an IP code given to a watch by the International Electrotechnical Commission.

An IPC is usually denoted as the letters IP followed by two to three numbers. The first number references what sort of protection a device has against solids, like dust. The second is what sort of seal the watch has against liquids, like water. The third number, not found in any of the watches we looked at, references a watch's ability to withstand a drop or hit.

An X in the place of any of those spots simply means the watch wasn't tested for that.

Now, here's how to interpret those codes:

All but the Apple Watch list a six for solid particle protection, meaning that they are essentially dust-tight.

For the second number, the one that refers to water resistance, all but one of them fall into the seven or eight category.

Technically, a seven means that a watch can be submerged for up to 30 minutes in water that is up to 1 meter deep. This basically means that your watch is fine if it gets wet, but you really shouldn't submerge it on purpose or keep it submerged. Since the watches with a seven don't have ratings for protection against water jets (5 or 6), it also means you shouldn't shower with them.

A watch with an eight rating means it can stay under deeper water for longer, but again isn't designed for swimming or showering.

And then you have the Pebble. The Pebble Time forgoes the IP certification for the ISO 22810 certification. This is a single standard which, if a watch earns it, means you can swim or shower with the device on up to 30 meters (or a water pressure of 3 atmospheres.)

Go here to talk about this article and smartwatches in general.

Next: What do smartwatches hold in store for the future of gaming?