Do you know what a smartwatch is? Are they fitness trackers and no more? Are they something reserved for Star Trek and other sci-fi fares?
Smartwatches are all the rage in our modern times but believe it or not, there have been smartwatches around for decades — back to 1927 when the Plus Four Route Indicator was introduced.
You couldn’t get an email on it as that was a concept about 70 years from becoming a reality. However, the Plus Four Route Indicator had a map loaded into it that you could scroll through to find your way home.
Since then, there has been an evolving search for improved tech that included digital watches and then they added calculators, all the way to what we have today. Wearable tech, from smartwatches to fitness trackers and everything in between dominates the market today, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a wrist without one on it.
When we think of smartwatches today, we’re not talking scrolling maps or being able to cheat on math exams with your wrist calculator.
Today, there’s more to offer than telling time.
There is a multitude of options that accentuate and pair with your smartphones, whether that be an iPhone or a Samsung Galaxy Android.
Smart watches are in essence mini computers that you can wear on your wrist. They still do tell time and with lithium-powered, rechargeable batteries these watches’ functionality has grown from simple tasks like calculations and playing games to match the functions of your smartphones.
Touchscreens have replaced the old wind up watch faces and swiping gets into the other features. These features include tracking your workout, playing music, seeing what emails you have, and playing games. There are some standalone smartwatches, while others require pairing with a cell phone.
In 1972, the first digital watch was produced by Swedish watchmaker Hamilton Company in collaboration with Electro/Data Inc. It carried a hefty price tag of $11,000 in today’s money but did feature an LED display screen.
Funded by an unbelievable $10.3 million Kickstarter campaign, Pebble created Pebble Time in 2012 which was a watch that used Bluetooth to connect with your Android or iOS.
As Smartphones became more mainstream the race for an accompanying wearable device heated up. Samsung got into the game as did Microsoft, with Microsoft Band in 2014. They weren’t alone as companies such as Samsung Galaxy Watch, Google, Sony, LG, and of course, Apple began developing smartwatches.
A year later, Apple released its first of the Apple Watch series, connecting with iOS and set us on the path we are on now.
How Does a Smartwatch Work?
One of the defining characteristics of smart wearable tech is that they connect to the internet via WiFi, or by syncing with a smartphone. Using Bluetooth, most devices work with your smartphones and allow you to navigate apps and features without having your phone in your hand.
While there is no daily winding required to keep your watch working, these watches have limited battery life. Like your smartphone, your smartwatch comes with a charger, and depending on the model, it needs regular charging.
Most of these watches rely on your phone to access the internet but there are advances being made with cellular watches. These devices house their own connectivity and allow you to go online without your phone.
What Does a Smartwatch Do
Athletes use smartwatches for fitness tracking, calculating calories burned, steps taken, heart rate, sleep tracking, and even how much oxygen is in your blood. Whether you’re a hard core runner or just trying to improve your health, there are watches that help you get there.
There are uses for smart watches in business and anyone on the go. You can get text messages on your smartwatch, check your email, manager your calendars, and access the internet. Having all this available on your wrist improves effieciency.
Are you a music fan? You can store music and access your playlists through most smartphones.
Oh, and they still tell time, but now you can customize your watch face and change it as often as your mood changes.
Types of smartwatches
By Device Type
While standalone watchesare becoming popular, they aren’t new.
Tech companies have been working on making them more efficient and user-friendly, starting in 2009 with the Samsung 9110. LG followed with a model, but the tech hasn’t caught on until recently.
We have rounded the best standalone smartwatches in the market today in this list.
Some of the best Standalone watches include Apple Series 2 and 3 with GPS plus Cellular. These phones give you an OS that feels familiar to the iOS but allows you to leave that iPhone behind.
Samsung has come on strong in this field as well, with the Galaxy Watch with LTE and Samsung Gear S3 Frontier. The Samsung watches offer more of a ‘regular’ watch look as opposed to the Apple Series, which resembles a small iPhone that you wear on your wrist.
Standalone watches cost a little more, may require extra fees for connectivity and have a shorter battery life than their tethered counterparts, but in many ways, they are worth it.
Fitness tracking and smartwatches go hand-in-hand, or, maybe wrist-in-wrist, and you can now wear a watch that offers smart features but designed with the athlete in mind.
Smartwatches feature heart-rate monitors but manufacturers like Garmin and Fitbit have made smartwatches with beefed-up fitness-tracking abilities. These watches allow you to track heart rate, steps, calories burned as well as recording, tracking, and designing workout routines for you.
The Fitbit Versa models combine fitness tracking and allow you to access your email, text messages, play music, all while telling you how great of a burn you’re getting while you exercise.
Runners may like a watch like the Garmin 245 Music, which comes with GPS to track your route, connects with Spotify, and provides advanced metrics on your performance. Grab your headphones and hit the road.
Many fitness oriented devices allow you to select, or add different workouts but there are some that are designed specifically for your activities. Everything from running, swimming, and hiking, there’s one for you.
Some of these reside within the products of the major manufacturers while others are from smaller companies, but tailored towards one specific activity.
Diving watches – Do you scuba? There are watches that are designed specifically for diving. Made in Finland, the Suunto DX Silver comes with a titanium case, 3D compass, and wireless air integration. Garmin’s Descent MK1 is a more affordable option for divers. It comes with a built-in heart monitor, self-adjusting altimeter, and a dive ascent/descent rate indicator.
Golf watches – You can never have enough golf gadgets and that includes one for your wrist. One of the top golf watches is the Garmin Approach S20 that analyzes your round and reports on your shot distance, greens hit, etc. Who needs a caddy?
Hiking watches – If you enjoy scaling your local mountain, there is a smart device to assist you. Hiking watches not only track steps and heart rate, but can map out your trail while also acting as a compass to keep you from getting lost. The Garmin Multisport GPS is one of the top options and makes a great hiking companion.
By Operating System
Before you get a smartwatch, make sure that the operating system on your phone is up to date and compatible with the device you’re looking to buy.
Like your phone, smartwatches routinely upgrade their OS or operating system to optimize its functionality. The main watch operating systems include:
watchOS – This operating system is used by Apple Watch and gives you access to push notifications and a wide variety of apps for your watch.
Tizen OS – Samsung’s proprietary OS designed for the Galaxy watches.
Wear OS — Also known as Android Wear and used in many wearables but is also an open-source OS.
Fitbit Os – Fitbit’s OS focuses on fitness tracking but they do have watches such as the Versa that offers features similar to non-fitness oriented watches.
Other proprietary OS – Garmin utilizes its own OS and many other sports bands use the Xiaomi operating system.
Should you get a smartwatch?
Now that you are up to date on what a smartwatch is and what they can do, should you get one?
There are manybenefits to having one on your wrist, such as quick access to text, emails, apps as well as having steps and your fitness tracked at all times. While your smartphone can do many of the same things as a watch can, the smartwatch is accessible, less bulky and in some cases, stylish.
Which is the best watch for you depends on how you plan on using it. If you’re an athlete or looking to get in better shape, then one of the sports watches is best for you. If you’re a busy professional than maybe a hybrid or standalone version best suits your needs.
Andy is a long-time writer covering sports, tech, and the local arts scene in Seattle, Washington. He is an avid hockey fan, weight lifter, and fitness tracker fanatic. His work has appeared on ESPN Seattle, Sportsnet in Canada and most recently NHL.com.