Smartwatches: Sci-fi or everyday practical?
Smartwatches are not a new idea -- they've been around in movies and on TV for quite a while. Dick Tracy talks to police headquarters through his and James Bond uses his watch for everything from a grappling hook to a laser with a built-in detonator. Jack Harkness' smartwatch in Torchwood even lets him travel through time.
Today, the reality is that smartwatches are simply an extension of our smartphones. They're part of the growing wearable technology field, a category of technological devices that are worn by the consumer and often include tracking information related to health and fitness. Fitness trackers that measure exercise performance and track and record progress are perhaps the most familiar example. Google Glass is a different form of wearable tech.
A smartwatch sits on your wrist, just like a regular watch, though it's often larger and heavier, and informs you of what's happening on your smartphone. The smartwatch maintains a wireless connection, usually through Bluetooth, to your phone and syncs to it, notifying you of any new messages, phone calls, emails, Tweets, Facebook updates and more, all in real time. How you're informed of these and how they're displayed depends on the smartwatch you've chosen. But all let you stay connected without taking your phone out.
Some smartwatches let you receive and make phone calls through them and others have a built-in camera for taking quick photos. Some are voice controlled and others have motion sensors for gesture-based controls. The latest models take your smartwatch beyond being an extension of your smartphone by providing apps, ranging from games and productivity apps to GPS navigations and fitness apps that are starting to rival those on fitness trackers. The "ecosystem" of a smartwatch -- the variety and quantity of apps and the ability of third-party developers to create and distribute them -- is becoming more and more important to consumers.
Most manufacturers understand, and even embrace, a design aesthetic that acknowledges that wearable technology and jewelry are not that different. Many of the smartwatches now available have drawn praise for their style, although most of them are still large and quite heavy. Reviewers report that, in general, the watches are quite comfortable to wear all day, but some may not fit snugly on smaller wrists. You may not look geeky when wearing a smartwatch, but it will get you noticed.
The verdict is still out on whether smartwatches are a good investment right now. Some reviewers recommend waiting until more apps for smartwatches are available, while others are saying to go ahead as there are some great choices on the market. Consumers have shown a lot of enthusiasm, as several of the most successful smartwatches were funded via Kickstarter. Metawatch, Cookoo, Pebble, Neptune Pine and Omate TrueSmart brands all started life or are being reinvented using crowd-sourced funds. And the Pebble smartwatch holds the all-time record for funds raised on Kickstarter for a project still in the concept phase, with more than $10 million pledged.
We examined a large selection of credible expert reviews to determine the best smartwatches, looking at what reviewers said about the design and durability of each smartwatch, its compatibility with smartphones and what functions it offers. Wading through smartwatch reviews is sometimes a little confusing, as some companies offer several similar models that differ only in design. Alternatively, upgraded models of a smartwatch can be very similar to their predecessors, so the reviews of both models are relevant.
As the smartwatch field is relatively new, we found that the same handful of smartwatches were tested, and recommended, frequently. Experts at Consumer Reports, CNET and Wearable Technologies tested a variety of criteria, and users at Amazon.com weighed in with their experiences of living daily with their smartwatch purchases.