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Which smartwatch is the best one?

I’ve had quite a few folks ask me recently which smartwatch I would recommend. Since I have been wearing smartwatches for well over two years and have worn five different ones this year for at least a month each, I am a logical choice for this query.

Bill's smartwatches from 2015: Pebble Time, original Microsoft Band, Apple Watch, new Microsoft Band, and Basis Peak
Bill’s 2015 smartwatches: Pebble Time, original Microsoft Band, Apple Watch, new Microsoft Band, and Basis Peak

 

The question is not a simple one to answer. It is becoming as hard to answer as the “what car I would recommend” question. The answer depends upon what you are looking for.

Here is a quick summary of my opinions about each of the smartwatches I wore this year:

  • Original Microsoft Band—I really liked this one until the band (which is a key part of the watch) wore out (broke in half). You can see a lot more of my impressions in this review.
  • Basis Peak—This is a nice step up from the Basis Health Tracker version, but I found out the hard way it is not waterproof. I also wish it came with a color screen.
  • Pebble Time—This is an improvement over my previous Pebble smartwatch, but the limited functionality and dim color display are disappointing.
  • Apple Watch—I love its attractive look and vibrant display, but its lack of good personal monitoring hardware/software leaves me disappointed.
  • New Microsoft Band —This is the smartwatch I am currently wearing. I chose it because it provides great personal monitoring, has a nice display, and comes in a much less bulky form factor than its predecessor. Basically, it has the feature set of the Band that I like while solving some of the Band’s biggest problems – they trimmed the size, and it no longer has Bluetooth pairing issues.

 

Does that mean I recommend the Microsoft Band to folks asking what to buy? Again, it depends. Here are the main factors I encourage folks to consider when making their choice:

  • Phone integration—This feature now seems to be a given for anything claiming to be a smartwatch. They all show you incoming texts and emails, as well as letting you know who is calling, etc. Except for the Apple Watch (and a few others, like the Moto 360), which is Apple-centric, most work with a variety of Apple or Android phones.
  • Price—The variety here is wider than you might think. The Apple Watch starts at $350, while the Pebble Time is only $149. The new Microsoft Band is in the middle at $250. Worth noting, I believe whichever smartphone you choose; you will replace it in a year or so because of the compelling new features of devices on the horizon.
  • Looks—Generally, the smartwatches are becoming more attractive, but some are decidedly better looking than others. If your watch is a fashion accessory, you are more likely to be happy with the Apple Watch. If your goal is functionality, you have a much wider array of choices.
  • Usage—Some folks just want to get texts, emails, and such on their smartwatch. Others, however, want to use the devices for exercise, sleep monitoring, etc. What you want to do has a big impact on which device is right for you. For example, the Apple Watch is great at a lot of things, but not so good at exercise and sleep tracking.
  • Apps/customizability—Many of these devices restrict you to what the manufacturer decides is the functionality. The Microsoft Band products, for example, have a nice set of built-in features, but if you want something else, you are out of luck. The Pebble Time and Apple Watch, on the other hand, are meant to be extended by third-party apps, just like your smartphone. This makes evaluating those devices fairly difficult since there are always new apps coming out that could potentially fix something I have a pet peeve with.
  • Battery life—This is still a critical issue. The Pebble Time lasts for days between charges, while many of the others really need to be charged daily. I’ve gotten used to that daily charging ritual, as I have with my smartphone, but if you don’t want that hassle, your choices are more restricted.
  • Technology—Some devices have color, backlit displays. Those are very attractive but draw a decent bit of power (to save power, most of these devices turn the screen on only when you touch a button), which could affect battery life. Much like your smartphone, they also don’t work as well outside in the bright sun. The Pebble Time is a reasonable compromise, with a color display that is reflective and so is very readable in the sun, and it can go for days without charging, though it’s not as attractive as others.

 

I hope my impressions of the smartwatches I’ve lived with this (and last) year will help you decide what smartwatch is right for you or to give as a gift. Even though the market is changing quickly, I expect it will be a long time before there is one smartwatch to rule them all!

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