How to choose the right smartwatch

When choosing a smartphone, you’ll find lots of models to compare and contrast—at least you know whatever handset you pick will be able to perform the same standard tasks, such as making calls, sending texts, and running your favorite apps. When it comes to smartwatches, you’ve also got all kinds of devices, but they offer different functions and features, which makes finding the right one even trickier.

We’re here to dispel some of the confusion and worry so you can choose the right smartwatch for your specific needs. From the different makes on the market to the blurring lines between fitness trackers and smartwatches, we’ll outline some of the features to look for first before moving on to our picks for the best watches and fitness wearables out there.

Features to look for

For a smartwatch to be considered a smartwatch, it must be able to tell time—that much is a given. However, it’s just about the only constant in a field where the choice of features and functions ranges far and wide.

Top-tier smartwatches from Apple, Samsung, and Fitbit are essentially miniature phones that sit on your wrist. They run pint-size apps, let you exert remote control of your smartphone, and include plenty of other abilities such as tracking your run around a park, storing music, or even making phone calls through a tiny SIM.

On the next level down, you see devices that are basically fitness trackers with a display: They focus on logging steps and other activities, and treat smartwatch features as a bonus. These devices can tell the time, and sometimes show simple notifications from your phone—but interactions are limited, which means you’ll need to pull out your smartphone for most tasks. While they’re not as capable as full smartwatches, they often cost much less.

Another category that’s emerged is a traditional, mechanical watch with a few added smarts. These devices typically add features like a basic form of step counting with maybe a simple notification system as well. You get the style and the price of a normal watch, with the bonus of a little bit of fitness tracking.

Whichever category you lean towards, check for a few key specs. One is whether the watch works with your phone (iOS or Android); another is how long the battery lasts (mechanical watches are still ages ahead here). Also, check that the watch has the features you want. For example, runners and sports enthusiasts might want to look for standalone GPS, which lets your wrist-based device track your location even when it’s not connected to your phone. Swimmers who want to record their progress should keep their eyes out for waterproof smartwatches. And so on.

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