In the wake of the Apple Watch reveal, most people were left with one question: are wearables even worth it? Wearable tech has never been more popular, yet it’s hard to pinpoint why we’re buying it. Narcissism? Health? For the hell of it? There’ve certainly been large strides of late in advantages for consumers. Wearables were previously divided into smart watches and fitness trackers; now, most new smart watches emphasize health, and most new fitness trackers tell time.
Among the blooming, increasingly diverse crop of wearables, some are worthwhile and some aren’t; they all track distance and calories, and most tell time. They all have their pitfalls — battery life, compatibility, reliability, size, price — but what determines the best device is your individual needs. Do you need to streamline your workflow or measure how streamlined your backstroke is? Do you need a sleek timepiece or do you dig the outright nerdy look? Weigh your responses and use our guide below.
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Samsung Galaxy Gear S
Best Wearable for Creatives: Due out in October, the Galaxy Gear has generated quite a buzz. Samsung’s smart watch looks pristine with a 2-inch super AMOLED customizable display that curves with your wrist, giving the impression of a wide bracelet. Besides telling time, the watch has 3G access, wi-fi, and Bluetooth connectivity. With your smartphone nearby, you can make and take calls from your wrist, text, use Facebook, play music, track heart rate, sleep patterns, exercise, and even use step-by-step GPS navigation. With a 1.0GHz Dual Core Processor, 512MB RAM and 4GB of internal memory, the Galaxy Gear S’s only potential downfall is price; seeing as the original Galaxy Gear went for $299 upon its release, the Galaxy Gear S is unlikely to be far off.
Best Wearable for Commuters: This simple, water-resistant fitness tracker wirelessly syncs with a smartphone or laptop (via Bluetooth 4.0 or greater), on which you can set calorie and fitness goals, input calorie intake (from an admittedly weak pool of food options) and view their stats using the Fitbit app. The Flex tracks steps, distance, calories burned and sleep quality. Throughout the day, the band vibrates and lights up with its five LED dots when the wearer meets his or her selected fitness goals. Made of matte plastic, the band allows for a small tracker to be slipped inside. As inconspicuous as a Livestrong band, the fitness band is available in ten colors. Its one downside: it requires a charge every few days. It’s also not exactly new (released in spring 2013), but at $100, that isn’t such an inconvenience.
Best Wearable for Healthy Eaters: The Up24 falls exclusively into the fitness tracker category (meaning it will test your ability to tell time with the sun). It measures steps, distance and sleep quality and sends the stats to Jawbone’s app (via Bluetooth), which is extremely simple to use. Additionally, users can log their mood and meals, further enabling them to analyze their calories and overall performance. Throughout the day, the band sends alerts to your iOS or Android smartphone for motivation and progress reports. The band is protected by a medical-grade hypoallergenic rubber skin; it’s fairly pliable, although it is encouraged to “avoid excessive bending”, and it’s splash proof (which doesn’t inspire shower confidence). Coming in six colors and three sizes, its bread and butter is its battery life: the 32mAh Lithium-ion battery lasts up to two weeks between charges.
Basis Carbon Steel
Best Wearable for Bikers: The splash-proof Carbon Steel was new in January 2014. It works as a pedometer that can tell if the wearer is walking, running and biking; in addition, it tracks calories, perspiration, skin temperature, heart rate, and REM sleep patterns. Its monochrome LCD screen is on the smaller side, but it can link up with Android, iOS and web apps via Bluetooth for a more detailed stat display. Like other fitness trackers, this device rewards the user with points according to preset fitness goals. It’s lightweight (1.4oz), but you won’t forget you’re wearing it — which could pose a problem when sleeping. It also needs to be charged every four days. Of the fitness bracelets, the Carbon Steel is probably the most complete health tracker; its “basic watch” look will be a deciding factor for purchasers.
Best Wearable for Swimmers: The sleek, quarter-sized device comes with two accessories: a silicon watch band and a magnet clip (all in different color schemes). Besides being a great conversation starter, the Misfit has many of the same abilities as other health trackers. A small ring of white LED lights up to help users tell time and update them on their fitness progress. It tracks a variety of activities: running, walking, biking and swimming –unlike many other fitness bands, it’s completely waterproof. It can also go four months without being recharged. But there are some drawbacks — for instance, the Shine now works with iOS and Android devices, but needs to touch the smartphone’s screen to sync. It also lacks a display, meaning you can’t instantly see your stats. But overall, the tiny Misfit is versatile and affordable.
Withings Pulse O2
Best Wearable for Casual Wear: Released in Spring 2014, the sleek O2 is an overall fitness tracker that can be worn as a wristband, clipped onto any piece of clothing or even in your pocket. However, in order to track sleep, it needs to be worn as a wristband so that it can pick up a pulse. The O2 has a two-week battery life, is the size of a portable hard drive and automatically syncs with the user’s iOS or Android smartphone throughout the day. It has four LED lights to measure heart rate, and it’s the smallest device to be able to measure blood-oxygen levels. Its app contains fitness data charts and helpful fitness tips and can send healthy reminders. But despite having a small screen, the Pulse O2 still can’t tell time.
Best Wearable for Extreme Athletes: Advertised as the ultimate for tracking sports and adventures, the Suunto is camouflaged as a traditional athletic watch. On top of telling time, the Ambit3 has a heart rate monitor and a GPS that calculates speed and distance. Additionally, it links with the user’s smartphone to display a variety of alerts such as missed calls, text messages and other push notifications. Because it’s more sophisticated than most other devices, it needs to be charged much more frequently: one to three days, depending on GPS use. It also costs more than a smartphone — so the Ambit3 isn’t for people who are casually curious about their fitness.
SmartBand Talk SWR30
Best Wearable for Livestrong Fans: Sony’s variation on wearables walks a tightrope between smart watch and fitness tracker. The SWR30 has a curved 320×320-pixel display and a battery life of three days; the E Ink low-power display shows text messages, emails, calls, fitness updates and more. The device links with Android 4.4 smartphones or higher via Bluetooth, has true hands-free calling (if the smartphone is nearby) and uses the Lifelog Android app so wearers can check their sleep and health scores. The SWR30 is yet to be released, but its comparatively large display will boost demand. The price shouldn’t rise far above $200, but unfortunately iOS users will be left out in the cold.
LG G Watch R
Best Wearable for James Bond: The new Android wearable is what smart watches were probably intended to look like. The Watch R is the first to have a fully utilized circle display. Its stainless steel frame supports a relatively small 1.3-inch OLED display with a heart rate monitor on its reverse side. The water-resistant device includes 4GB of internal storage, 512MB of RAM and looks sophisticated enough for 007. It tracks steps, checks weather, provides navigation, shows texts, and missed calls, and the display screen that makes up the face of the watch can be swapped. The watch links via Bluetooth, but runs on Android Wear; iOS die-hards are out of luck. And unfortunately, the connected smartphone needs to be nearby. The G Watch R’s charge time will be similar to a smartphone and its price will be around $330; LG will release it in September-October 2014.
The Moto 360
Best Wearable for Formal Attire: The G Watch R’s direct competitor, Motorola’s Moto 360 was the first circular Android Wear smart watch (once again excluding iOS die-hards). Its drawbacks are few: On the bottom of its 320×290 resolution display there’s a thin black bar, so it’s not fully round; and it’s another smart watch that needs the connected smartphone nearby to work properly. But the Moto 360 has a 24-hr battery life and comes with an easy-to-use inductive charger, has a heart rate monitor, and encourages at least 30 minutes of activity per day and sends push notifications. The Moto 360 boasts improved noise-canceling microphone and relies heavily on voice commands. It’s sleek, minimalistic, available in a variety of designs and is about $100 less than the G Watch R.
Best Wearable for (Waits To See): Apple’s smart watch works with an iPhone 5 or newer and needs to be near its parent smartphone to work, but it has a lot going for it. Wearers will be able to access every app that’s on their iPhone, including photos and text messages. It’s the first smart watch to make use of a digital crown, which magnifies images and allows for precise adjustments without disrupting the display. The Apple Watch enables hands-free calling, voice commands with Siri and has Digital Touch, a way of sending unique messages between Apple Watch wearers. It’s a premium fitness tracker with an accelerometer, heart rate monitor, and Apple Pay. It even allows wearers to share (and show) their heartbeat with others. Unfortunately the Apple Watch won’t be available until spring 2015, and by then it may be too late to the game.