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How to choose a smartwatch
Choosing a new wearable can be daunting in a market flooded with options. What should you look for and how do you prioritize your opportunities? Features, sensors, and compatibility are just the beginning. Before you drop a bunch of cash, our buying guide can help you choose the right smartwatch for you. If a new device is on your radar, consider the questions below. Each one should get your wheels spinning on an important aspect of purchasing the right smartwatch.
- Is the newest flagship wearable really the best option?
- What are your wearable needs?
- How much should you spend?
- What is the best device for your current ecosystem?
- Would you be just as happy with last year’s watch?
Why that Apple (or Samsung) flagship smartwatch might not be the move
Don’t fall for the buzz. Just because a watch is the latest doesn’t mean it’s the greatest, especially in terms of value. Apple and Samsung Galaxy watches are great for some, but that doesn’t mean they should be your first choice. Many of the biggest competitors are household names and all are worthy of consideration.
Likewise, you may not need all the newness driving a flagship device’s price sky-high. Or, maybe there isn’t even that much new anyway. If there are no major hardware additions and you already own a device with well-supported software, you might not need to upgrade just yet.
Needs: How are you going to use your smartwatch?
Not everyone strapping on a smartwatch is using it the same way. Before you make your purchase, nail down what type of user you are likely to be. Most people fall into three general categories: casual exercisers, athletes, and communicators. Each of these user types should consider different factors when choosing a smartwatch to buy.
Activity tracking is one of the most common reasons people swap their analog watches for something smarter. Smartwatches allow you to keep tabs on your basic fitness, without a ton of extra effort. The casual exerciser is committed to getting in shape but doesn’t need the kind of data that users training for a race may need. Instead, this user appreciates the motivation of at-a-glance features like Apple’s rings. They may even have a passing interest in other health analyses like sleep tracking.
Not everyone is just looking for the basics, some users are seeking a workout companion. An athlete needs super-accurate fitness tracking and top-level insights. They prioritize features such as advanced heart rate monitoring, workout and recovery tools, and long battery life. Often, they gravitate towards devices with plenty of sport modes, durable builds for standing up to sweaty workouts, and water resistance for clocking laps. Athletes are also likely to prioritize built-in GPS to avoid pocketing a phone during long-distance training sessions.
For other users, a smartwatch is first and foremost a supplemental device to their smartphone. Communicators are users who need to stay connected, not set a new 10K PR. Rather than pulling out a phone dozens of times a day, communicators rely on their wearable for notifications, voice assistance, and even phone call support. They need a device that seamlessly pairs with their current ecosystem and has plenty of on-screen real estate for completing actions from their wrist. They are also likely to appreciate an extensive app library to streamline even more tools and tasks.
Budget: How much do you want to spend on a smartwatch?
Better yet, how much should you spend on a smartwatch? The budget discussion is never easy and truly varies for every shopper. What’s important is that you don’t have to spend an exorbitant amount to take home a powerful device. The average smartwatch falls somewhere in the $200 to $400 price range, with a few budget options coming in for less and a few feature-packed devices priced a bit higher.
Don’t miss: The best cheap smartwatches you can buy
Luckily, these days you’re also likely purchasing something that will last. Smartwatches don’t need to be replaced annually as many companies provide software support to old devices. Like most things, the more you spend, the more you will find in terms of the feature set. Depending on what level of health and fitness tracking you are interested in, your budget may need to expand. Likewise, if materials and build are a high priority you may want a more expensive model of a specific device. When choosing how much to spend on your new smartwatch think through what features are worth more to you specifically.
Compatibility: Which ecosystem are you using?
Before you commit to any device, determine if your current ecosystem is compatible. For example, Apple Watches are reserved for iOS users while the Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 series leaves iOS users out to dry. The last thing you want to do is buy a smartwatch that won’t sync up.
Once you know if a device is even an option compatibility-wise, evaluate how much integration you expect. Sticking to your current ecosystem will often provide the best user experience. On the other hand, devices from companies like Garmin and Fitbit work with many ecosystems.
Do you really need this year’s watch?
The short answer is probably not. As mentioned above, most wearable companies offer software support to older generations of devices so that users don’t have to fork over cash every single year. Specific upgrades to hardware and design are the leading reasons to buy a new flagship watch.
For example, if a company adds GPS, or SpO2 to a line that didn’t have those features previously, you may want to spring for the newest model. What about heart rate monitoring or better battery life? Some lines are even introducing novelties like solar charging. Meanwhile, if your current device works fine and you aren’t especially jazzed about anything new on this year’s offering, you can probably pass. Likewise, if you want to save some cash you can shop for older tech that’s still plenty reliable.
Before you reach too far back, make sure the device you are considering will still get regular updates. We also don’t suggest investing in older Wear OS devices that are not eligible for Wear OS 3. Evaluating the shelf life of a device’s software is an important step in choosing the right smartwatch to purchase.