Smart watches

How to buy wearable fitness devices and smartwatches

Last update: October 31, 2018

From fitness trackers to medical devices, wearables are finding their way into every facet of our daily lives. Do you want to communicate your state of health without going to your doctor’s office? Check. Want to see if an incoming call is from your mom or your boss by looking at your wrist? Check. Track your sleeping habits? Check.

We at GearBrain have outlined what’s already on the shelves and what’s coming to market soon.

Fitness Trackers

Fitness trackers appeal to athletes as well as consumers looking to stay in shape, and are currently the best-selling wearable category on the market, monopolizing the top five sellers in this area, according to IDC. A number of early brands such as Fitbit and Garmin are leaders in this market, although big companies like Nike haven’t been able to break in very successfully.

Fitbit is the most successful brand, driven in large part by the success of its sub-$100 sleep and activity monitor, the Fitbit Flex. A hit with people who want to track their exercise and sleep habits, Flex is also popular with corporate wellness programs, which often allow employees to get the device for free or at a lower cost.

Fitbit succeeded by specializing in one thing: allowing consumers to track their fitness levels, rather than offering a slew of features. For athletes, those who want more in-depth activity tracking, Fitbit offers higher-end models including the $118 Fitbit Charge HR which comes with a heart rate monitor, and the $249 Fitbit Surge, which includes a larger screen and GPS capabilities.

Fitbit’s main competitors include Jawbone, which offers the same Up for less than $60, and Garmin, which recently released its ConnectIQ platform allowing runners, cyclists and swimmers to download third-party apps or add new watch faces. range to customize its GPS-enabled models, and range from $119 to $599.

Connected watches

Current smartwatches offer customizable faces in addition to the ability to view smartphone messages and notifications. Almost all models on the market connect to a smartphone or tablet to enable most of their functionality, while Samsung has recently started to include wireless data as an option. Many offer vibration features, heart rate monitors, microphones to give commands and hands-free interaction, and accelerometers to track movement.

The big buzz in the smartwatch category is around the Apple Watch, the best-selling wearable in the smartwatch category since its release in April 2015. The new Apple Watch Series 2 was released this fall and enables third-party apps, or apps native apps, to appear on the watch, which analysts say will lead to a similar sales boost to the launch of the App Store for the iPhone.

Prior to the release of the Apple Watch 2 Series, the Apple Watch only worked in tandem with the iPhone – a user must own both devices – which dampened its appeal slightly. But the myriad ways the user can customize the Apple Watch was a boost. Apple sells the Watch with a stainless steel case and rubber strap with more expensive options available for leather or stainless steel straps. Consumers looking for more luxurious models can pay up to $17,000 for the Watch Edition, which includes an 18k yellow or rose gold case.

The Apple Watch Sport is an entry-level model with an aluminum case, Ion-X glass and a rubber strap. After the Sport, the Apple Watch upgrades the display coating to sapphire crystal – a material often found in mid-to-high-end wristwatches that’s tougher than steel and harder than Gorilla Glass found on most smartphones.

Apple is expected to release an update to the Watch sometime in mid-2016 or later. Some analysts claim that the company will reduce the form factor – its shape and the arrangement of elements – and try to increase performance and battery life, but there are currently no substantial reports confirming details on the second Apple Watch.

Samsung entered the wearables market almost exactly a year before Apple, with its Galaxy Gear. Newer models include the Samsung Gear S2 (with a rubber strap) and the Gear S2 Classic (with a steel case and leather strap options). Both run on the company’s custom Tizen operating system, as opposed to Google’s Android or Android Wear platforms, and only work with certain Samsung smartphone models. The company has since released a number of different models at different price points.

The all-new Samsung Gear S2 features a new rotating bezel surrounding the watch face that slightly sets it apart from the competition. Samsung also sells specific Gear S2s including models with optional 3G data to allow them internet functionality when not connected to a smartphone. The device has access to third-party apps, but Samsung’s Tizen platform will likely contain far fewer apps than those available on Android Wear devices or the Apple Watch.

Google entered the smartwatch market with a very similar approach to its Android platform, developing a unified operating system and offering it to manufacturers. Called Android Wear, Google’s range of smartwatches are made by companies including Motorola, LG and Sony.

Android Wear smartwatches, like Android smartphones, come in a number of sizes, shapes (round and square), styles, and price points. They require a smartphone connection and work with most Android phones as well as the iPhone.

Motorola recently unveiled its updated Moto 360 for 2015. The previous model was the best-selling Android Wear smartwatch and one of the first models to feature a circular display.

A notable competitor to Apple, Google and Samsung is Pebble. The small startup was the first company to offer a real smartwatch, which works with both iPhone and Android, including entering the market in 2013 with a hugely popular crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter. The most recent model, called Pebble Time, features a metal case and a round design.

Headsets: from augmented reality to virtual reality

Google may not be planning to release a consumer version of its Glass headset after all, but the high-profile device’s 2012 announcement sparked consumer curiosity about laptops.

The headset offered easy voice-activated access to a Google search and an eye-level camera, as well as a small visual display built into a pair of lensless goggles. Analysts say the company has put development of a consumer model on the back burner, while focusing on creating industrial and military applications for the headset.

Google Glass was the first popular version of an augmented reality headset. Augmented reality, or computer-generated graphics overlaid on a view of the real world, was previously offered in a limited way on smartphones. Google’s original vision for Project Glass included a number of augmented reality features, including real-time visual translation of foreign languages, a voice-activated virtual assistant, and the ability to identify people in view of its camera.

Now, Microsoft has taken the lead in this area, developing its own augmented reality headset, named Project HoloLens. The proposed device should take the concept one step further, offering advanced graphics inside the full field of vision of the wearer. Microsoft has widely promoted Hololens as a gaming-centric device and hasn’t announced an official release date for its headset.

A third player in the market, Oculus, a virtual reality startup, was initially launched as an early product aimed at software developers. (Facebook finalized a deal to buy Oculus for $2 billion in 2014.) It’s Rift headset was developed through a Kickstarter campaign in 2012, and Oculus says a consumer version of its Rift headset will come to sometime in 2016. In the meantime, the company partnered with Samsung to release a model powered by the South Korean manufacturer’s smartphones, called Gear VR.

Sony is also developing a competitor to the Oculus Rift called PlayStation VR. Slated for release in 2016, Sony says the headset will be compatible with PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita.

You can learn more about the best VR headsets for gamers by visiting our Buying Guide: Best VR Headsets for Gamers

Medical

Not yet prominent in the consumer scene, wearables are also expected to be used by the medical industry in the future. Already, health tech companies like MC10 and Vital Connect have developed smart patches that can stick to a patient’s skin, allowing medical professionals to remotely monitor and diagnose health issues.

Google Glass has also been tested by a number of hospitals by doctors to provide hands-free information when examining patients. Google is also partnering with pharmaceutical powerhouse Novartis to develop a contact lens that can track the blood sugar of diabetics.

What to ask

Wearable devices on the market today, such as smartwatches, may ultimately prove more convenient – ​​and useful – to users than today’s smartphones. They can offer new features such as heart rate monitoring, or simply make it easier to receive messages and other notifications without having to pick up or carry their phone or other portable device.

For those looking to buy a wearable accessory right away, like fitness bands like the Fitbit or smartwatches like the Apple Watch, the deciding factor should be: what is my primary focus?

If you’re looking for an option that makes your workout easier, or can look stylish on your wrist, there are wearables today that can add a fun factor to your current digital cache – and make you feel on point.

We’re only in the early stages of how wearables will transform the way we interact with technology – and with each other. Stay tuned.

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