A smartwatch is a portable device designed to be worn on your wrist. Like smartphones, they use a touchscreen, offer apps and often record your heart rate and other vital signs.
Apple Watch and Wear (formerly known as Android Wear) models are prompting more consumers to recognize the benefits of wearing a mini computer on their wrist. In addition, specialist smartwatches for outdoor activities often complement other bulkier devices in the adventurer's toolkit.
Most smartwatches - whether used for everyday use (e.g. Apple Watch) or for a specific purpose (e.g. Garmin Fenix) - offer a standard set of features.
GPS: Most smartwatches include a GPS to track your location or receive location-specific alerts.
Long battery life: Modern smartwatches come with batteries that can get you through a day of normal use with a little charge left.
Media management: Most smartwatches paired with your smartphone can manage media playback for you. For example, when you're listening to music on your iPhone using Apple's AirPods, you can use your Apple Watch to change the volume and track.
Notifications: your smartphone displays notifications to alert you to important events or activities. The types of notifications vary; devices connected to your smartphone may simply reflect your phone's notifications on your wrist, but other smartwatches display notifications that only wearable devices can provide. For example, the newer Apple Watch includes a drop sensor. If you fall while wearing the Watch, it senses your subsequent movements. If it doesn't detect any movement, it sends a series of escalation notifications. Fail to respond to the notification and the Watch assumes you are injured and alerts the authorities on your behalf.
Apps: As well as displaying notifications from your phone, a smartwatch is only as good as the apps it supports. The app ecosystem varies, and they are linked to either Apple or Google environments. Smartwatches with a dedicated purpose (such as hiking or diving) usually support the apps needed to fulfill that purpose, without the opportunity to add other types of apps.
Reply to messages by voice: Remember when the heroic detective in the old Dick Tracy comics used his watch as a phone? Modern smartwatches running watchOS or the Wear operating system support voice dictation.
Fitness tracking: If you're a hardcore athlete, a dedicated fitness bracelet is probably a better option than a smartwatch. That said, many smartwatches include a heart rate monitor and pedometer to help track your workouts.
Compatibility: Don't buy a smartwatch without checking that it works with your smartphone. For example, the Apple Watch will only work with the best iPhones.
Fitness features: If you're a fitness enthusiast, choose a watch with a heart rate sensor and GPS (to track your runs).
Battery life: shop with the rated battery life in mind. Hybrid smartwatches that look more like analog timepieces tend to have the longest battery life, but they don't have touchscreens.
Replaceable straps: Check that the clasp or buckle on the strap is easy to use and replace. Also, make sure you can easily find a replacement strap.
App availability: The choice of apps is a factor and is where Wear OS differs from watchOS. That is, it is not as important as compatibility, design, and other features.