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2013 Smartwatch Comparison Guide

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November 25, 2013

Gizmag compares the biggest smartwatches of 2013

Gizmag compares the biggest smartwatches of 2013

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Is it worth buying a smartwatch this holiday season? Or are you better off waiting for Apple and Google to enter the race? Well, though the product category is still evolving, we've enjoyed our time with most of the early smartwatches we've reviewed. Let's line some of them up, compare their features and specs, and see if it's worth pulling the trigger.

Meet the smartwatches

There really aren't that many smartwatches available just yet. But the nice thing about the early stages of a product's evolution is that you have huge companies sitting side-by-side with scrappy young startups. We think our group is a great reflection of that:

  • Pebble
  • Samsung Galaxy Gear
  • Sony SmartWatch 2
  • Qualcomm Toq
  • Martian

Before we jump in, keep in mind that the Martian smartwatch comes in two other flavors, but for simplicity's sake, we're focusing on the Passport model. Besides some minor size and weight differences, the biggest difference is the watch's look.

Also note that we're leaving out wrist-based fitness trackers, like the Jawbone Up, Nike Fuelband, and Fitbit Force. There's a little overlap there, but this guide is about the watches that have a broader focus.

Standalone smartwatch?

Just so you know what you're dealing with, none of these watches are standalone wireless d...

Just to be crystal clear about what we're dealing with here, none of these watches do diddly-squat on their own. You'll need to pair each of them with a compatible smartphone, or else there won't be anything "smart" about it. These are smartphone accessories, not smartphone replacements.

Android compatibility

Compatibility with Android phones

All of these watches are compatible with at least some Android phones. Four of the five will work with just about any semi-recent Android handset. Each phone has its own companion app that you can download, usually from the Play Store.

The most limited is Samsung's Galaxy Gear, which is only compatible with a few Samsung phones. It syncs up with the Galaxy Note 3, along with Galaxy S4s and S3s that have been updated to Android 4.3. Not every carrier has pushed that update yet, so be sure to double check your version before plunking down for the Gear.

iPhone compatibility

The Pebble and Martian are compatible with iPhones

Quite a different picture for iPhone pairing, as only the Pebble and Martian smartwatches play nicely with Apple's handset. They each have App Store apps that will send some of your iPhone's smarts to your wrist.

Android notifications

Each of these watches offers some kind of notifications when paired with an Android phone

Notifications are one of the biggest perks of having a smartwatch. Most of our watches will push all of your Android phone's notifications to your watch, vibrating your wrist. The only caveat here is that full Android notifications with Pebble and the Sony SW2 require third-party apps from the Play Store.

iPhone notifications

Only the Pebble gives you full notification support on the iPhone

Pebble was recently updated to push all of your iPhone's notifications to the watch. Martian's iOS notifications are limited to calls, text messages, calendar events, reminders, Facebook and Twitter, and (non-push) email. Martian tells us that a future update, though, will expand that to all of your phone's alerts.

Voice assistant

The Martian's Siri and Google Now voice control compatibility is its killer feature

This is the Martian watch's killer feature, as it supports Siri on iOS and Google Now on Android. The watch acts like a Bluetooth headset, letting you use your voice to do things like send messages and emails, set reminders, check the weather, make reservations, get sports scores, and much more.

Samsung has its own S Voice assistant baked into the Galaxy Gear, but it isn't on the same level. S Voice is basically a lackluster Siri knockoff, and the Galaxy Gear version is even more limited than the full version found on Samsung phones.

We think voice is the most logical and natural way of interacting with a smartwatch (and probably any wearable computer). In that respect, the Martian watch is, for the moment, in a league of its own.

Size

Listed dimensions for the watches' faces

These are the dimensions for each watch's face. The Galaxy Gear is the biggest, but they're all somewhat big and beefy. For that reason, we think this first batch of smartwatches work well on men's wrists, but not so well on women's (typically smaller) wrists.

Weight

The Sony SmartWatch 2 is the heaviest in this bunch

Weight isn't much of a concern here, as none of these feel too heavy on your wrist.

Build

Build materials for the watches' main faces

Qualcomm's Toq watch hasn't been released yet, and we aren't quite sure what build materials it uses. But we've had plenty of hands-on time with the other four, and all but the Pebble are metallic.

Colors

Color options available for each watch

The Pebble and Galaxy Gear are sold in a bunch of colors, and all but Sony's SmartWatch 2 come in at least two hues.

Alternate styles

The Martian is sold in two other variants, in addition to the Passport style pictured in t...

The Martian smartwatch is the only one in this crop that is sold in several different styles. As we mentioned, we've been focusing on the retro-looking Passport model, but Martian will also sell you its more modern-looking Victory and colorful G2G designs.

Screen size and resolution

Screen sizes and resolutions

Four of the five watches have screens dominating their faces. The Galaxy Gear's is both the biggest and sharpest.

The oddball here is the Martian, which has a small horizontal screen sitting below a traditional-looking analog watch. This makes it the most incognito-looking smartwatch in this bunch ... well, at least until you start talking to it.

Screen type

All of these screens should do well in direct sunlight

Three of the watches rely on touchscreens, while the Pebble and Martian stick with buttons on their sides for input. The Pebble and Martian are also the only watches in this bunch that lack color displays.

They all work pretty well in direct sunlight, and we didn't have any problems with any of them under extremely bright sun (not including the Toq, which we haven't tested yet).

Phone calls

The Galaxy Gear and Martian let you place and receive calls on the watch

If you dream of Dick Tracy-like phone calls on your watch, then the Galaxy Gear and Martian both deliver. We didn't have any problems with call quality on either watch.

The biggest difference is that the Gear's mic and speaker are on the strap, so you're better off holding it so the inside of your wrist is closer to your face. On the Martian, the mic and speaker live on the watch's main body.

The other three watches let you initiate and accept calls from the watch, but since they lack microphones, you'll need to use a Bluetooth headset (or your phone) for the actual call.

Camera

Only the Galaxy Gear has a camera (on its band)

It's debatable whether a smartwatch needs a camera, but if you fancy one, the Galaxy Gear might be the watch for you. There's no front-facing cam for video chat, though. The Gear's camera is on its strap, so it's meant more for snapping quick pics without pulling out your phone.

Fitness tracking

All but the Martian offer some kind of fitness tracking (usually via a third-party smartph...

Along with notifications and voice control, fitness tracking is one of our three favorite features to have on a smartwatch. None of these watches are dedicated fitness trackers, but four of the five offer some kind of pedometer functionality, either natively or through third-party apps like RunKeeper or Runtastic.

Battery life (estimated)

Estimated maximum battery life, according to manufacturers

These are the manufacturer estimates for each watch. In our testing, we'd say the Pebble is going to last the longest. On the other end, the Galaxy Gear will probably need to be charged every night.

Until we get our hands on the Toq, we're left with Qualcomm's vague "multiple days" estimate.

Bluetooth

The watches that support Bluetooth 4.0 Low Energy have the advantage, as your phone won't ...

Your watch needs to connect to your phone somehow, and that "somehow" is Bluetooth. Here the Pebble, Galaxy Gear, and Martian have the advantage with Bluetooth 4.0, including the Low Energy variant. If your phone supports BT LE (many high-end phones from the last year do) then the watch's drain on your phone's battery life will be minimal.

Wireless charging

The Toq will ship with a wireless charging dock included

Qualcomm's Toq charges wirelessly, and you get a wireless charging dock along with your watch. It's hard to imagine an easier way to charge your watch at night.

Water resistance

Water resistance for each watch

We aren't yet sure about the Toq, but all of the others offer some kind of water resistance. The Pebble offers the best water protection, as you can go swimming while wearing it (we swam many times while wearing our review unit without any problems).

NFC

The Sony SmartWatch 2 has an NFC chip, but it's only used for pairing the watch with an NF...

Near-field communication (NFC) could have some interesting applications for smartwatches down the road, like easy file sharing or even mobile payments. But for now, only the SW2 has an NFC chip, and it's only there to help with your initial setup.

Swappable band

Three of the five watches let you swap in any standard 22 mm watch band

If you aren't happy with your watch's default band, three of the five watches let you swap it for any standard 22 mm band.

Pricing

Prices for each of the watches

It looks like manufacturers are still feeling out what customers are willing to pay for a smartwatch. Pebble is the only one falling under US$200, while the Toq will cap out at a relatively pricey $350.

Both the Passport (pictured) and Victory models of the Martian cost $300, while the G2G edition comes in a little cheaper, at $250.

Wristward bound?

With our smartphone and tablet comparisons, the focus is exclusively on which product is best for you. With smartwatches, though, the first question to ask is whether you want a smartwatch at all at this point. They aren't for everyone. It's completely possible that the product category won't go mainstream until Apple or Google jump in (if it does even then).

But in testing four of these five watches in the last few months, we find it hard to go back to not wearing some kind of smartwatch. Notifications on your wrist let you leave your phone in your pocket or on the charger most of the time. The wrist is also the perfect place to quickly view fitness tracking info. And Siri and Google Now – exclusively the domain of the Martian right now – are tailor-made for hands-free computing.

As with all of these comparisons, the "winner" is going to depend on what you're looking for. The Galaxy Gear gives you the most features, but its phone compatibility is also by far the most limited in this group. Pebble lacks some of the Gear's more smartphone-like features, but it has a lot of software support and a great price. We're also pretty big fans of the Martian smartwatch, for its incognito look and Siri compatibility.

Whichever direction you choose – even if that means holding out for Apple's and Google's rumored takes on the smartwatch – hopefully you're a little clearer on what kind of bang the current crop gives you for your buck.

... and if you're still on the fence, you can hit up our individual reviews of these smartwatches (the Toq releases on Dec. 2, and we should have a review before long):

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About the Author
Will Shanklin Will Shanklin is Gizmag's Mobile Tech Editor, and has been part of the team since 2012. Will has a Master's degree from U.C. Irvine and a Bachelor's from West Virginia University. He currently lives in New Mexico with his wife, Jessica.
  All articles by Will Shanklin
14 Comments

even thou not well known, SmartQ Z Watch should be mention, since it has similar primary fuctions (pushing notification), among other things. $100

Theres also Geak Watch (relatively new). $320

Goophone Smartwatch, which is more of a smartphone-watch rather than companion device, is also available. $299

These should be considered for people interested in getting a smartwatch.

milkboy
26th November, 2013 @ 02:06 am PST

I think that is a very informative comparison. Perhaps a future comparison will include the ones mentioned by MilkBoy?

I wonder if the Geek Watch uses the Nerd OS? :) I wonder if it is from the same company that has a Geek smartphone?

BigGoofyGuy
26th November, 2013 @ 06:44 am PST

What about support to Windows Phone?

We are here too ;)

Sick Spider
26th November, 2013 @ 08:42 am PST

would have been nice to see the AGENT watch also included in this review..

http://agentwatches.com/

Frank Fain
26th November, 2013 @ 08:44 am PST

Another fine display by Will...

5 Watches and none of them displaying seconds.

Is this 3 generations and back to the plow or is it the great advance of the 21st Century. To hell with Mr. Harison, and Ben Franklin, Nobody needs to be accurate to the NBS standard time??

After lengthy complaints AAPL now is a half second ahead.

But wrist watches that may be all over the place in time are basically useless.

Bill

Lewis M. Dickens III
26th November, 2013 @ 09:07 am PST

I think you left out a really important new watch, the Neptune Pine (http://smartwatchforiphone.com/2013/11/22/neptune-pines-reinvented-smartwatch/ ), which is the only standalone smartwatch so far, is within the price range of those watches, and has incredibly more functionality than any of the above smartwatches.

Smart Watch
26th November, 2013 @ 10:43 am PST

I appreciate the work done to publish this article.

thanks!

Ra'anan
26th November, 2013 @ 01:42 pm PST

I'm still using the original Sony Smartwatch. I think it's a better size than version 2. You can get it for $100 these days so it's good value, and it works with Android 2.3, which suits my old Droid Pro Plus (pretty much the only decent Android phone with a keyboard).

charlieFreak
26th November, 2013 @ 04:21 pm PST

Hmm, none of the five are true "Dick Tracy" video chat watches. Supposedly that Neptune Pine is capable, so that sounds good.

Also, hey what about us Blackberry people? There are a couple of us still around!!

Lastly, you forgot the oscilloscope watch. That article was only a few days ago too. It was just $125 on the kickstarter campaign! Also, there were 100 of them that went for $100.

Grunchy
27th November, 2013 @ 08:52 pm PST

They are all ugly as sin and of very limited value. A waste of space

Facebook User
28th November, 2013 @ 02:58 am PST

My spreadsheet comparing them now has 15 watches. I have a HOT watch coming to replace my Pebble. I'd love the Emopulse Smile but $550 is too much for me. Not for that great device, just my budget. And although you can't include the Apple version (because it may not even exist) you do have to wonder.

But thanks for the start. I like the way it is done. I found my spreadsheet is very hard to use to compare them. Your method brings some sense by simplifying it.

Marty

DrMarty
28th November, 2013 @ 01:11 pm PST

Thanks to those who drew my attention to Neptune Pine (NP)!

It looks like my 10-years wait for a proper wrist-wearable s-phone might be over soon. When NP grows a 4-5" screen I'll buy it. If Chinese spot it, my wait will be over sooner.

Thanx Will for the review of the s-watches, but they all seem conceptually dead on arrival.

YuraG
1st December, 2013 @ 01:02 pm PST

The SmartQ Z-Watch ($149) offers a color touch screen display (240x240 resolution) along with a powerful 1Ghz processor & battery (300 mAh) and features both Bluetooth & WiFi connection.

The SmartQ Z-Watch also offers an MP3 Player & Voice Recorder, a walking/ jogging pedometer; and works with Android to handle phone calls and sync and display messages, contacts, and schedule. A software update is also expected shortly to Android 4.4 Kit Kat as well as to work with Apple iOS devices; plus an SmartQ Z-Watch App store is expected to launch in December.

Kate Perry
17th December, 2013 @ 01:14 am PST

OK Sick Spider, Pebble supports iZombies! You IZombies alreday have everything developed for you enough is enough!

I won both the Pebble and the Gear, they are pretty cool watches for what they do but a novelty none the less. There is never a day I wake up and realize I have to wear one of them. Frankly thy are a pain because you have to do something in addition to your smart phone to use them. They are a cool conversation piece and I don't regret buing them, but they are not essential at all.

Knotyboy
17th December, 2013 @ 09:52 am PST
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