There’s no more denying it. Wearable devices are the next big thing in mobile tech, and it’s just a matter of time until they’ll start competing with “old-fashioned” smartphones for mainstream popularity.
We still don’t expect them to have a similar impact on handheld sales as tablets hurt conventional computers, but they will take a bite out of their ancestors’ profitability. No question about it. Granted, for the time being, most smartwatches need phones to work together with them to make them half-productive.
Before long, independently operated timepieces could replace phones altogether and make us all look as cool as James Bond. Or at least as geeky. Never mind, we’re perfectly fine with that, as long as they can hold a charge for a couple of days, get cellular reception anywhere, and also allow us to browse the web with ease.
Clearly, we’re not quite there yet, but just think how you’ll be able to brag in a few years you owned one of these pioneering gadgets before they were cool. With that in mind, here are the seven best Android-running and Android-compatible smartwatches money can buy today:
- 7. Samsung Gear Live – available for $199 in black or wine red on Amazon
- 6. Pebble Steel – $199.99 in black matte or brushed stainless
- 5. Asus ZenWatch
- 4. Sony SmartWatch 3 – $275 on Amazon; $250 via Google Play
- 3. Samsung Gear S – $200 with AT&T contracts, $300 outright
- 2. LG G Watch R – starting at $285 on Amazon
- 1. Motorola Moto 360 – $250 in black leather; $300 in stone leather
7. Samsung Gear Live – available for $199 in black or wine red on Amazon
Part of the first Android Wear wave, the Gear Live hasn’t exactly aged very gracefully and barely makes the top seven now after leading the ranks a measly four months back. That goes to show how rapidly evolving the market is, and how badly the Gear Live needs a discount to survive.
At $199, this thing is simply too ugly and unproductive to qualify for a smart Christmas buy. Put differently, I wouldn’t gift my biggest enemy the Gear Live. The square design is disgusting, the 1.63-inch 320 x 320 pix res screen just… meh, and the battery life underwhelming, at around a day of continuous use, give or take.
But Adrian, if it’s so bad, why is it on the recommended list, albeit in last place? The answer is Android Wear. Also, it’s a Samsung, and that has to count for something.
6. Pebble Steel – $199.99 in black matte or brushed stainless
Yes, we realize the Pebble Steel only slipped one spot since August, and now leads the Gear Live after trailing it by four places. And no, Pebble didn’t roll out a magic software update in the meantime to vastly improve basic functionality.
It’s just that, after careful (re) consideration, we’ve come to the conclusion apps aren’t everything. Great, retro, elegant looks and record-setting autonomy trump Android Wear, and a recent $30 price cut also helped the Steel become a steal (pun intended).
To be clear, no, Pebble’s second-gen contender doesn’t run Android Wear, or an OS resembling in any way Android. Still, it’s fully Android compatible, neatly displays notifications from your synched phone, and supports over 1,000 proprietary applications, most of which should come in handy for health nuts.
5. Asus ZenWatch
- $275 via third-party Amazon sellers; $200 at Best Buy (temporarily sold out); $200 on Google Play (availability fairly patchy)
No one took Asus very seriously when they set out to revolutionize the fledgling smartwatch universe, and sadly, the Taiwanese seem to be treating the ZenWatch as a limited test run. If you can find this baby though at its list price of $200, don’t give it a second thought. Buy it before it’s too late.
It’s not round, but it’s extremely fashionable. It’s useless without a smartphone yet highly productive on the whole, thanks to Android Wear and, surprisingly enough, ZenUI tweaks and add-ons. It’s mostly ho-hum in the battery life department, but makes up for it with performance perfectly on par with the medal winners detailed below.
Overall, it’s the ideal stocking filler… if you can find it.
4. Sony SmartWatch 3 – $275 on Amazon; $250 via Google Play
Let’s say we understand why Asus has trouble building enough ZenWatch copies to go around. But et tu, Sony? You should be skilled in this niche, after all, you helped set it up back in 2012. But for whatever reason, the Sony SmartWatch 3 is really hard to come by.
Which is a damn shame, because this is Sony’s first Android wearable effort and, while it’s not a looker, it’s packed with features you’re bound to find useful. Built-in GPS, amazing water protection, a design tailor-made for fitness enthusiasts and, oh, did we mention the built-in GPS?
Guess we did, but it’s worth underlining. Now lower the ask to $200, let Amazon and Best Buy sell it, Sony, and it’s game over for Samsung, LG, Motorola and perhaps even Apple. Too bad that’s never going to happen.
3. Samsung Gear S – $200 with AT&T contracts, $300 outright
Futuristic and fully independent, the Gear S is a big step in the right direction, but it’s still awkward to wear and just all-around unattractive. Curves are nice, Sammy, but what we really want are circles. Nope, a smartphone for our wrist won’t do, it’s a classic watch that can work as a smartphone we’re dreaming of.
Adding insult to injury, the Gear S runs Tizen. Frigging, fugly, glitchy, limited Tizen. Obviously, it can pair up with an Android phone, or make and receive voice calls all by itself. The latter is really the only reason we’re (unenthusiastically) recommending the gizmo, which also feels a little pricey and doesn’t impress with stellar battery life.
2. LG G Watch R – starting at $285 on Amazon
This doesn’t happen often, but for once, LG’s architects have eclipsed Samsung’s designer team. By a landslide, the G Watch R is sleeker, more elegant and more… watch-like than the Gear S. In short, it’s not something to be ashamed with when wearing, and that was no easy feat to pull for this baby’s creators.
Also available directly from Google at $300, as well as on T-Mobile and AT&T, the G Watch R is highly dependent on third-party phones, like the vast majority of today’s smartwatches. On the bright side, the 1.3-inch P-OLED display is a stunner, the 410 mAh cell pretty solid for wearable standards, and you even get IP67 water and dust resistance.
1. Motorola Moto 360 – $250 in black leather; $300 in stone leather
This was probably the toughest call we’ve had to make since starting these listicles, but ultimately, the 360 (barely) edged out the G Watch R with affordability and a slightly more original sense of style. Aesthetics is perhaps a matter of personal preference, but we feel the 360 blends the retro feel of a conventional watch with the futuristic vibe of a smartwatch better than the G Watch R.
And yes, Moto 360’s battery performance is a little on the underwhelming side, as is overall speed and system smoothness. But the superior build materials also helped Motorola defeat LG, as did the numerous band and color options.
Mind you, the 360 can be picked up at Best Buy in “natural silver” with a metal strap for $300. Or in “dark metal”, also at $300. Or, you can purchase a separate $30 “cognac” leather band to keep things fresh and original. Now, let’s hear it for our champion and fill up those Christmas stockings with the best of the best in Android tech. Who’s with us?