2015 Smartwatch Comparison Guide
The first time we compared the best smartwatches money can buy, wearables were a novelty category – barely blips on the public radar. Today smartwatches still aren't an essential product, but more people own them than ever and just about everyone is at least aware of their existence. Let's break down the best smartwatches of 2015, feature by feature.
Update: This article is now obsolete; you can now read our latest version here.
Here are the six smartwatches we chose for this year's comparison guide:
- Huawei Watch
- Apple Watch
- Samsung Gear S2 (and Gear S2 Classic)
- Motorola Moto 360 (2nd generation)
- Pebble Time Round
- LG Watch Urbane
For each category you'll see two rows of images, with the watches ordered as they are in the list above.
In some categories you'll see two Apple Watches (42 mm and 38 mm models), two Gear S2s (standard and Classic) or two Moto 360s (46 mm and 42 mm). If you only see one version in a category, that means they're the same.
This year we saw smartwatches get smaller – and considering the oversized wrist-computers that populated some of our previous guides, that's most definitely a good thing. We still have a couple of biggies in here, but we left out another watch that could have easily made our list, the Asus ZenWatch 2, mostly because it looks oversized for a late 2015 watch.
The smallest in this group are the Apple Watch and Pebble Time Round, but the Gear S2 (particularly the Classic), Huawei Watch and 42 mm Moto 360 don't look gawdy either.
Pebble Time Round's killer feature is its razor-thin build: it's 29 percent thinner than the second thinnest watch in this bunch, the Apple Watch. We liken it to strapping a Thin Mint to your wrist.
Stainless steel is the standard here, though Apple's entry-level Watch uses aluminum. The minimum you'll pay for a stainless steel Apple Watch is US$549 – significantly more than its steel rivals in this group ring up for.
It's all relative though. If you want to make that stainless steel Apple Watch look like a bargain, just feast your eyes on the 18-Karat gold Apple Watch Edition, which starts at $10,000.
Default band materials
The entry-level models for Apple's and Samsung's watches use rubbery-feeling elastomer or fluoroelastomer bands. They feel solid enough for a cheaper material, but are also clearly a step down from leather or stainless steel.
Huawei, Motorola, Pebble and LG give you leather bands by default in their entry-level models. And all but Samsung and LG give you the option of a snazzier steel bracelet.
All but the LG Watch Urbane have quick-release toggles for their bands, so you can swap them out without using tools.
The Apple Watch works a little differently, as its quick-release switch is on the watch itself. On the others, the switch is on the default band, so if you switch with a standard third-party watch band, you'll still need tools to put that one on.
You'll have several colors to choose from for each watch.
The 46 mm Moto 360 has the biggest screen in this bunch, while the tiny Pebble Time Round display is the smallest.
The Apple Watch has the highest pixel density in this bunch, at 326 PPI, but the 302 PPI Gear S2 isn't far behind.
Pebble Time has by far the worst display resolution in this bunch, and it also uses a more rudimentary display technology (it only supports 64 colors).
Pebble Time Round also lacks a touchscreen, instead making you navigate with the watch's four physical side buttons.
The Apple Watch adds a new dimension to touchscreen interaction: by pressing deeper on the screen you trigger a "Force Touch." In some areas of watchOS, this brings up menus and extra options.
Scrolling crown or dial
The Apple Watch also has a Digital Crown on its right side, which you can twist to do things like scroll through menus and zoom in and out of pictures and apps.
Samsung used a similar approach on the Gear S2. Its rotating bezel is a blast to use, letting you quickly and easily scroll through widgets, messages and the like by twisting the watch's front dial. It's an intuitive and natural-feeling way to reach down and interact with your watch.
The rotating bezel is the Gear S2's killer feature, and our favorite smartwatch input method to date. This feature alone is awesome enough to consider choosing the Gear over the others.
The Android Wear watches let you scroll through notifications by flicking your wrist. The next version of Wear (based on Android Marshmallow) will have some new hands-free control, like taking actions on alert cards or jumping to your app screen.
All but the Apple Watch are compatible with recent Android phones.
Likewise, all but the Gear are compatible with iPhones. Just keep in mind that the three Android Wear watches (Huawei Watch, Moto 360, LG Urbane) are a bit more limited when paired with an iPhone than when paired with an Android phone – third-party apps being the big omission.
There's a more expensive version of the Gear S2 (standard only, not Gear S2 Classic) with built-in 3G – and "4G," if you count HSPA+ – cellular capabilities.
Just remember that the 3G Gear S2 isn't designed to replace your phone. It's more of a way to stay connected and receive messages while on a jog or trip to the gym.
All of the watches have some built-in protection from the elements, with the Gear S2 having the best water resistance rating (continuous immersion beyond 1 m/3.3 ft).
The Apple Watch is the only one that doesn't give you an always-on clock face option. When you aren't actively using the Apple Watch, it will have a dead-looking black screen.
Keep this in mind for the next category ...
These figures are our estimates for expected battery life with typical use, based on our review units.
The estimates for everything but the Apple Watch are with the always-on clock setting turned on. If you turn that setting off for the other watches, you can add roughly an extra day to their estimates.
All but Pebble have voice assistants baked in: Google Now on the three Android Wear watches, Siri on the Apple Watch and S Voice on the Gear S2. Pebble only supports voice dictation.
This is one of the Gear S2's only weaknesses. Samsung's S Voice isn't nearly as polished – and can't do as much – as Siri or Google Now.
All of these devices will give you alerts to incoming calls, but only the Apple Watch lets you take the call by talking to your watch, Dick Tracy style (largely because it's the only watch in this list with a speaker).
The 3G cellular-enabled version of the Gear S2 also lets you take calls, but not the standard Bluetooth versions.
All of the watches can track your daily steps in the background, or log individual workouts – either natively or through third-party apps.
Heart rate sensor
Only Pebble Time Round lacks a built-in heart rate sensor. Like the standard Pebble Time, it has a port that can eventually support "Smart Straps," so you could, in theory, add heart rate sensing through a separate purchase later on. But why bother with that, when you're paying about the same for a better watch that has it today?
Most of smartwatches' functionality is simply mirroring features you already have on your phone. But here's one that only makes sense on your wrist: after a set amount of time sitting on your tush, the watch can nudge you to get up and move (we originally saw this in Jawbone's fitness trackers).
Apple and Samsung have this base covered, but Google has yet to provide a built-in equivalent in Android Wear. There are a few third-party Wear apps that claim to do this, but we've found them to be unreliable.
This may not be the first thing to think of when buying a smartwatch, but it can be one of the most convenient features to have on your wrist. That's why we found it so baffling that Samsung doesn't support the ability to create reminders or calendar events on the Gear S2 (though the watch will receive reminder alerts that you created on your phone).
Pebble Time Round manages to go one worse, not letting you either schedule or receive reminders on the watch (at least using Google Now on an Android phone).
The Gear S2 is the only watch in this bunch with an onscreen keyboard. You won't want to use this all the time, but if you need to reply to a message in a place where voice dictation isn't an option (and you'd rather not whip out your phone), Samsung's virtual keypad works pretty well.
Multiple vibration levels
This sounds like another odd category, but on watches with multiple vibration strength settings, we consistently feel most or all alerts when set to the stronger setting. On the Android Wear watches, which don't let you customize the strength, we often miss alerts.
All but the Apple Watch and LG Urbane launched within the last two or three months. We wouldn't be shocked to see a second-generation Apple Watch arrive in the first half of 2016.
One of the Apple Watch's biggest advantages is its third-party app support. Developers jumped onto watchOS faster than they did Android Wear, Samsung's Tizen or Pebble OS.
Just remember that smartwatches are largely about notifications, and all of these watches can receive alerts from most (if not all) third-party smartphone apps, whether they have dedicated watch applications or not.
Pebble Time Round is the cheapest watch in this group, but it may also give you the least bang for your buck. Using more rudimentary tech compared to the others, the ceiling for what Pebble can do is much lower. If you want to keep things simple and basic (and get that incredibly thin design), it's not a bad choice; we just wish the cost of admission reflected that.
The Apple Watch technically starts at $349, but that's only for the smaller (38 mm) model, with an aluminum body and rubbery strap. To get a larger model with stainless steel body and leather band, that jumps up to a $699 minimum. On a sheer materials to price ratio, the Apple Watch is the worst value.
On the other hand, the Apple Watch is pleasantly small, has a refined operating system with the best third-party app support and no major flaws. If you're an iPhone owner and you take pricing out of the equation, it's your best option.
The Gear S2 (and Gear S2 Classic) came very close to being our top overall smartwatch recommendation, thanks largely to that awesome front dial – and it is still one of our three top choices. But its mediocre voice assistant, head-scratching inability to create reminders or calendar events and weak third-party app selection keep it from decidedly rising above its rivals.
No matter what phone you own, we recommend taking a long look at the Huawei Watch. It probably looks like a real watch more than any of the others here (and a damn good-looking one at that) and ships with a sapphire display as standard. It ain't cheap, shooting up as high as $799 for a 22K gold plated model – and it doesn't do anything that other Android Wear watches don't already do. But its materials to price ratio may still be the best.
The Moto 360 has many of the same strengths as the Huawei Watch, only it starts at $50 cheaper. It does, however, lack sapphire and has a more polarizing design with that "flat tire" (not fully round) display and those prominent lugs jutting out from its body.
The LG Watch Urbane is overpriced for an oversized watch from the first half of this year. We don't recommend buying it at its full $349 retail price, but if you can find it at a significant discount (at the time of publication Best Buy has it for $250), it could still be worth a look.
For more on the best smartwatches of 2015, you can check out Gizmag's full reviews:
The original version of this article included the LG Watch Urbane LTE 2nd Edition, but LG has ceased sales of the watch, citing an unspecified hardware issue.