Five of the best: Smartwatches from the pre-Apple Watch era

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Is the Apple Watch the only smartwatch that matters? These five wearables have something to say about that (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com)

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As the Apple Watch goes up for online pre-orders (and in-store showings) around the world, perhaps you're wondering if any of the existing smartwatches are worth a look? We've been following this space closely for the last couple of years, and think these five are your best of the pre-Apple Watch smartwatches.

Moto 360

Its less-than-amazing battery life might keep it from being a no-brainer recommendation, but the Android Wear-running Moto 360 still has a huge screen and striking design that stands out from the crowd. Buy one of the versions with a metal band, and you have our pick for the best-looking smartwatch to date.

Android Wear, incidentally, is our pick for the best smartwatch software from this pre-Apple Watch era. As we said in our Android Wear review, the Google Now-based wearable OS has a simple card-based UI, tight Android integration and (by far) the best wearable voice control to this point. Wear runs on three of our five picks.

LG G Watch R

This (also Android Wear-running) model is going to soon be replaced by the better-looking LG Watch Urbane, but the G Watch R has a couple of advantages over Motorola's watch – with longer battery life and a fully round screen.

Pebble Steel

Not far behind the Moto 360 in the looks department is Pebble Steel. Its user experience is more rudimentary, with no touchscreen, voice control or, hell, color – not to mention it's soon going to be obsolete – but Pebble's enthusiastic development community has Steel transcending the platform's barebones nature.

Asus ZenWatch

It could afford to be a little smaller, but the ZenWatch is another great all-around Android Wear watch – with a sharp screen and excellent bang for your buck, at just US$200.

Samsung Gear S

Samsung's latest smartwatch is a little hit-or-miss. On one hand, the Gear S pushes the envelope more aggressively than any of its rivals do – with features like standalone 3G data and the ability to swipe out texts or emails on its virtual keyboard (great for messaging in public, as you can skip voice control).

But on the other hand, it's only compatible with Samsung Galaxy smartphones, and the company also baffled us by leaving out fundamentals like the ability to set reminders or create calendar events. The Gear's Tizen software also has a pretty underwhelming app selection, despite beating Android Wear to the punch by several months.

A new ballgame?

The Apple Watch is going to be the most popular smartwatch to date from Day One, but will it be better than this bunch? Well, some would say "of course," while others would say Apple is now playing follow the leader in everything but public perception.

We aren't going to make any assumptions until we put the Apple Watch through extensive paces (stay tuned for that). We do know that, whether or not the Apple Watch marks a big step forward in quality, it's still going to create a big step forward in exposure to these kinds of devices. Expect to see more and more smartwatch releases, advertising and in-store displays in the coming months.

Keep an eye out for Gizmag's coverage of other upcoming watches like the LG Watch Urbane, Pebble Time, Huawei Watch and the inevitable (but still unconfirmed) sequels from Motorola and Samsung.

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