The 8 best wearable tech products for the 2015 holidays
In the last few years, we've seen wearable tech products go from concept to clunky early adopter gizmos to the (somewhat) mainstream consumer products they are today. Though they're still unnecessary luxuries, some of them are worth the price of admission in fun alone. Join Gizmag as we break down the best wearables of 2015.
Honorable mention: Apple Watch
The Apple Watch is one of the most polished wearables to date, it was the first advanced smartwatch that didn't look ginormous on women's wrists and it's also the smartwatch with the best all-around combination of hardware and software. If you own an iPhone and price is no object, then it's a no-brainer wearable purchase.
So why isn't it our top pick? Well, for starters, it's too expensive. Rival smartwatches have stainless steel bodies and premium bands for less than Apple charges for its entry-level Watch – with aluminum body and cheaper rubbery (fluroelastomer) band. Jumping up to a stainless steel Apple Watch with leather band costs a US$649 minimum – way too much for a tiny tech product that nobody really needs.
The Apple Watch also has a somewhat complicated UI that strays from the simplicity of Apple's best first-generation products. It has touchscreen input, a scrolling Digital Crown, side buttons and Force Touch (pressure-sensitive presses on the screen) – it all adds up to a product that lacks the "pick it up and immediately get it" quality that the first iPod, iPhone and iPad had.
The Apple Watch starts at $349 for the smaller 38 mm models, and $399 for 42mm.
Honorable mention: Fitbit Charge HR
Our favorite standalone fitness tracker of 2015, the Fitbit Charge HR is unusually small for a wearable that tracks heart rate – and it's also one of the few trackers that can fit in about as well at the office as at the gym.
Another killer feature? The Fitbit Charge HR retails for a reasonable $150.
Honorable mention: Thync
Easily the most unique wearable we reviewed this year, Thync sends little pulses of electricity into your brain to make you feel either calm or energized. It's hard to make a broad recommendation with a product like this (though it works for us, who knows if it will work for you), but we think it's pretty damn cool that we can strap on a small Bluetooth-connected device and feel something similar to a mild weed-induced chill or burst of inspired motivation.
Unfortunately, four months after launch, Thync is still iOS only – with the Android companion app supposedly arriving later this month. The device also requires strip refills at $20 for a pack of five, which can get pricey over time (especially considering some people won't get more than one or two uses out of each strip).
Thync currently rings up for $199, which is $100 cheaper than it was at launch. But current buyers will eventually have to pay for some seasonal and premium "vibes" (pre-set calming or energizing programs) as in-app purchases.
Honorable mention: Moto 360 (2nd-generation)
The new Moto 360 is an improvement over the original, but we still think it squelched some of the momentum that the first model kicked off.
It still has that strange "flat tire" design (the cut-off point at the bottom of the screen) and adds prominent lugs that only add to its polarizing look. On the other hand, though, the 2nd-gen Moto 360 ships in a smaller size, has a sharper display and fixes the original's sketchy battery life.
The Moto 360 2 is available now, starting at $300 for the smaller 42 mm model, and $350 for the huge 46 mm one.
Honorable mention: Moov Now
Fitness trackers are good at, well, tracking your fitness, but most of them assume that awareness alone is all it takes to lead to better results. Moov Now takes things a step further by using its 3D motion sensor to coach your form and count your reps (via audio feedback on a paired smartphone).
The minimally-designed wearable can be strapped to either your wrist or ankle and boasts an impressive six-month battery life.
Moov Now is priced at just $80.
Honorable mention: Samsung Gear S2
So close yet so far, the Gear S2 soars to the highest of smartwatch heights only to fumble some of the fundamentals.
Its killer feature is its rotating bezel, which is the most intuitive smartwatch UI navigation method yet (even if it feels like an obvious response to the Apple Watch's Digital Crown). It's also the smallest Samsung Gear watch yet and the first Tizen-running Gear to work with all recent Android phones.
If Samsung's voice control app, S Voice, wasn't so weak, and if the watch let you perform basic tasks like scheduling reminders or calendar events, it may have been our top smartwatch of the year. But those baffling flaws, along with its underwhelming third-party app selection, drop it back with the rest of the pack.
Runner-up: Huawei Watch
Our smartwatch of the year (and second favorite wearable of 2015) is the Huawei Watch, an Android Wear watch that can pass for a regular watch – and a damn good-looking one at that.
It has a sapphire display covering as standard in all models (something Apple only offers in its more expensive Watches), a premium leather band in the entry-level version, good battery life and several gorgeous styles to choose from.
The Huawei Watch officially starts at $350, but can currently be found for as little as $300.
Wearable of the year: Samsung Gear VR (powered by Oculus)
When you think of wearables, you probably think of devices you strap to your body and wear throughout the day. Though smartwatches, fitness trackers and even headworn augmented reality devices can be fun and occasionally practical, all of them are still non-essential for most of us.
Virtual reality doesn't pretend to be an essential part of your day, but, at its best, the experience of using it is so magical that you may want to use it every day. The Gear VR is the first consumer-focused virtual reality headset that matters: after two developer kits, Samsung has refined the hardware to a polished level – fading the technology into the background and paving the way for the Oculus Store's terrific (at least for a new platform) content library.
That's where the headset comes to life, drawing on the variety of games, apps, videos and experiences that Oculus' enthusiastic development community has embraced. It doesn't quite have the graphical prowess or sense of "presence" (feeling of being somewhere else) that the Oculus Rift does, but it's trailing closer behind than you might expect for a VR console that relies on a smartphone.
About our only nitpick is that the Gear VR is only for owners of Samsung's 2015 flagships. Everyone else will have to wait for the PC-powered Oculus Rift or HTC Vive, or perhaps the PS4-based PlayStation VR, which should all be arriving in the first half of 2016.