2016 Smartwatch Comparison Guide

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New Atlas compares the best smartwatches you can buy in late 2016

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If 2015 was the year smartwatches threw their mainstream arrival party, then 2016 has been the year everyone sobered up and tried to sleep off a nasty hangover. Sales aren't keeping pace with expectations, and that has some big names like Motorola, Huawei and LG opting not to release any new models this year. In a watered-down field, let's compare our top picks of the smartwatches you can buy today.

In this version of our Smartwatch Comparison Guide, we're including six smartwatches – some new, some old:

  • Apple Watch Series 2
  • Samsung Gear S3
  • Apple Watch Series 1
  • Huawei Watch
  • Motorola Moto 360 (2nd-gen)
  • Pebble Time

The last three are year-old (or worse) smartwatches, and the Series 1 Apple Watch is only a minor update on the early 2015 model. That leaves the Apple Watch Series 2 and Gear S3 as the only truly new products. A waning smartwatch space indeed.

Pebble Time is the sketchiest inclusion in this bunch, mostly because it has a follow-up launching within the next month or so. If we deem Pebble 2 a worthy successor, we'll update this guide once it hits retail.

Size

Apple's greatest feat with the Watch may be that it doesn't look like something that belongs on the wrist of a juiced-up WWE man-hulk. While Samsung is doubling down on oversized male-jewelry this year, Apple has cemented its device's status as the smartwatch that doesn't look overly huge on either men's or women's wrists (though its thickness does still make it protrude a bit).

For simplicity's sake, we left the smaller 38 mm Apple Watch out of this visual. The 39 x 33 mm device is, in many cases, going to be the best choice for women's wrists.

There's also a smaller version of the Moto 360, measuring 42 x 42 mm, which I prefer over the larger version on my (not especially small) wrist.

Build

The Apple Watch Series 2 ships in three different builds: aluminum (cheapest), stainless steel (middle ground) and ceramic (high-end). The Series 1 Apple Watch only ships in cheapo aluminum.

Water resistance

All the watches have some sort of water resistance, but only the Apple Watch and Pebble can support swimming, protecting against depths of up to 50 m or 30 m, respectively. Only the Apple Watch Series 2 has built-in swim tracking, so you can see how those laps add up.

Default band materials

Looking only at the default bands that ship with the watches, these are your options.

Interchangeable bands

You can change the bands on all the watches, but Apple used a proprietary connector, so you'll need to either buy a band made especially for the Watch (there are plenty of third-party options on Amazon if you want to save money) or pick up an adapter to use with standard bands.

The rest of the watches play nice with standard bands: 22 mm for all but the Huawei Watch, which uses an 18 mm connector.

iPhone compatibility

Samsung keeps saying the Gear S3 (and last year's S2) will be compatible with iPhones at some point, but we're still waiting for that. Everything else works with Apple's handsets, though Android Wear watches lose a little bit of functionality when paired with an iPhone vs. an Android.

Android compatibility

All but the Apple Watches work with Android phones.

Display size

The larger of the two Moto 360 models has the biggest screen in this bunch, despite the "flat tire" cut-off point at its bottom.

We left out the smaller Apple Watch, which has a 1.32-inch screen (46 percent the size of the larger Moto's), and the smaller Moto 360 with its 1.37-inch display (77 percent the size of its big bro's screen).

Display resolution

The Apple Watches have the sharpest screens, by a wide margin.

The unpictured 38 mm Apple Watch has 340 x 272 (326 PPI) resolution, while the 42 mm Moto 360 goes with 360 x 325 (263 PPI).

Display type

AMOLED (or OLED) displays are the standard for wearables, though Motorola goes unconventional with an IPS. Pebble Time uses e-paper: a similar effect on the eyes as e-ink, but altogether different tech.

Touchscreen

That also makes Pebble the only one without a touchscreen.

Display material

The steel and ceramic versions of the Apple Watch, along with the Huawei Watch, give you ultra-strong sapphire displays. Everything else is Gorilla Glass or Apple's similar Ion-X glass.

Always-on display

Apple has yet to add an always-on display option to the Watch. Before you get worked up over this, consider that this omission probably allowed Apple to use a smaller battery, and therefore make a smaller watch.

Scrolling input

The Apple Watch uses its twisting Digital Crown as an alternative to swiping the screen for scrolling through lists and zooming in and out of photos. Me-too Samsung pounced on a similar feature, as you can twist its bezel to do the same kinds of things.

Battery

These are the manufacturers' estimates, used with the always-on display option turned off (the lone exception being Pebble, which always has its screen on).

About the only advantage Pebble has over its multitouch rivals is that its battery can last up to a week. That's the tradeoff for its lower-powered, barebones nature.

Cellular

Only the Frontier variant of the Samsung Gear S3 (not pictured, that's the Classic variant you see) has built-in cellular data. The rest will need a phone around at all times to do much of anything.

GPS

The Apple Watch Series 2 and Gear S3, though, can track your location without a paired phone.

Note that there's an alternate version of the Moto 360 ("Sport") that does have GPS.

Pedometer

All of the watches have some sort of built-in pedometer functionality, as well as supporting third-party fitness tracking apps.

Heart-rate tracking

All but Pebble have built-in pulse monitors. There's at least one add-on strap accessory for Pebble that will add this, but it isn't available yet.

Mobile payments

The Apple Watch supports Apple Pay, and the Gear S3 will support Samsung Pay (including the MST-based part, which simulates the swiping of a credit card).

Processor

Pebble, with its more rudimentary user experience, is the only one rocking a single core chip under the hood.

Reminders

Last year Samsung baffled us by not supporting the ability to create reminders or calendar events, but the Gear S3 is supposed to finally solve this smartwatch basic.

Pebble has third-party apps that can tick this box, but nothing integrated into its core software.

Phone calls

In case you're a big Dick Tracy fan and don't mind looking like a tool in public, you can hold a phone conversation on your watch using the Apple Watch, Gear S3 or Huawei Watch.

Software

Both versions of the Apple Watch run watchOS 3, the Gear runs Samsung's own Tizen and it's Android Wear for the Huawei Watch and Moto 360.

Apple has the app selection lead, by a wide margin.

Release

As we mentioned at the top, three of the watches are from last year. The Apple Watch Series 1 is nearly a 2015 watch too, with the only change being its dual core processor. Samsung will be the last out of the gates when the Gear S3 starts shipping on November 18.

Starting price

Apple was wise to throw that Series 1 Apple Watch in there to tempt customers who don't care enough about smartwatches to throw down more than US$300. Compared to Series 2, it's only lacking GPS, water resistance and a super-bright display, making it a solid alternative for $100 less than its Series 2 counterparts.

And keep in mind that these prices are the entry levels for Apple's 38 mm Watches. The 42 mm ones (pictured) start at $399 for Series 2 and $299 for Series 1.

At $350, the Gear S3 is a pretty expensive watch – and it's possible some wireless carriers will charge more for the LTE-enabled version of the Frontier variant (though AT&T is asking the same $350).

For more, you can hit up New Atlas' coverage of the watches:

If you're looking for a new phone to go with your watch, we also have a Smartphone Comparison Guide.

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