The best wearables of 2016
The term "wearable technology" can refer to a wide variety of gadgets you strap on your body, from smartwatches and fitness trackers to headworn virtual reality systems. We spent plenty of time with all of the above in 2016: These are our picks for the best wearables money can buy.
Google Daydream View
Google's smartphone-based virtual reality can do big things down the road, after compatibility widens and developers make more content for it. Right now it has a small handful of games and works with an even smaller handful of phones.
Its sleek, fabric construction does, however, mark a step forward for mobile VR design. And its remote-pointer, while a far cry from the motion controls on the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive (read on), is akin to using a Wii remote in VR.
Fitbit Flex 2
Fitbit's slim, entry-level tracker is a great choice for someone who wants incognito tracking without breaking the bank. As a bonus, it's swim-proof and will log your laps in the pool.
- Buy Fitbit Flex 2 on Amazon
TomTom's latest tracker goes a step beyond step-tracking, adding body-fat and muscle measurements. Its touchscreen, heart-rate monitor and subtle looks (with customizable straps) put it near the top of the fitness-tracking heap.
- Buy TomTom Touch on Amazon
Samsung Gear VR
Our top mobile VR pick is the Samsung Gear VR, which has an enormous content advantage over Daydream. The updated 2016 model doesn't add many features over its predecessor, but the more spacious interior and improved ventilation (to cut down on lens fog) nudge the latest iteration forward.
- Buy Gear VR on Amazon
Garmin Vivoactive HR
One of the most comprehensive fitness trackers, the Garmin Vivoactive HR can log the usual steps and calories, while adding GPS, heart-rate monitoring, swim-tracking and insights into your exercise habits.
- Buy Garmin Vivoactive HR on Amazon
We're cheating here as HoloLens isn't yet a consumer product, but Microsoft's augmented-reality developer kit was one of the most exciting wearables we handled in 2016, bursting with future potential (even if that's a far-off future).
While its tiny field of view, limited content and US$3,000 price tag accentuate its pre-release status, futurists and tech enthusiasts have plenty to salivate over: Virtual "holograms" in your environment – which respond to the physical limits of your space – could eventually replace all the screens in your life.
Fitbit Charge 2
If you want a Fitbit that's a notch or two above the Flex 2, the company's Charge 2 adds an OLED screen and heart-rate monitoring. There's even a guided breathing feature, to help you chill out after your workout.
- Buy Fitbit Charge 2 on Amazon
Samsung Gear S3
While it wasn't the breakthrough that smartwatches needed to move past niche status, the Gear S3 is a solid, incremental update over its fine 2015 precursor. Samsung's twisting bezel is back – still our favorite smartwatch navigation method – along with two spiffed-up designs to choose from.
It's unlikely, however, the Gear S3 will be a good choice for many women: It looks large on men's wrists but tank-like on women's.
Best smartwatch: Apple Watch Series 2
The Apple Watch is our top smartwatch pick, though you'll need to be an iPhone owner to use it. The 2016 model has upgraded water resistance, a brighter screen and GPS.
Its biggest accomplishment is that it squeezes all of that into a body that's much smaller than competing smartwatches.
- Buy Apple Watch on Amazon
Runner-up for Best VR: HTC Vive
The PC-based HTC Vive virtual reality system has an ingenious tracking setup: Plug its two laser-emitting base stations into power outlets and enjoy seamless, 360-degree, room-scale virtual reality, where movement is free and gaming is a highly-immersive and physical experience.
Everything you need for 360-tracked VR is in the box, including headset, motion controls and base stations.
Until recently the Vive would have been our top pick, but a competitor recently got a leg up (read on).
- Buy HTC Vive on Amazon
Best wearable of 2016: Oculus Rift with Touch controls
While VR will eventually be about more than games, they're still the best reason to invest in high-end virtual reality today. Oculus' robust game library separates the Rift from the Vive, with a deep lineup that ranges from third-person platform games to first-person experiences that turn you into a wizard, wild-west sharpshooter or NBA legend.
Oculus' Touch motion controllers (sold separately) have better ergonomics than the Vive's, while adding some rudimentary finger tracking. And with 360-degree/room-scale now an option (albeit inferior to the Vive's), the Rift no longer has any gaping holes to hold it back.