Since gadgets got small and smart enough to wear on our bodies, we've seen plenty of innovations in the wearables market, and that continued through 2018 – devices to track UV exposure, measure our well-being, record the world around us, and more. Here are our favorite wearables of the year.
We've excluded smartwatches from the list – you can read our best 2018 smartwatches roundup here – even though it's tricky to separate some of the high-end fitness trackers from smartwatches these days. By our reckoning, a device needs to support its own ecosystem of apps to quality as a smartwatch, and we've used that criteria here.
Fitbit Charge 3
Fitbit remains just about the biggest name in wearables at the moment, and the Fitbit Charge 3 was the company's most high-profile non-smartwatch device launch of the year. In fact, it almost blurs the line between fitness tracker and smartwatch, but just stops short of devices like the Fitbit Versa in terms of functions and capabilities. That said, it is able to do pretty much everything you could want from a fitness tracker and then some.
So, we've got all the basic activity and workout tracking, plus extras that you don't always get like sleep and swim monitoring (and it's waterproof too, obviously). It comes with an integrated monochrome display that can show the time, your daily stats, and alerts that come through from your phone, and there's an NFC chip here for mobile payments too. Fitbit says this is its "most advanced" tracker ever, and it's hard to argue with that verdict.
L'Oréal My Skin Track UV
If anyone tries to tell you that wearables are just gimmicky accessories with no real use, point them towards the L'Oréal My Skin Track UV. It measures your exposure to ultraviolet light, so essentially tells you when you've spent too long in the sunshine and are at risk of causing damage to your skin – with an integrated wire clip, you can put the little device anywhere on your clothing, and it's activated by sunlight so doesn't need to be recharged.
Once you've got the UV sensor clipped on, simple readings sync back to a companion iOS or Android app via NFC. The app that goes with the device isn't the most sophisticated in the world, but it doesn't need to be – it gives you a reading of your UV exposure and how long you've spent in the sun, together with trends over time and some useful advice for how to look after your skin. It's simple, it's reasonably affordable, and it works well.
Garmin Vivosmart 4
As well as making some very rugged (and very expensive) smartwatches for outdoor adventurers, Garmin also produces a selection of rather impressive (and cheaper) fitness trackers too – and the Vivosmart 4, released this year, is just about the best yet. It's lightweight and discreet, it keeps tabs on just about all the fitness metrics you'd want it to, and it's backed up by a Garmin app that continues to get more capable in what it can do.
It does more than your average fitness tracker too, with a small monochrome display capable of showing data and alerts from your phone, and advanced tracking including sleep quality and VO2 Max (how much oxygen you use during a workout). There's also an intriguing Body Battery feature that combines several readings to work out how much energy you've got left in the tank – and whether or not you should take a break for the day.
If you don't want to strap something to your wrist to keep track of the steps you've taken and the shut-eye you've managed to get, then the Oura Ring is definitely worth a look. This year the second-generation model arrived, bringing a slimmer design as well as some improvements in the tracking department too. The wearable is able to monitor your sleep, heart rate, body temperature, respiratory rate, steps taken, calories burned, and more.
The Oura Ring scores highly for its looks (two designs are available), its tracking accuracy, and the quality of the mobile app that comes along with it, and we do like the way it tries to give you an overall assessment of your well-being rather than just a long list of stats. Like the Motiv ring, you use a sizing kit first to make sure it's a perfect fit, and then you can more or less forget it's there – at least until the weekly ritual of having to recharge it.
Xiaomi Mi Band 3
Xiaomi has been quietly sneaking up on the big names in both the smartphone and wearable markets, and the Mi Band 3 is its latest offering to prove that fitness tracking doesn't have to be expensive. Available for less than $35 online, the band lets you monitor your steps, calories, workouts, heart rate and more, is waterproof to 50 meters (164 ft), and even comes with a small OLED touchscreen display for statistics and phone notifications.
At this price, you would expect there to be compromises, and they're most evident in the design department – this isn't a fitness tracker that's going to win any awards for its aesthetic choices. If you're more concerned with features and functionality than looks though, the Mi Band 3 is great value for money. The accompanying app is more than satisfactory too, giving you insights into everything from sleep quality to sprinting pace.
Won't someone please think of the children? Fitbit did, this year, releasing the Fitbit Ace for keeping tabs on how much exercise your kids (aged 8 and up) are getting. It looks chunky and colorful (available in blue or purple), and a lot like the Fitbit Alta HR, and is able to cover the basics of step counting and sleep tracking. It'll survive a trip to the shower but not the swimming pool, and has a quoted battery life of five days of use.
As you might expect, kids need some assistance with the set up and data logging – parents create an Ace for Kids account linked to their own, with the Fitbit app running on either the adult's or the kid's phone (if they're old enough to have one). While it doesn't introduce any dramatic innovations, the Fitbit Ace is a fun way to get youngsters to do more exercise and stick to a regular sleep pattern – and those are goals that have to be commended.
Snapchat Spectacles v2
Version 2 of the Snapchat Spectacles may only appeal to a very niche crowd – as in, serious Snapchat users – but we like what parent company Snap is trying to do here, so they earn a place on our best-of-year list. Think of them as like a basic, cheaper alternative to the GoPro action cams, able to record whatever you're doing at any time, and leaving your hands free for something else (like throwing frisbees or clinging on tightly to rope swings).
These upgraded Snapchat specs have added waterproofing and a refined design, and for the social media user who wants to record as much as possible, they're ideal – have you ever missed recording a precious moment trying to get your phone out of your pocket? At $149.99, they're not that expensive if you compare them with action cameras, though we suspect most people aren't going to consider the cost of entry worth it, which is a shame.
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