We recently learned that the long-awaited Apple Watch will be available in April, at a starting price of $349. How does it stack up against existing smartwatches like the Samsung Gear S, Motorola Moto 360, LG G Watch R, and Pebble Steel? Let’s take a look.
Fit and Design
No matter how functional, an unattractive product will not win broad consumer acceptance, and though aesthetics may be subjective, size is much less so. Most smartwatches launched to date have been either bland- looking, too large, or both. Apple clearly did its homework, offering its watch in two sizes familiar to watch lovers: 38 and 42 mm (all measurements in this section are in millimeters). The smaller version is the smallest smartwatch yet announced. The Pebble Steel measures a reasonable 46 x 34 x 10.5. The Moto 360 looks great, perhaps even better than the Apple Watch, but at 46 x 11.5, as one hands-on reviewer said, it’s a pizza pie for the wrist. LG has not released specs for the G Watch R, but based on the screen size, it looks to be a bit smaller than the Moto 360. The Gear S is the Godzilla of the group, measuring a whopping 39.8 x 58.3 x 12.5 mm.
On the style front, Apple offers by far the widest selection of options. There are three collections: standard in stainless steel, sport in aluminum, and the Apple Edition 18k gold, each in two sizes. These can be fitted with six different, interchangeable straps in leather, rubber and steel. The owner can choose from 11 different faces, each of which can be oriented for people who wear their watch on their right wrist. Apple claims that in all, there are more than one million possible combinations. One knock against Apple is the proprietary strap attachment, which limits choices.
The Moto 360 is available in light and dark stainless steel with three different leather straps. Metal bracelets are reportedly on the way. The Pebble Steel is stainless steel, available in silver and black with available straps and a metal bracelet. To date, official images of the LG shows it only in black stainless steel on a strap. These three watches all accept standard straps, so the options are limitless.
Samsung’s Gear S is fashioned from plastic and it’s available in black or white.
The Samsung may lose wearability points due to its size, but all that acreage allows room for a curved, two-inch Super AMOLED screen with 360 x 40 resolution. That’s the largest in this group. The Moto 360 offers a 1.56” back-lit LCD display with 320 x 290 resolution protected by Corning Gorilla Glass.
The LG R features a 1.3” P-OLED display at 320 x 320 pixels. The Apple Watches sport 1.5” or 1.65” Retina displays fashioned from synthetic sapphire. The Pebble Steel brings up the rear in this category with a 1.26” black and white e-ink screen like that in the Amazon Kindle. This screen may not be sexy, but you can see it in direct sunlight, and it allows much longer battery life, as we will see.
Controls and Ease of Use
The Android Wear watches carry over gestures used on the smartphones, though not pinch zoom and multi-touch. These watches do not offer tiny on-screen keyboards, so you’ll end up using your voice on a regular basis. Want to search Google? Call or text someone? Respond to an e-mail? Find a YouTube video? Get directions? Listen to music? Just speak your wish, and, in theory, it will be granted. Hands-on testers report that this system is still a bit buggy.
Samsung’s Gear S offers an on-screen keyboard, and though the screen is large, the keyboard is reported to be a bit tight. The Gear S also offers the S Voice vocal interface.
Voice control (and Siri) are also available on the Apple Watch, but Apple’s primary control center is the so-called digital crown. Its size and location give it the look of a standard watch crown, but it does not wind the watch. Instead, the user turns and pushes it to navigate through “neighborhoods” to find and select desired functions. A second button, just below the crown, brings up contacts. You can use Siri to dictate messages and replies. You can also use your fingertips on the screen, and Apple claims its new Force Touch technology lets the screen measure pressure, creating a wider range of taps, touches and presses.
Pebble’s Steel follows the KISS principle. It does not offer a touchscreen or voice control. Navigation is handled by various buttons. There is not too much to scroll through, because the Steel is limited to eight apps.
Health and Fitness
The Pebble Steel is the weakling in this category. It includes an accelerometer and a gyroscope, but it lacks a pedometer, though it can use your phone’s GPS to track your runs. The Pebble is not the first choice if you’re looking for a complete fitness tracker.
At the other end of the spectrum, the Apple Watch appears to offer the most complete health and fitness package. The company hired designers and engineers who helped develop the Nike Fuelband. Apple says its new watch uses proprietary health and fitness sensors, and the software that slices and dices the data looks to be one step ahead of the field. Apple says it uses a barometer, accelerometer, and built-in heart-rate sensor, plus GPS from a paired iPhone, to build a comprehensive picture of your daily activity. The Activity app tracks calories burned, brisk activity, and how much time you spend standing and sitting each day. The Workout app offers goal-setting and pacing during session-based workouts. The Apple Watch uses your history to suggest personal fitness goals and to reward fitness milestones.
The Moto 360 sports a pedometer and an optical heart rate monitor, which are reported to work fairly well. One tester noted that the stylish, high-quality leather strap supplied with the watch does not lend itself to sweaty workouts, so you may also want to pick up the bracelet when it becomes available.
The press release for the LG G Watch R says that it will incorporate an accelerometer, compass, barometer, and heart-rate monitor, and reports indicate that it will be able to take advantage of the many Android fitness apps.
The Gear S runs Samsung’s Tizen operating system, so it can’t take advantage of Google Play. However it does feature Samsung’s S Health platform, and built-in GPS coupled with apps like Nike+ Running allow you to track your run without your phone. A built-in barometer can even determine when you gain altitude; for example, climbing stairs or running uphill.
The Android Wear watches and the Gear S will handle most basic fitness tracking, but if health and fitness are a priority, the Apple Watch wins this race.