What if you could go for a run and leave your phone at home? What if you could track all your movements and your route, stream your favorite music and even accept calls or text messages — all hands-free and without carrying your phone around, where it could easily get lost or damaged? What if you got thirsty and stopped to buy a drink and could use your smartwatch to pay?
While fitness trackers and similar devices can connect to your smartphone via Bluetooth, the real genius of smartwatches is that they can perform many of the same functions your phone can — without your phone. You just need to connect them to a service plan. Here are just a few of the benefits of connecting a smartwatch to a service plan.
Benefits of smartwatches
On the fence about whether to get a smartwatch? Here are 17 things smartwatches can do you might not be aware of:
- Wake you up without disturbing your partner with silent vibrating alarms.
- Help you follow directions without taking your eyes off the road (some even offer different vibrations for "go right" instead of left).
- Find your phone or other valuables.
- Pay for something without your wallet or credit card.
- Track your fitness and overall health.
- Receive and respond to phone calls.
- Respond to text messages.
- Track your laps in the pool.
- Discreetly stream your favorite movies, music, fitness videos and more.
- Monitor news and other notifications.
- Stay in touch, even when your phone dies.
- Connect with your children without getting them a phone they might lose or break.
- Quickly determine whether to answer the phone without having to take it out of your pocket or purse.
- Precisely track your location with GPS, especially in the case of an emergency.
- Use on-device internet hotspots.
- Take advantage of real-time maps.
- Use search and voice commands to stay truly hands-free.
Smartwatches are the ultimate way to stay connected without being married to your phone.
What's the best smartwatch for me?
Smartwatches are a familiar accessory that offer a variety of tools and features — all accessible on your wrist. Although it's considered rather modern, the smartwatch may be older than you think. The first "smartwatch" with a small TV display screen known as the Seiko TV watch, dates back to 1982.
Over the last 40 years, the design, functionality and popularity of the smartwatch have only increased. The 2010s is when the market really heated up, with phone companies like Samsung, Apple and Google starting to roll out their own products that are compatible with their smartphones.
A Harvard Business article suggests one of the reasons that smartwatches have become so popular is because they increase the wearer's awareness of a more healthy lifestyle, with features like step counters, heart rate monitors and even automated reminders to stand after sitting too long. Some smartwatches can also seamlessly transfer data from your smartphone. This makes things like listening to music, texting or checking social media that much easier.
Types of connected devices
There are many different types of devices you may want to consider, depending on desired brand, functionality and price. Generally, all smartwatches have a few of the same elements:
- A display screen;
- A clock;
- A wearable band;
- A protective screen film;
- Wi-Fi connectivity.
These features allow smartwatches to live up to their name and perform all their base functions. These features often work in tandem with other advanced ones, offered on a device-by-device basis. Some device types are:
- Smartwatch: This device is likely what you think of when someone says "smartwatch." It has a flat, touchscreen face with several communication and lifestyle features. These devices are also often smartphone- or Bluetooth-compatible, which maximizes their everyday utility. These models are not designed to serve one purpose, but instead a variety of purposes.
- Hybrid smartwatch: A hybrid smartwatch is an analog watch with smart features. For example, it may not be able to receive calls or texts, but may have other features like a step counter. These are ideal for people who prefer the look of analog clock faces but don't want to sacrifice all smart features on their wearable tech.
- Kids smartwatch: Smartwatches specifically designed for kids may have paired-down functions and can be a good in-between step for a smartphone. These watches often have basic call and text receiving, with Number Share capabilities. With some watches, such as a GizmoWatch PDP, you can get ahold of your child with a paired smartphone, including your own, though not all devices have this functionality. Kids' smartwatches typically have location-tracking features as well, making them great for watchful parents who want to keep track of their kids' whereabouts.
The prices of these devices can range based on a variety of different specs. This can include buying new or pre-owned, getting models with more features or capabilities, shopping big vs. small brands, as well as internet or service coverage fees. The average smartwatch device can range in price from anywhere from $50 to $300, and the cost of some luxury models and brands can be in the thousands.
How will you use the smartwatch?
Different device types will come with different features and functions. Some devices are meant to be multi-functional, while others are function-specific. Consider your lifestyle when you think about what features you may find most useful.
If you want to be able to send messages, receive and send phone calls or use voice controls and commands, you'll want to seek out a multi-functional smartwatch. These can be seen as a companion to other devices, such as your smartphone or computer. While smartwatches are usually communication compatible, some fitness trackers are not. Check your individual devices' features to be sure.
Smartwatch devices fall into the multi-functional category. Apps like Spotify, Youtube or Apple Music will need Wi-Fi or data capabilities to run, which means that you'll need to have your smartwatch on your cell service plan. Other apps that may not need an internet connection could be games, music storage libraries or photo albums.
Another convenient function of smartwatch devices is mobile payment compatibility. Mobile payments, such as Apple Pay, have become more popular in the last few years. Many smartwatches support these payments with near-field communication (NFC) support. Several institutions accept mobile payments, including but not limited to gas stations, coffee shops, retail stores, and more.
This is just another reason why you may want to get a device that you can connect to the internet, as many of these NFC mobile payments rely on a connection for processing.
Fitness features are incredibly popular on wearable tech. Fitness trackers, or smartwatches with fitness features, offer a hands-free option for tracking metrics such as:
- Heart rate
- Oxygen saturation
- Step counting
Hands-free devices allow you to use machinery and hold accessories or water bottles — all the while staying stress-free about your device falling mid-workout.
Smartwatches and cellular service
Many service providers offer plans specifically for smartwatches. This can be a convenient way to keep all your devices connected to one plan or provider. And as long as you pick a provider that offers great coverage, this also means you get to enjoy using your smartwatch anywhere that you can use your smartphone.
The benefits of connecting your smartwatch with a plan include the ability to make and receive calls without having to carry a phone. Imagine being able to go on a walk, hike, or run and not having to worry about a bulky device on an armband or banging around in your pocket. You can even use real-time maps and GPS on your watch to navigate your journey. And don't forget that you can listen to music wherever you have service, searching for whatever song you could normally find on your phone via voice commands.
Even smartwatches that don't have a built-in e-SIM use data; however, they do so by funneling that data through your phone. This is why phone and smartwatch operating systems (OS) compatibility matters when you're shopping for a new device. If they aren't compatible, you won't be able to take full advantage of your smartwatch's features — especially when you're trying to be hands-free while on the go. Explore smartwatch data plans.
Display, comfort and style
Once you've nailed down function and compatibility, the next thing to consider is display, comfort and style. If this is something you plan on wearing every day, you want to make sure that it's comfortable, readable and fits your personal style.
Different devices will have different display features. Some that you can expect include:
- Organic light-emitting diode (OLED);
- Liquid-crystal display (LCD);
These specs will determine how you interface with the device, as well as the clarity, color and lighting of the display. Choosing between these features ultimately comes down to your own personal preference and what you would like best when using your smartwatch.
Device size is another comfort and style consideration. Smartwatch bands are often adjustable or replaceable altogether, so the sizing is not something you necessarily need to worry about. The device's face size is what will be a permanent fixture.
A larger device can be helpful if you are using communication features, as they will likely have a bigger display for reading. Of course, voice commands like Siri will help with this when you're not in a crowded room or a busy concert hall — but for times when you can't use voice commands, it may be nice to have a bigger display. A slimmed-down device can be perfect for fitness tracking, as you won't need to see much information. If you can, try on the device — or a device of comparable size — before you buy it to ensure it fits your wrist comfortably.
Why comfort matters
The fit makes all the difference when it comes to gathering accurate data. For example, a floppy or overly tight strap might result in inaccurate readings for heart rate or O2. Additionally, uncomfortable wearable tech almost defeats the purpose of wearable tech in the first place. Different smartwatch accessories can help increase the comfort of your smartwatch device, as well as help you personalize it to your style.
Additional feature considerations
Practical features — such as battery life, charging and security measures — are the final thing you should consider as a smartwatch owner. As these will help determine how you use the device, the longevity of the device for continual use and the risk of storing any personal data on the device. Different companies will have different data agreements for what they legally can do with any data stored on the device. If this is something that you're concerned with, be sure to read all terms and conditions or do your own research online.
Additionally, be sure to select a smartwatch that's compatible with the phone you own. Otherwise, you won't be able to enjoy the full extent of the features your watch has to offer.
Battery life and charging your watch
Battery life will be impacted by different features. For example, apps that run in the background, such as a step counter, will consume less battery than streaming apps, which use multiple features and require the display to be on.
Many different factors can affect how much battery life your device may have, and it's important to look at these differences when shopping around.
Wireless chargers are often a popular choice for smartwatch devices because they can simply be placed on top of the charger. This removes the need for the device itself to have a charging port, which may be a preferred style for some users.
Smartwatch safety and security
Smartwatches collect a significant amount of user data, particularly ones with multi-functionality. To keep your device secure, you can take the following precautions:
- Connect your watch to a secondary Wi-Fi in your home: Having your watch connected to a different Wi-Fi network than your other devices is a good way to reduce the chance of any paired devices getting hacked through the same network.
- Keep your watch and phones up to date: Most phones and watches have built-in security systems that are often patched with software updates. This is why it's important to keep your phone and watch's operating system (OS) on the most current version.
- Password protect your watch: Using a password, pin or biometric login for your devices is a great way to make sure no one without those credentials can get into your device. This is a great fallback if you lose your device.
- Use two-factor authentication: Many devices offer two-factor authentication as an extra security measure. This could be a password and a pin or retrieving a code or link from another account before login. This is just an extra step in security, in case someone can guess your password.
- Block unauthorized Bluetooth pairing: Unauthorized Bluetooth connections can put your device at risk. Keep Bluetooth off unless the feature is in use, and don't let any device you don't know connect to your device via Bluetooth.
There can be a lot to consider when buying a smartwatch device. But the main takeaway is that your device should be able to simplify your daily routines, not complicate them. If this is the case, then you may want to seek out a cell phone provider like Verizon that offers smartwatch deals. That way, you can get the right smartwatch for your needs at a price that works for your budget.
If smartwatches don't make sense for you, what about a fitness tracker?
Dedicated fitness tracker devices tend to be a little more affordable than smartwatches with fitness features because they often don't require cell or internet service to function.
These wearable solutions include Fitbit devices and are designed to help people track fitness and health metrics, such as heart rate, workout time, steps and sleep. You can get a standalone fitness tracker if health metrics are the only feature you're interested in. Basic models won't have any communication features, while some more advanced models may have texting or calling capabilities. Often, to access these metrics or change settings on the device, you'll need to pair the device with a smartphone.
The technology landscape is always changing. Make sure to check for the latest deals on smartwatches and other connected devices anytime you're looking to purchase or upgrade your devices.