What Is a Smartwatch? (History, Features, Best Brands)

The days when watches could merely serve as reliable time-tellers are long gone.

The first models providing additional functions, such as chronographs, were introduced as early as the beginning of the 20th century.

With that said, even the most feature-packed wristwatches are made to look more and more ordinary with each passing year. All of this is down to the constant technological advancement of smartwatches.

Since the release of the world’s first modern smartwatch by Sony in 2012, the popularity of smart wearables has been on a constant rise.

While saying that they’re already overtaking regular wristwatches would be a bit of a stretch, their rapid rise is undeniable.

Despite everyone and their dog already coming across the term, there are still many who are unsure about the features offered by these still relatively-fresh devices.

So, what is a smartwatch and how does it work?

Apart from answering this basic question, the article will dive deep into all the essential smartwatch features, the history of smartwatches, the most reliable manufacturers, and more.

Stick with us.

Table of Contents show

What Is a Smartwatch? Short Definition

To put it short, a smartwatch is a watch that is way smarter than your average wristwatch.

Some refer to it as a wearable computer that, through connection with your smartphone (or even without it), can give you access to endless apps from your wrist.

More often than not, a smartwatch has a fairly large display screen and links up with smartphones via a Bluetooth connection.

During the last decade or so, the device has come a long way.

In fact, so advanced are many of the modern smartwatches that it’s not unusual for people to pretty much ditch the use of a smartphone and perform all the tasks using the wearable.

But how it has come to this? A quick history lesson follows.

History of Smartwatches

Smartwatches are a much, much younger sibling of orthodox wristwatches.

To settle the history of smartwatches, we have to define what the modern smartwatch is in the first place.

We understand it as a device that can connect with a smartphone via Bluetooth and allow for some quick access to essential features on your wrist.

  • 2012: Sony Smartwatch

First Sony smartwatch

Then, the first notable device of this type was launched in 2012 by Sony.

Called the Sony Smartwatch, it was very reminiscent of many models we see today. It was a companion device for the collection of Xperia smartphones, running on a slightly modified version of Android.

Because it was pretty much the first advanced smartwatch, it received pretty good press despite being prone to crashing without any specific reason.

The relatively huge success of the initial model sparked the release of the next series, the Sony Smartwatch 2 in 2013, and the Sony Smartwatch 3 in 2015.

However, the line wasn’t continued after that. It’s easy to assume it had something to do with the release of the first watch from one mighty brand called Apple…

  • 2013: Pebble Smartwatch

Pebble smartwatch

Pebble smartwatch was born out of a highly successful Kickstarter campaign.

In terms of the number of functions, it was a clear upgrade on the Sony product mentioned above. For example, the Pebble watch could function as a remote controller for your Android smartphone or even other devices such as the GoPro camera.

Pebble had its own app store in which you could pick from as many as 1,000 applications.

Due to such a wide range of functions and head-turning design, the smartwatch enjoyed a small cult following.

That unfortunately ended when Apple and Samsung entered the market with their powerhouse models. Because of budget restrictions, Pebble couldn’t keep up and was eventually bought by one of the leading brands in today’s industry, Fitbit.

Interestingly enough, many of the Pebble’s then-innovative ideas and apps are still a core foundation of Fitbit products today.

  • 2013: Samsung Galaxy Wear

Samsung Galaxy Wear

The same year, Galaxy Gear became the first line of smartwatches offered by Samsung.

Unfortunately, the product turned out to be an absolute disaster. Because of how bad it was, many came to the conclusion that Samsung wanted to release their smartwatch before Apple at all costs – even if it meant getting horrible press for their debut collection.

Unsurprisingly, the Asian tech mogul followed up with six additional models the next year which turned out to be massive upgrades.

  • 2014: Samsung Gear Fit

Samsung Gear Fit from 2014

The 2014 version of Samsung’s smartwatch line, Gear Fit, was a much bigger success.

On top of offering a considerably better user experience, it also looked sexier.

Its biggest WOW factor was probably the stylish curved OLED display. The Gear Fit was released along with two other models, Gear 2 and Gear 2 Neo. It scored by far the best reviews, though.

  • 2014: Moto 360

Moto 360 by Motorola

Motorola’s attempt at a round smartwatch was clearly the best of the trio of launch devices when Android Wear was introduced in March 2014 at the Google I/O conference.

Because of its circular form and the fact that it appeared so much more like a true watch than early Android Wear debutants, the Moto 360 has almost mythological status.

The Moto 360 2 and Moto 360 Sport were released in 2015 and 2016, respectively, although these were the last two models launched under the Motorola label.

The iconic smartwatch was relaunched in 2019 by eBuyNow, a business that specializes in relaunching neglected vintage brands. However, the end product was a subpar, overpriced homage to what was once an inspiring gadget.

  • 2014: Samsung Gear S

Samsung Galaxy Gear S

Last but not least, the year 2014 was the introduction of Samsung’s Gear S line. It was only “Small” by name, however!

The Samsung Gear S was a massive, cuff-like smartwatch that built out a dedicated following.

It was the first wearable that offered support for 3G which promised the ability to function as a standalone device, without the need of staying connected to a smartphone. All the previous releases required a Galaxy handset.

With a massive 2-inch curved display that used the same curved Super AMOLED face as the Samsung Gear Fit, Samsung’s latest wristwatch looked the part.

The 360×480 resolution was unquestionably the greatest at the time, and it still holds up today.

The massive display, on the other hand, appeared mad to wear and was far from comfortable. Hence, there was no follow-up.

  • 2015 – Now: Apple Watch

Apple Watch 1

Despite everyone and their brother expecting Apple’s smartwatch line to be named iWatch, it wasn’t.

The California-based tech company decided to “shock” the expectant crowd in Cupertino in September 2014 by naming it the Apple Watch.

Just like the release of the first iPhone turned the smartphone industry on its head, the launch of Apple’s debut watch did the same with the smartwatch market.

While it heralded the beginning of a new age of smartwatches, the initial generation lacked GPS, required software to be piggybacked from iPhone versions, and couldn’t utilize the Apple Watch’s array of sensors.

Fair to say, the Series has come a long way since then.

Apple has polished a combination of user-friendly fitness features, sports modes, mastered notifications, and supercharged its App Store in the seven years leading up to the Apple Watch Series 7.

But the Apple Watch has gone much farther, with capabilities like ECG, heart rate notifications, fall detection, walkie-talkie modes, and support for LTE.

At present, Apple Watch is by far the most popular and technologically-advanced smartwatch in the market and it gains more followers with each release.

  • 2019 – Now: Samsung Galaxy Active

First Samsung Galaxy Active watch

Apple had to wait 4 years for a serious competitor to pop up.

Nowadays, the Samsung Galaxy Active Watch collection is considered the second most popular smartwatch line and the favorite pick amongst people with Android smartphones.

In terms of the number and complexity of functions, it is too the closest to what’s on offer with the Apple Watch series. Premium features such as the afore-mentioned ECG are available, as is the ability to function as a standalone device.

The Galaxy Watch line is easily distinguished from the Apple series due to its round face which many consider a huge advantage.

Functions: What Can a Smartwatch Do?

Smartwatches are so advanced these days that what they can do will largely depend on what you want them to do.

In general, most newly-released models come with essential features such as a 24/7 heart rate monitor, sleep quality tracker, on-screen notifications (ie. for text messages, calls, or social media updates), and, of course, accurate time-telling.

Additional functions will depend on your own needs and preferences.

These days, smartwatches can do anything from functioning as ECG readers to measuring blood oxygen saturation to playing your favorite music.

Smartwatches are also the go-to solution for people who are physically active as they offer a long list of dedicated workouts.

Most models now have applications, allowing you to use your favorite smartphone apps while on the road.

Some are also compatible with third-party applications and services like Spotify, Amazon Alexa, and Google Assistant, which may be useful for a variety of tasks like browsing music playlists, sending messages, and even ordering pizza!

All of these useful features enable your wristwatch to do all of the functions that your smartphone can.

Smartwatch Prices

With so many manufacturers available, the cost of smartwatches varies greatly.

It’s basically the case of how much you’re willing to spend and what functions you are expecting the device to perform.

The longer and more complex list of features, the bigger the price.

If you’re targeting the leading brands (which we will discuss in a minute), the prices start from around $75 and can reach as high as $1,000, depending on the model.

The range of smartwatches listed at bargain-basement prices increases with each year. These are mostly coming from Chinese microbrands but are still able to deliver essential smartwatch functions, such as HR monitor or sleep tracking. Quite frankly, some provide surprisingly good value.

These days, you can find a fairly capable smartwatch even under $50.

The list of quality smartwatches for less than $100 is even bigger.

Best Smartwatch Brands

Best Smartwatch Brands

BrandKnown ForPrice Range
AppleAdvanced Health-Tracking$190-$700
SamsungAdvanced Health-Tracking$75-$450
Garmin Ruggedness & Sports Apps$99-$999
SuuntoRuggedness & Outdoors$99-$499
HuamiAffordable Prices$39-$200
FitbitAdvanced Health-Tracking$75-$300

The smartwatch industry is growing year-on-year and so is the number of manufacturers. To say that we’re dealing with an embarrassment of riches wouldn’t be far-fetched at all.

In this highly competitive market, it’s important to know which brands to trust.

Without a shadow of a doubt, the two dominant forces are the Apple Watch and Samsung Galaxy Active Watch.

The two collections offer by far the biggest number of features. It’s not only about the quantity though. Both smartwatches are equipped with some of the most advanced health-tracking functions such as an ECG reader, SpO2 monitor, Fall Detector, or the much-desired support for LTE.

With that said, the number of reputable brands offering excellent value isn’t limited to the “big two”.

Below find a list of the most trusted manufacturers.

  • Apple

Both in terms of the number of sales and the complexity of functions, Apple Watches are leading the way in the industry.

The US brand revolutionized the smartwatch industry with the release of its first wearable in 2015. Since then, each newly-launched series brings something new to the table.

For example, Apple Watch was the first to receive FDA approval for the use of the ECG app. What’s more, many studies that followed proved the product to offer highly accurate readings. Through the use of the app, countless wearers learned about heart conditions they never suspected of having.

New Apple Watch is released every year, and each new model offers some upgrades on the predecessor.

The two biggest drawbacks of Apple Watches are the rather hefty price tag (especially on the newest releases) and the lack of compatibility with Android smartphones. The battery lifespan is also far from perfect.

  • Samsung

While Apple Watches are worn solely by iPhone users, Samsung doesn’t discriminate against any group. However, not all the functions available for Android smartphones will work with iOS (ie. the above-mentioned ECG feature).

In terms of the number and complexity of apps available with Samsung Galaxy Active Watches, the Japanese company does well to keep up with the Apple Series.

There are some fields in which Samsung products hold an advantage over its biggest competitor.

For instance, they are cheaper to get. Additionally, they come with batteries that last at least twice as long.

Many people favoring the Galaxy Active line also point to the round face design as a huge incentive since, at least at the first glance, it isn’t a big departure from a regular wristwatch.

Finally, it’s worth noting that Samsung also offers different collections of smart wearables, such as Galaxy Fit smart bands or GearFit hybrids.

  • Garmin

Garmin, along with Suunto which we will discuss in a minute, is renowned for offering the toughest-to-beat smartwatches.

It’s a go-to brand particularly amongst outdoor enthusiasts, such as hunters or mountain bikers.

Garmin smartwatches might not come with as many advanced health-tracking apps (ie. none offers the ECG function), but they offer arguably the biggest choice of sport and workout modes.

In terms of the navigational system, they’re also hard to compete with. The vast majority of models use data from three satellite systems – GPS, GLONASS and Galileo. This combination offers excellent clues regarding your surroundings.

As already mentioned, one of Garmin’s strongest points is durability.

Garmin watches are one of very few in the smartwatch field that offers a water resistance rating bigger than 50m. Most of the models can withstand depths of up to 100m.

Also, there are not many smartwatches that can outdo Garmin when it comes to battery performance. Some models can work for as long as 2 months on a single charge!

  • Suunto

In the field of rugged smartwatches, Suunto is considered Garmin’s most capable competitor.

The Finnish company first flooded the European market but is now enjoying similar success in the United States.

In terms of the exterior and apps, Suunto watches are very similar to Garmin. They are, on average, considerably cheaper, however.

Suunto hiking watches are particularly popular.

  • Huami

If you’re looking for a capable smartwatch without having to shell out a larger sum, Huami is an excellent option.

There are many prejudices when it comes to Chinese watch brands (many of them justified).

However, despite the less familiar name, Huami is one of the most successful manufacturers of wearables in Asia, producing smartwatches for one of the global giants, Xiaomi.

Huami’s most popular collection of smartwatches is Amazfit.

Amazfit models come in various shapes (Apple-like rectangular or Samsung-like round), and offer an impressive number of health-tracking apps, as well as many sports modes.

More often than not, they’re also a considerable upgrade on any of the “big boys” when it comes to battery life. Most models can easily reach 2 weeks.

  • Fitbit

Fitbit differs from most brands mentioned in the article because it puts the biggest focus on developing as many health-tracking applications as possible.

Because of this, some of the premium apps (ie. ECG) are available with Fitbit even though the prices aren’t so steep.

What’s more, it offers some features that aren’t available with either Apple or Samsung. For example, many Fitbit smartwatches can take accurate body temperature checks.

The downside of Fitbit is that it doesn’t focus as much on developing smartphone-imitating features. None of the models can function as standalone devices and in order to utilize all the functions, you need to stay connected to your mobile.

On a plus note, most Fitbit smartwatches outlive both Apple and Samsung products as far as the battery is concerned.

What Is a Smartwatch: FAQ

What is a smartwatch? FAQ

Because of the endless list of functions offered by modern smartwatches, there are just as many doubts and questions surrounding the subject.

While answering them all would take a day or two, we’ve gathered the list of the most popular below so you have a better idea of whether the wearable is the right fit for you.

If you have a question that isn’t listed and you consider it essential, please let us know in the comment section at the bottom of the article – we will gladly help!

Without further ado, let’s go.

Are Smartwatches Waterproof?

No.

There are no regular wristwatches that are waterproof, either.

However, most smartwatches you can find in today’s market are water-resistant to some degree.

At the very least, you should expect the device to be splashproof (water-resistant up to 30m).

Many models, such as the newest Apple or Samsung series, come with a 50m water resistance rating.

Do Smartwatches Track Sleep?

Most modern models offer fairly accurate insights into your sleeping patterns.

The data includes your REM sleep phase (deep sleep) which plays by far the biggest role when it comes to your body’s recovery.

Can a Smartwatch Detect Irregular Heartbeat?

Yes!

This outstanding function, one of the most premium available to date, has been available since 2018.

The first manufacturer to offer the ECG monitor was Apple with their Series 4.

Samsung Galaxy Watch series followed the trend soon after.

Are the ECG watches accurate? The research seems to point to this. Nowadays, more brands specialize in detecting irregular heartbeat conditions. Amongst many, Garmin and Fitbit are more than capable of delivering highly accurate ECG readings.

You can explore all the top models by reading our guide to ECG smartwatches.

What Is the Best Smartwatch for Heart Monitoring?

Nowadays, all newly-launched smartwatch models – whether low-, med-, or high-budget – are equipped with reliable heart rate monitors. In this sense, the choice is really huge.

However, if you’re looking for premium heart-tracking features (eg. irregular heartbeat alerts or ECG reader), you need to target the very best in the industry. Apple, Samsung, Fitbit or Garmin products are a safe bet.

Can a Smartwatch Measure Blood Pressure?

Sure it can.

While the feature is also a relatively new concept amongst smartwatch manufacturers, the number of models offering blood pressure readings is quite high.

The first company to come up with the function was Samsung in 2019. Surprisingly enough, Apple Watch still hasn’t caught up.

However, there still isn’t enough evidence to suggest that the blood pressure monitors in smartwatches are that reliable.

Can a Smartwatch Monitor Blood Sugar Levels?

This feature takes quite a long time to develop amongst the top sharks of the industry, such as Apple, Samsung, or Garmin.

As things stand, no smartwatch on the market has a built-in blood sugar monitor.

However, third-party app developers such as Dexcom, Medtronic, or Abbot offer compatibility with the most popular smartwatch models.

Can a Smartwatch Monitor Blood Oxygen Levels?

Yes!

Many smartwatch models have built-in SpO2 sensors that can accurately track your blood oxygen levels throughout the day and/or during sleep.

Check out our list of best smartwatches with blood oxygen sensors for more info.

Can a Smartwatch Detect Sleep Apnea?

Right now, smartwatches aren’t capable of detecting sleep apnea on their own.

However, there are third-party apps such as ApneaDetector which use various data collected by smartwatches to identify the problem.

Can You Watch Youtube on a Smartwatch?

Yes, many of the newly-released smartwatches offer the Youtube app. However, due to the small screen dimensions, the feature is hardly used.

Watch the following guide: How to Play Youtube in Smartwatch?

Can a Smartwatch Work Without a Phone?

Yes!

Although the number of so-called standalone smartwatches is relatively small, some models (ie. Apple Watch or Samsung Galaxy Watch) allow you to call and text without having to carry your smartphone around.

Check our list of Best Standalone Smartwatches for more info.

Can a Smartwatch Cause Arm Pain?

Smartwatches are extremely lightweight devices so it’s highly unlikely they will cause pain based on their weight alone.

However, if you wear it too tightly, the pain might occur due to the compression of the nerves in the wrist area. Make sure to wear it securely but don’t overdo it!

Can a Smartwatch Cause Cancer?

All smartwatches in the market connect with smartphones via Bluetooth.

There’s zero evidence to suggest that regular Bluetooth exposure can cause any serious inflammatory diseases, including cancer.

Will a Smartwatch Connect to an iPhone?

Naturally.

So, what smartwatch works with iPhone? The vast majority of models in the market will work perfectly fine with Apple smartphones.

However, if we invert the scenario…

Does Apple Watch Work With Android Smartphones?

Unfortunately, no!

Since the release of the first Apple Watch in 2015, smartwatches have been working exclusively with iPhones.

Quite frankly, the trend doesn’t look like ever-changing.

Can a Smartwatch Connect to Two Phones?

At any given moment, smartwatches cannot be linked or connected to more than one phone.

Almost all manufacturers do not offer smooth smartphone swapping. To use a smartwatch with a different phone, you must first detach it from the one with which it is now associated.

What Is the Best Smartwatch for Fitness?

Basically all the leading brands (ie. Apple or Samsung) offer very good insights into your workouts as they have pre-installed dedicated workouts for many sports types.

You can explore our list of Best Multisport Watches for more ideas.

Can Seniors Wear Smartwatches?

And why not?

Many of the newly-released models come with a myriad of functions that can be extremely useful and at times life-saving for the elderly!

Apart from the above-mentioned abilities to track irregular heartbeat, blood pressure or SpO2 levels, some wearables come with other useful apps such as a Fell Detector.

We’ve covered the subject in great detail in the following article:

Alternatively, you can check the list of smartwatches for the elderly that work without phones.

Are Smartwatches a Good Idea for Teenagers?

Sure they are.

The age at which teenagers start using smartphones is getting lower each year and the same applies to smart wearables.

Wearing a smartwatch makes staying connected with friends and family even easier (and safer). The number of features makes going through everyday tasks that much easier, too!

Feel free to check out the following guides:

Can a First Responder Wear a Smartwatch?

The popularity of smartwatches amongst first responders (ie. nurses or firefighters) is constantly growing as well.

A reliable smartwatch can not only tell precise time but also help you keep up to date with a hectic, stress-fuelled schedule.

The idea of not having to pull out a smartphone anytime someone texts or calls you is also a huge incentive.

How Long Does a Smartwatch Battery Last?

If we were to point to the biggest weakness of smartwatches in general, it would probably be the battery life.

Battery lifespan is known to be the Achilles’ heel even amongst top-end manufacturers, such as Apple or Samsung.

For example, all Apple Watches work for up to 18 hours which means they require daily charging. The Galaxy series score a bit better in this field but they are unlikely to get you past three days either.

Some smartwatches offer excellent battery life (up to a few weeks!) but that usually comes at a cost: they don’t offer anywhere near as complex (and battery-draining) features.

All things considered, picking the best product might be quite a task. Hence, we’ve prepared a detailed guide to longest-standing smartwatches.

What Is a Hybrid Smartwatch?

A hybrid smartwatch is one that combines the essential smartwatch functions (ie. heart rate monitor or sleep quality tracker) with the looks of a regular wristwatch.

This smartwatch type is for those who appreciate the technological advancement of smart wearables but prefer the design of orthodox wristwatches.

At present, there aren’t many brands that specialize exclusively in hybrid smartwatches. One such is Kronaby.

Are hybrid smartwatches worth it? Yes, but only if you’re ready to sacrifice complex smartwatch features for the classic wristwatch look.

What Is a GPS Smartwatch?

It’s a smartwatch that doesn’t have to rely on your smartphone’s GPS as it has its own built-in navigational system.

For example, it allows you to go out for a jog without your phone and still get detailed insights regarding the route, distance, and speed.

What Is a Wear OS Smartwatch?

Wear OS is an operating system developed by Google and used with Android-supporting smartphones.

Is There a Monthly Fee for a Smartwatch?

No, unless you decide to purchase a separate data plan.

But that’s only possible with a small group of models.

What Is LTE on Smartwatch?

A smartwatch with LTE (or 4G) support is one that allows you to connect to your carrier’s data plan without the need of staying connected to your phone.

Do I Need LTE on My Smartwatch?

To fully utilize the advantages of a smartwatch you don’t need LTE.

Support for LTE is only necessary if you want to use the smartwatch independently, ie. without it being connected to your smartphone.

Will a Smartwatch Work With Straight Talk?

At present, Straight Talk doesn’t support e-sims which are digital replicas of actual sim cards that allow you to use the smartwatch without your phone.

Verizon is one of the popular broadbands offering the service.

How Much Is a Smartwatch Data Plan?

The price will differ between broadbands. However, generally speaking, it’s not steep. For example, the aforementioned Verizon offers unlimited data plans for your smartwatch for as little as $10 a month.

What Is MMHG on Smartwatch?

Millimeters of mercury (mmHg) is a unit of pressure – specifically, the pressure generated by a column of mercury 1 millimeter high.

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