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Strap Up, Look Smart
The explosion of popularity in smartwatches has drawn dividing lines between the worlds of tech and fashion.
In the former camp stand the electronics giants, eager to prove that your wrist is the next frontier in the battle to access information as unobtrusively as possible. In the latter: the traditional watch brands, twice shy after the fallout from the Quartz Crisis that decimated their industry in the 1980s, and eager not to repeat the mistake of reacting much too slowly.
As these two forces square up, you need to ask yourself whether you want a techy watch that packs in more functions but possibly sacrifices style, or a more classic looking design that eschews bells and whistles in favour of hands, circular dials and a look almost indistinguishable from that of a traditional timepiece.
We carefully selected eight models that represent both tech- and fashion-focused approaches; these are the smartwatches worthy of your attention.
Sony Smartwatch 3
The latest version of Sony’s market-leading smartwatch has seen the brand, possibly spooked by Apple’s positioning, attempt to pivot into fashion, which translates as steel and leather straps alongside the original rubber option.
It’s under the hood that things get fancy, though, with 512MB of RAM and, in an effort to muscle in on the sports as well as style market, GPS technology, although it is missing the pulse and sleep monitoring offered by dedicated fitness trackers.
What you get instead is voice control, a Bluetooth broadcasting music player and step counter, alongside the standard array of email and message notifications. Which means that unlike most smartwatches, you can ditch the phone when you head out for a run – or, thanks to it being waterproof, even a swim – and still soundtrack your efforts, as well as review them afterwards.
Who’s it for?: Runners who like to travel light.
Available: Now at O2 Shop.
Ditching the geekery as much as possible, the ZenWatch is one of the more stylish entries from the tech end of the smartwatch spectrum – from its slick leather strap to its Apple-aping, round-cornered bezel.
This model offers the standard features you’d expect from a smartwatch, including on-wrist notifications, voice commands for responding to messages and calls, as well as the ability to display things like your calendar and daily fitness activity.
As with Sony and its Smartwatch 3, Asus are making moves on the fitness category by integrating a ‘Biosensor’ in the watch’s case – just touch it with your other hand for an immediate pulse read-out (although don’t expect the same level of accuracy you’d get from a dedicated sports watch).
The key thing here, though, is design. From the on-screen UX to its casing, this is a smartwatch specially crafted to please the eye.
Who’s it for?: Men who favour form over function.
Available: Now at Currys and PC World.
Though announced at Baselworld, the Luna isn’t your standard analogue watch with step-tracking functionality. This is a smartwatch in the true sense of the word; it delivers notifications and customisable faces, monitors your activity and even supports on-screen apps like BBC World News.
Its killer function, however, is a thirty-day battery life that far outstrips the two (at most) offered by its smartwatch-making competitors. Granted, this benefit comes from opting for a less vibrant black and white rather than colour screen, as well as forgoing touchscreen functionality in favour of more traditional buttons (not unlike those that control a chronograph).
But for those who don’t fancy the idea of sticking their smartwatch in a cradle every evening – and not being able to use it every time they forget to do so – it’s a very impressive feature indeed.
Who’s it for?: Men too busy to charge their watch.
Available: Pre-order now at vectorwatch.com.
Apple’s relatively late entry to the smartwatch category is the one that’s forced the Swiss watch industry to react. Unsurprising, since it’s being billed as a fashion purchase just as much as a tech one – hence the Silicon Valley giant’s poaching of Burberry’s Angela Ahrendts for a reported $73.4m.
The Apple Watch has been pitched as an all-in-one package: a communications device that shows, and responds to, messages and emails on your wrist; a device that tracks atmospheric factors and activity; and a style piece, with its various iterations ranging from sporty neons to a near-£10k rose gold version that puts it toe-to-toe with high-end brands like Rolex, Omega and Breitling.
Although, with a reported one-day battery life and a design that’s likely to be obsolete in two years, it’s unlikely that the (sizeable) outlay will buy you a timepiece worth looking after for the next generation.
Who’s it for?: Apple obsessives.
Price: £299 to £9,500
Available: April 24 in Apple stores and online at apple.com.
It’s tricky to work out just whom the Guess Connect is meant for.
Though the American brand has taken its cues from fellow watchmakers by embedding email and message notifications and voice response functions into a traditional watch, their decision to announce it at the Consumer Electronics Show – rather than Baselworld – implies a timepiece targeted at a tech-savvy, rather than style-conscious, audience.
Which is odd, since the watch itself is based on Guess’ ever-popular Rigor design, and will – once launched later this year – be available in an array of colourways (including a particularly on point blue and rose gold option) that seem destined for the wrists of aesthetes, rather than tech geeks.
With rumours of a price point not much higher than Guess’ usual sub-£200 mark, it could make for a good toe-dip into fashion-forward wearables.
Who’s it for?: The style-savvy creative.
Available: Autumn 2015.
Mondaine Helvetica No. 1 Horological Smartwatch
The brand that times the Swiss railway has produced a timepiece that’s more watch than smart.
The Helvetica No. 1’s traditional face isn’t cluttered with email or text notifications. Instead, a 6 o’clock sub-dial displays your daily steps and sleep statistics, linking with a mobile app that crunches the data in order to allow you to view it in greater depth.
The details, though, are reassuringly traditional: a brushed steel case, scratch-resistant sapphire glass and luxury leather strap all speak more to the horologist than the early adopter. At our hands-on in Basel, we were most impressed by the fact that – to those not in the know – it doesn’t look like a smartwatch at all on the wrist.
Handy for those interested in tracking their activity, but not in a way that makes you look like a Star Trek extra.
Who’s it for: Minimalists who like data.
Available: Autumn 2015.
Frédérique Constant Horological Smartwatch
Frédérique Constant has shown a keen appetite for innovation over the course of its short career to date. Though only founded in 1988, the Swiss watchmaker produces a number of in-house movements at its Geneva manufacture (including a tourbillon) that often feature in watches that retail under £2,000.
Of the Swiss brands, they’ve been among the quickest to embrace the smartwatch. As with Mondaine’s No. 1, Constant’s Horological Smartwatch is aimed at the man who doesn’t want to broadcast the fact that he’s wearing a smartwatch.
The traditional face, with sleep- and step-displaying sub-dial, is coupled with alarms that rouse you during light rather than heavy sleep cycles to reduce grogginess, and – when paired with the accompanying app – can coach you to better performance at night and during the day.
As with the Apple Watch, it comes in an array of face and case finishes, including rose gold. Unlike the Apple Watch, it promises a two-year battery life.
Who’s it for: The insomniac who has everything.
Available: June 2015
Unlike most smartwatches, which take your phone’s functionality and try to display it on your wrist, Swiss behemoth Breitling’s entry into the increasingly crowded techno-horological sector works the other way around.
All its features are watch-based, with the app functioning more like an extra crown – helping you adjust times or store data, rather than burdening your timepiece with superfluous notifications or battery-draining apps.
As you’d expect from an aviation watchmaker like Breitling, this is a watch targeted at pilots. So you can flip between dates and time zones at the flick of its app-based switch, instead of manually winding hands around.
Most impressive – and arguably least useful for the majority of individuals – is its flight logging. Pilots need to prove a certain number of hours in the air to keep their licenses; the B55 automatically records and saves that data to the smartphone app to avoid the risk of losing the scraps of paper that could stand between you and the ability to take to the skies.
Who’s it for: Tech-obsessed flyboys.
While it may seem like only yesterday most of us were puzzled by – or indeed doubled over laughing at the prospect of – the smartwatch, the rapid growth in models being brought to market hints that these pieces of tech are probably more than a mere flash in the pan.
If you’re hell-bent on buying into the burgeoning trend, then you’ll do worse than to start with these eight leading models.
Which smartwatches have caught your eye so far? Any to add to the list?
Comment below to let us know.