Do you need a smartwatch? Are smartwatches worth it? Should you buy one in 2020? Here’s a selection of PROS and CONS about smartwatch ownership, based on several years of using them…
Smartwatches come in all shapes and sizes. You can buy a smartwatch from Apple, the Apple Watch, or you can buy ones powered by Wear OS, Google’s operating system. Samsung has its own platform, Tizen, and so does Huawei.
Google doesn’t make an actual smartwatch itself, although that could change in 2021 with the launch of the Pixel Watch, but you still have plenty of options from plenty of brands when it comes to smartwatches, wearables, and hybrid-timepieces.
Basically, when it comes to smartwatches, you have A LOT of options – and they’re all slightly different. From Fossil smartwatches to the OPPO Watch, all Wear OS devices are slightly different.
In this post, I’m going to talk about smartwatch ownership in general. I’ll mention and reference all the different platforms, but the idea here is to keep things general and focused on the actual PROS and CONS of using a smartwatch.
But first, let’s get something important out of the way: which type of smartwatch you should use…
Wear OS, Tizen, or Apple Watch: That is The Question
Before you get a smartwatch, you need to first decide what kind of smartwatch you want. And this will largely be dictated by what phone you use – or plan on using for the foreseeable future.
If you’re an Android user, you’ll want to go with Wear OS. Or, Tizen if you use and plan on continuing to use Samsung’s Android phones. If you use an iPhone, get an Apple Watch – Apple Watch is best for iPhone users.
Me personally? I’m an Android user and, while I do own both Samsung and Huawei smartwatches that don’t run Wear OS, I much prefer using wearables that run on Google’s Wear OS.
Why? Simple: Wear OS better integrates with Android. You have more applications with Wear OS. And if you plan on using an Android phone now and in the future, Wear OS is designed with Android in mind. Just like Apple Watch is designed with iPhone in mind.
Tizen and Huawei’s wearable platform are OK, but they lack the apps and integration abilities of Wear OS. And if you’re wearing a smartwatch, you’ll want it to seamlessly integrate with your phone, otherwise what’s the point? For this reason, I always advocate Wear OS smartwatches for Android users and Apple Watch for iPhone users.
Or, for those purely focussed on tracking their activity – things like running, hiking, and cycling – I’d go with a Garmin watch.
Now, we’ve got that out of the way, let’s first take a look at the PROS of owning a smartwatch. Or, more specifically, why you’d give serious consideration to buying one.
Smartwatch PROS – Why You Should Buy One
#1 – Access/Read Notifications Without Unlocking Your Phone
If you get a lot of messages, emails, texts, and the like, having to remove your phone and unlock it every five minutes is a pain in the ass. Even more so when 80% of your notifications do not require any response. For stuff like this, a smartwatch is a godsend.
You can effectively screen all of your messages and alerts on your wrist, so you only need to take out your phone and unlock it once something important comes through. This saves you time, ensures you’re not constantly messing around with your phone, and allows you to check notifications in meetings and whilst driving.
For me, notification management – or, more specifically, fielding – is one of the best things about smartwatch ownership. I now basically ignore 90% of the stuff that comes through to my phone. And it’s all down to the fact that I wear a smartwatch.
#2 – Fitness Tracking
If you regularly workout a smartwatch is great. Not essential, but definitely highly recommended. With a smartwatch, you can track your workouts, pause music, skip tracks, and monitor all of your workouts from your wrist.
All the data from your workout is then shared with the app that lives on your phone, Google Fit, for instance, so you can look back and see how you did. Google Fit and Apple Watch will track calories, tell you how many calories you burned during your work, and display everything in beautiful, easy to understand graphs and visuals inside their respective phone apps.
You don’t need a smartwatch to track things like steps and your runs, granted, but a smartwatch does bring with it plenty of benefits. The most notable of which is heart-rate monitoring because it allows for more detailed data on your workouts. This makes tracking your progress easier when working out – you can see your heart rate zones and adapt to them accordingly.
Also, whenever I go for a run, I don’t need my phone. All I do is open Strava on my smartwatch, hit record, and then hit the tarmac. And because my current Wear OS device – the OPPO Watch – has LTE support, I can pair my headphones to it and listen to Spotify and Audible whilst running. And all without my phone.
#3 – Keep An Eye on Your Heart Rate
As you get older, or if you’re not in great shape, keeping an eye on your heart rate, and resting heart rate, is advisable. Most of the time, your heart rate will be perfectly normal. But if there is an irregularity, or it is constantly very high, your smartwatch will pick it up and you can book in to see your doctor.
That’s the serious stuff. The other main benefit of having glance-based access to your heart rate in real-time is when you’re exercising. I run, for instance, and being able to quickly see what my heart rate helps me to make on the spot decisions about how hard I’m working or whether I can handle more.
As a runner, this tool has become invaluable to me. I know when I’m pushing too hard, and I know when I need to ease off. With the heart rate monitor, I also know how quickly I am recovering from my routines. If my heart rate returns to normal quicker, I know I’m making progress. This kind of stuff is indispensable if you run or ride a bike.
#4 – Google Assistant and/or Siri on Your Wrist
If you use Google Assistant or Siri (or Bixby), you’ll be pleased to know that smartwatches that run on either Google or Apple’s wearable platforms ship with Google Assistant and Siri. Apple uses Siri, obviously, and Wear OS devices use Google Assistant.
With these digital assistants on your wrist, you no longer need your phone when you’re running or driving. You can simply get the digital assistant inside your watch to perform a task – like playing a certain album, sending a text, reading back emails, and pretty much everything else in between.
If you have smart appliances in your home, you can also interact with them via your smartwatch. For instance, you could have some smart lightbulbs installed in your home. With both Google Assistant and Siri, you can dim the lights simply by talking to your smartwatch.
#5 – Pay For Stuff With Your Smartwatch
Apple Watch and Wear OS-powered smartwatches, as well as Samsung’s Tizen-powered wearables, all come with mobile payments via NFC built-in. This means, providing you have Apple Pay or Google Pay, you can pay for stuff in shops with your smartwatch, no need to take your phone out.
I didn’t think I’d actually like doing this, but nowadays I don’t think I could live without it – I literally use this feature ALL the time. And the best part means, I no longer need to carry a wallet or my phone. I can literally do everything I need to do from my wrist.
#6 – You’ll Use Your Phone Less
As you can tell from all of the points above, one of the main benefits of using a smartwatch is that you’ll use your phone less. With a smartwatch, you can listen to music, respond to calls and texts, track your activity, and pay for goods and services.
Imagine how many things require you to currently take your phone out of your pocket and unlock it. It’s probably quite a few instances throughout the day. Now imagine NOT having to do this – you simply use your watch. Pretty cool, right?
I mean, a smartwatch is NOT essential – not even close. But they are handy, and if you do regular exercise, or you want to get more into exercise, then a smartwatch, combined with the other benefits I just mentioned, could prove to be a very useful investment.
Me personally, I was completely not interested in smartwatches. I tested the first batch of smartwatches back in the day, found them generally useless, and decided to not bother with them again. Towards the end of 2019, I started testing more and more smartwatches – and the difference was MASSIVE.
Both Google and Apple have massively improved the features, functionality, and software experience on their respective wearable devices. Smartwatches are now ACTUALLY useful. So much so, that if I didn’t get sent them for free to test, I would still go out and buy one.
Smartwatch CONS – Why You Shouldn’t Buy One…
OK, we’ve covered the benefits of smartwatch ownership. But what about the downsides? What are the main things that make running and owning a smartwatch a bit of a pain? Let’s outline the main CONS of owning a smartwatch…
#1 – Cost
The biggest CON with all smartwatches is how much they cost. You cannot pick one up for less than £100. If you want a good one – and, trust me, you should only use a good one – you’re looking at £200 to £300 or more. And that is quite a big chunk of change, especially for something that isn’t essential.
I mean, we’ve survived for years without smartwatches. They’re useful, of course, but you can get by without one. I trained for years without a smartwatch, for instance, and got on just fine – I made progress, tracked my workouts (on paper), and monitored my pulse rate with my finger.
Also, if I was on a strict budget, like when I was a student, a smartwatch would be SUPER low on my priority list of “things I need to own”. Whatever your take on wearables is right now, they’re still very much a luxury item, something you buy when you either have a specific need or your feeling slightly cash-flush.
#2 – Battery Life
Smartwatches are small. They’re designed to fit on your wrist, so you cannot fit a big battery inside them. For this reason, battery life is an issue on most of the most popular smartwatches – most notably the Apple Watch.
You can get non-Wear OS / Apple Watch smartwatches (like the Watch GT2 Pro) that’ll last for a solid week at a time. But, as we noted earlier, the reason for that is because it is not syncing with Android in a meaningful way.
Wear OS and Apple Watch smartwatches do not have good battery life. The best you’ll get is a couple of days between charges. I’d argue that you have slightly better performance with Wear OS, as you have more choice. But Apple’s wearable is the best selling on the market, so maybe crappy battery life isn’t too much of a problem for most people?
#3 – It’s NOT a Phone…
You have to have specific uses in mind for your smartwatch. I use mine to interact with aspects of my home (my lights, for instance) and track my workouts. And that’s about it. I also use it to screen all my calls and notifications. But this is essentially the extent of what you can do with a smartwatch.
A smartwatch is not a phone, and it isn’t designed to be used like one: think of a smartwatch as more of a secondary display, with a few added abilities, for your smartphone. You can use it to make payments, listen to music, and control things. But the UX is small and isn’t all that fun to interact with.
You can respond to messages and calls from the watch, but I prefer to do this on my phone. I don’t really like using teeny keyboards or my voice to compose emails and texts. I also don’t like taking calls on my smartwatch.
For me, a smartwatch is all about tracking my workouts and screening calls and notifications. It cannot replace your phone, but it can complement it in a variety of really cool ways.
#4 – Usability is Dependant on Updates & Support
When it comes to a smartwatch, the device is ONLY as good as the software that it runs on. Apple’s WatchOS is by far the best operating system – Apple updates it all the time and is heavily focussed on the platform.
Wear OS is not updated anywhere near as often. Google did push out a pretty major update recently, but there was a huge gap between this one and the previous one. Similarly, Samsung’s Tizen OS is updated fairly regularly too. But with Tizen, you don’t get all that cool Android syncing.
If you run an Android phone, Wear OS is still the best option. I like Samsung’s wearables (and they do work with Android), but they just don’t integrate with your phone quite as well, so you feel like you’re missing out on functionality when using them.
This applies to Huawei’s smartwatches too.
My advice? If you’re after a smartwatch, and you run Android, go with a Wear OS device. I really like the Moto 360 – it looks beautiful and it has great specs. If you’re an iPhone user, go with an Apple Watch – check out this guide on how to buy cheap Apple Watch models. And be sure to check out how long an Apple Watch lasts.
Richard Goodwin has been working as a tech journalist for over 10 years. He is the editor and owner of KnowYourMobile.