Editor’s Note: So you’re ready to make a watch purchase? Not so fast. Before committing, it’s worth thinking carefully about your needs to make sure you’re truly buying the right timepiece for you. Our series Five Questions aims to help you do just that.
Considering a smartwatch? Join the club. By 2021, unit shipments of smartwatches are expected to reach 81 million, and 2019 was the first full year in which Apple Watch sales exceeded those of the entire Swiss watch industry. Even the die-hard mechanical watch nerds seem to be coming around, adding the odd smartwatch to the mix of traditional mechanical timepieces that, until recently, they couldn’t imagine putting away in favor something powered by a microchip.
So how do you decide if a smartwatch is right for you? It’s a tough decision — a smartwatch can add genuine utility to your life, but do we really need yet another screen in our lives? And once you’ve decided that you want one, how do you decide which one is the right fit for your lifestyle? Here are five questions to ask yourself before you pull the trigger.
1. Do you truly need a smartwatch in the first place?
What do smartwatches do, exactly? Well, many things: they can track your sleep, optimize your fitness regimen, alert you to incoming calls and messages, track your location on a map, and much, much more. However, there’s a larger existential question to be addressed here: Namely, do you really need any of this shit in your life?
All this information is available on your phone, which means it’s available to you pretty much all the time. But maybe having fitness tracking alone is worth having Apple own even more real estate on your body? If the answer is a resounding (or even, a desultory) “yes,” then read on. If not — if the entire idea of further connecting yourself to the Cloud makes your skin crawl, well then, reach back for your Timex, Rolex, or other “-ex,” as the case may be, and wear one of those geeky plastic sleeves on your arm while you run to house your smartphone.
2. What are you going to be using the watch for?
This is an important consideration, as smartwatches have proliferated beyond the simple fitness tracker into nearly full-fledged computers. At the high end, for example, is the LTE-equipped (cellular) version of the Apple Watch Series 5, which for all intents and purposes is a mini wrist-computer capable of all manner of smartphone-like activity. At the other end of the spectrum is the Fitbit Charge 3, an advanced fitness tracker that, while it can’t place or receive calls, is more than capable of providing all manner of health-related info. So decide what it is you need out of your smartwatch, and go from there — especially considering price differences between more basic smartwatches and the top-of-the-line models.
3. How locked in a particular tech ecosystem are you?
If you’re an Apple devotee and an iPhone user, you’re going to want to stick with an Apple Watch, in all likelihood, as we stated in our guide to the Best Smartwatches of 2019: “…the Apple Watch only works with an iPhone, and all smartwatches running Android 2.0 will work with any Android, via the Android Wear app, but not all iOS features will carry over and some of the apps work wonky together, such as iMessage and every Android messaging app.” This doesn’t mean that you can’t wear a fitness tracker to the gym and simply ignore compatibility with other devices, but it’s something to keep in mind.
4. Do you want to be able to use your smartwatch without a phone?
Being able to use your smartwatch independently of your phone means several different things, depending on whether you want to make calls and receive texts on it or not. You could go all out with a cellular-equipped Apple Watch, of course, which allows you to do this (and also play music) independent of your phone. Then, there are simpler watches such as the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active, which allows you to listen to saved Spotify playlists without being tethered to your phone, and Fitbit devices, which require a computer or tablet with Bluetooth to synch, but don’t require a mobile device for regular use.
5. Will you be able to charge the watch during the day?
Sleep tracking technology is a notorious battery sucker — meaning, if you want a smartwatch strapped to your wrist all night, you’re probably going to need to charge it during the day in readiness for its 8-hour adventure. If you’re a daytime desk dweller, this probably won’t be much of an issue, but if you’re constantly moving or can’t otherwise charge your watch, you might need to rethink your charging strategy — or have a smartwatch dedicated to sleep tracking. The Fitbit Versa 2, for example, has a six-day battery life.