Wearables define a wide array of devices including smartwatches, health monitors and activity trackers. Which are considered notable in 2014? Here are five worth considering.
The $200 Pebble Steel is probably the most mature smartwatch design going. That’s saying a lot in a category that’s relatively nascent and therefore still full of proof-of-concept – dare we say beta – designs.
The newest Pebble – a much-needed steel upgrade from the original plastic Pebble Watch – combines a classic look and compact design with a burgeoning app store, the latter a critical element for any successful device. And battery life is good at anywhere from a few days to five days – which, by the way, beat the pants off Android Wear competitors.
The Steel’s software and most of its apps work on Apple and Android phones. A firmware update now allows background step tracking and a pedometer function too. And it’s still waterproof, like the original.
Though the Steel is not a huge upgrade from the previous model – the non-touch e-paper display and internals remain largely unchanged, for instance – improvements, like the glass display cover (for better clarity) and buttons that offer better travel, are welcome.
Big rivals like Samsung, LG, and Motorola are gaining fast on Pebble, but in 2014 it was the best bet.
Devices running Android Wear, a version of Android designed for smartwatches and other wearables, are a hot category, if only because goliath Google makes the operating environment. (The Moto 360 smartwatch, also a contender in 2014, runs Android Wear, for example.)
Enter LG’s Android Wear offering, the LG G Watch R, a more mature follow-on to the LG G Watch, which was little more than proof-of-concept. At $300, the watch is handsome, round (compared to rivals like the ZenWatch, whose display is square), comfortable on the wrist, and brimming with cool features. Some of those cool extras include voice commands and dictation and a camera app with a shutter button.
Other goodies include a great OLED display and a faster Qualcomm Snapdragon processor than the Texas Instruments chip in the competing Moto 360. That means snappier performance.
Like many watches, it can do things like count steps, show upcoming appointments and post travel information. And like many watches the experience isn’t always fully baked or smooth. But, for now, it’s one of the best watches you can buy.
This is another Android Wear watch. One of the best things about the $200 ZenWatch is its looks. That’s a distinction in a category replete with offerings that are just plain ugly and/or too big. And quality materials, such as a brushed stainless steel, help too. All this makes for a watch that can be worn with formal or casual attire.
Other bonuses include a 320x320 pixel AMOLED display, a swappable tan-colored strap and an attractive metal clasp. Asus also offers a health and fitness app that tracks heart rates, step counts, and even mood. Like many current Android Wear watches, it needs to be charged daily, but it's a standout in a crowd of aesthetically ho-hum entries.
Fitbit is one of the premier wearable companies and offered one of the first popular fitness trackers (Fitbit Ultra). The slim, comfortable $130 Charge does most of the things consumers expect of trackers including steps, stairs, miles, calories burned and sleep.
But wait, it’s about to get better. The $150 Fitbit HR, due in 2015, will add heart-rate tracking and a more conventional wristband on top of the features offered on the current Charge.
Other upsides include an OLED display, silent alarm and caller ID. And an excellent selection of apps that are compatible with iOS, Android, Windows, and Mac.
Like the Fitbit, the Jawbone Up24 fitness tracker may come across as a minimalist experience compared with larger, display-centric watches. But it’s one of the best in the category. Like other trackers, it counts steps, sleep and calories.
All in all, the Jawbone Up24 (listing for $130) is easy-to-use, light, and comfortable. It syncs with Android phones and iPhones using Bluetooth.
And Jawbone is different than many bracelet-style trackers in that it’s buckle-less, which contributes to a comfortable wearing experience. Battery life is about 10 days.