Smart watches comparison – a real-world test

In 2020, we’re surrounded by connected devices, all aimed at making life easier. Voice assistants, smart TVs, fitness trackers, lighting, heating and cars are commonplace. We’re a mobile development agency, but our definition of mobile captures much more than native apps these days. As all our lives and homes are getting smarter, so are the ways we work with clients and their customers.

Smart watches are getting smarter too, with new ones launched every year. As far as we can tell, Garry Partington (Apadmi’s CEO) has worked his way through most of them. So, we asked him to share his recent top picks.

 

Earlier this year, as part of a plan to get back into exercise, I figured it was a good opportunity to check out all the different smart watches for sport on the market, and get a better understanding of the pros and cons of each. My only real criterion was that the watch had to support GPS. I spend enough time with mobile phones(!) and didn’t want to have to take one with me all the time – especially as I was planning to try out swimming at some point.

The Fitbit Ionic

I started off with the Fitbit Ionic. A good small(ish) size watch and reasonably priced at £150-£200.

It supports the usual features – heart rate monitor, GPS tracking and music (by connecting the watch to your Bluetooth earphones). It also offers FitBit pay – good, but not accepted in many places, which is pretty frustrating.

But the thing I really loved* about the Fitbit was the gamification of challenges with friends. It’s amazing. I got so competitive with this on steps it was unreal (side note: damn my mother-in-law and her 26,000 steps a day!).

Anyhow, I digress. In summary, a great watch, ideal for challenges and light/moderate exercise, with a decent five-day battery life. It just needs better payment integrations – which, now they’ve been bought by Google, are sure to be on the way.

*I use that word very sparingly – so that’s a good endorsement

The Apple Watch

smart watches apple

Next up, I tried out the Apple watch, with the e-sim option. Approx. £500.

I found the design of the watch a little clunky, but was keen to try the exercise routines out. First, I tried this using the in-built Apple apps. For me, they were really bad. Creating challenges between people was awful – hidden away, hard to find out who was winning or where things were up to. Compared to Fitbit it was a poor experience, with a mixture of things that weren’t clear and that did nothing to spur me on at all or show me what I needed to do to win. The three rings just didn’t motivate and any over performing was lost.

My partner also has an Apple Watch so we tried using them on bike rides, but the accuracy of the GPS threw us. The two watches often recorded a difference of a mile or so, on a ride of 20miles. That’s quite a lot! We then tried mapping with our phones as well. The phones showed almost identical results to each other, but her Apple watch always claimed she went an extra mile. Weird.

The battery life was abysmal, usually lasting less than a day and nearly always dead before I went to bed. Back in the days when we could go out(!), my Apple watch occasionally died before leaving to go home so using it to get an Uber wasn’t an option.

It’s not all bad. Apple pay is a dream and connecting to a Bluetooth headset meant that I didn’t need to carry the phone at all times, which is liberating – but at £500, and with so many shortcomings when it came to exercise, it’s not great.

The Tag Heur Connected

smart watches - Tag Heur

Up a gear again. This time onto Android Wear, and the Tag Heur Connected. £950.

First of all, the aesthetics of this watch are on a different level. It looks premium, it feels premium to wear and I loved the dials you get. Definitely not out of place on a smart night out and – at that price, that’s a good thing.

Exercise wise, I quickly dismissed the in-built apps after a couple of attempts and moved on to third party apps. But, despite it’s great wrist appeal, it was soon obvious the watch just didn’t cut it for me. The battery life was poor (same as the Apple Watch) so after a couple of weeks of this I was desperate to get back to the simpler Fitbit and it’s five-day life and sleep tracking.

It’s a nice watch and I’d like to give it a go for a round of golf using it – but for fitness, like the Apple, the Tag left me wanting.

Garmin Fēnix

garmin

Finally, I went on to try the Garmin Fēnix 6S Solar.

Wow. Just have to start with that.

It’s a chunky watch with more than 21-day battery life. It tracks everything and the Garmin Connect app is excellent. Within days I was using it for a 5k running plan, multiple bike rides and other indoor and outdoor exercises. The streaming music is perfect for a run, and the watch I mainly just used as a watch, only turning on notifications for phone calls and text messages. Everything else can be turned off.

At the same time my partner tried the smaller Fēnix 6S Pro 42mm – not as chunky but still packing a 9-day battery. When we train together our exercises are tracked to within metres of each other on GPS. We also use the Live Track for when we go for runs – a really helpful Garmin feature that sends an email to show interested people where you are. This is great for meeting up and also for safety.

So, yes. Wow. It’s a great watch. Not cheap at £750, but it delivers. It’s not Android or Apple, but works equally well with either smartphone.

Final thoughts

The outright winner of this smart watches is the Garmin Fēnix 6S Pro Solar. It’s not been off my wrist now for months, apart from the occasional (yes, occasional) charge. It feels great and it looks great. The battery life is a huge plus, but most of all, it’s really accurate on most metrics, even when compared to things such as standalone chest Heart Rate Monitors. It’s not the most expensive of smart watches out there, but it’s not cheap either. If you’re serious about exercise though, it’s by far the best.

The Fitbit Ionic is great value if you want to start with something more wallet-friendly. You get a lot for your money.

With poor battery life – worse with GPS – the Tag and the Apple watch don’t even get close to the other two.

 

At Apadmi, we’re fascinated by the increased penetration of connected devices and the ways that they’re being used to measure and improve performance at all levels of sport and fitness. Right now, we’re working on really exciting projects with a global football club that we can’t wait to share, but our work with SailGP is already out there. As well as delighting their global fanbase, the app we created with them was used by the best sailors in the world to track over 1200 data points and measure the performance of both boat and crew.

If you’d like to learn more or have a project you’re thinking about, please get in touch as we’d happily answer any questions you might have.

smart watches