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Watching the right smarts
AS WITH many of the markets that Apple dominates, the Apple Watch wasn't first to the wearables game, but it's helped the market explode. And if you're an iPhone user, the Apple Watch remains the default choice because no other wearable can integrate with iOS apps as tightly.
This means that the strengths of competitors need to more than outweigh having to do without the slickest Apple wearable experience.
Apple released its free watchOS 2 software upgrade in September, which added more watch faces, new customisation options, and other upgrades such a Nightstand mode that lets the watch function as a clock.
Although the Apple Watch isn't as rare these days, you can still customise yours to stand out from the crowd. Unfortunately, the most distinctive options are also the costliest.
The 38mm stainless steel Hermes model with a Double Tour strap and sapphire crystal will set you back S$1,928. And the 42mm 18-carat Rose Gold Apple Watch Edition with sapphire crystal is a cool S$18,000.
To be fair, the cheapest 38mm Apple Watch Sport model is S$518, but makes do with an aluminium body, Ion-X glass and a rubber strap. All models have about a day's battery life and IPX7 water resistance, which means you can wash your hands but not swim with it.
Available now at Apple Store online (www.apple.com/sg), and at select Apple resellers. Hermes models are available at the Hermes boutique, and at Malmaison By The Hour Glass.
If analogue watch looks are important to you, then the Huawei Watch has a distinct edge because of the clean lines of its stainless steel body, and round sapphire crystal-covered Amoled touchscreen.
You will get about 1.5 days of use on a single charge. And even if the screen is kept on all the time - something the Apple Watch can't do - the battery will easily last for more than a day.
The Huawei Watch is powered by Google's Android Wear software, which works well with both Android and iOS, unlike the Apple Watch, which is iPhone-only.
Unfortunately, iPhone users are restricted to a basic set of watchfaces and apps pre-loaded on the watch, although you can receive notifications from any iPhone app. Android users get access to a store with many additional watchfaces and thousands of watch apps.
The Huawei Watch comes in three combos. The Classic has a stainless steel body and either matching bracelet (S$649) or black leather strap (S$549). The Active is also stainless steel but covered in black plating and either a matching bracelet (S$749) or leather strap (S$649). And the Elite is gold-plated stainless steel with either a matching bracelet (S$999) or a brown leather strap (S$899). All models have IP67 water resistance, which means you can wash your hands but not swim with it.
Available now at the Huawei Flagship Store at Plaza Singapura.
Asus ZenWatch 2
When it comes to bang for the buck, Asus' ZenWatch 2 is hard to beat. Its S$229 price makes it the most affordable Android Wear watch from a major brand, and one of the cheapest smartwatches, period.
But Asus didn't cut corners on features, which hold their own against the competition. In fact, the two-day battery life is above average.
iPhone users have to make do with fewer watchfaces and apps than Android users, but this limitation applies to all Android Wear watches, not just the ZenWatch 2.
It comes in two identically-priced versions that differ in body size, screen size (1.63 inches versus 1.45 inches) and weight, but little else. The combination of rectangular body and square Amoled touchscreen is distinctive.
The ZenWatch 2 comes in silver, gunmetal grey and rose gold. Models sold here only come with leather straps, but extra rubber straps can be purchased from the Asus website. You only get IP67 water resistance - you can't swim with it - and third-generation Gorilla Glass but at this price, it's impossible to complain.
Available now at Asus Online store (store.asus.com/sg) and Asus retailers such as Harvey Norman and Courts.
Samsung Gear S2
Many smartwatches are now round in an attempt to ape the analogue aesthetic, but Samsung's Gear S2 is the only smartwatch that justifies its round bezel on functional grounds.
Rotating the bezel scrolls through notifications and menus, which is the best mechanical smartwatch interface yet, especially when augmented by the touchscreen.
Those who want to snap photos or make calls with their watches will be disappointed, but that's just as well considering the constraints of current battery technology.
Because it has fewer features than some of Samsung's previous smartwatches, the Gear S2 is a svelte stainless steel watch that probably has the best balance of ability and battery life among Amoled touchscreen-equipped competitors. It will last for up to three days on a charge, provided the screen isn't always on.
An IP68 rating also means it's slightly more water resistant than the Apple Watch and most Android Wear models, although you probably still shouldn't swim with it.
The Gear S2 runs Samsung's own Tizen software, which works very well but has far fewer apps than the competition.
The standard Gear S2 (S$448) comes in dark grey with a matching rubber strap, or silver with a white rubber strap. The Gear S2 classic (S$548) comes in black with a matching leather strap. An optional premium handcrafted leather strap (S$368) for the classic comes in a choice of 10 colours, and is only available at the Samsung Experience Stores at VivoCity and Paragon. The Gear S2 itself is available at Samsung stores and retailers.
Pebble Time Steel
The weakest link in a smartwatch is its battery. There's no technical barrier to making it as powerful as a phone. And brands, for the most part, have felt compelled to include power-guzzling luxuries.
Pebble bucks the trend without dumbing things down. The Pebble Time Steel boasts a marathon 10-day battery life. But there's no touchscreen, only buttons. Nor is there a heart-rate sensor, but that's one of the reasons it's waterproof to 30m.
In spite of the absence of a touchscreen, there are many apps available for Pebble watches, and the Pebble Time Steel is a rock solid performer regardless of whether it's used for apps, or just for receiving notifications.
Its colour E Ink screen isn't as pretty as the razor sharp Amoled touchscreens in its competitors, but it means that you can go on a weeklong business trip without ever having to recharge the Pebble Time Steel. The sheer practicality of that is compelling.
The Pebble Time Steel comes in black, silver or gold, along with a choice of leather or steel straps. Although the Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign's ended, the Pebble Time Steel isn't available at retailers here yet, unlike its sibling, the Pebble Time (S$329), but is available to buy online (www.pebble.com) in dark gray with matching leather or steel strap, silver with light grey or matching steel strap, or gold with red leather or matching steel strap.
There's a niche in between analogue and smartwatches occupied by analogue watches with a few smart features baked in. The Cogito Fit is a perfect example.
It's fundamentally a quartz analogue watch that lets you know when you have notifications, but doesn't actually let you read them. The watchface has icons for messages, social networks, e-mail and fitness, which light up when a notification in the corresponding category arrives.
The watch also beeps and vibrates. You can't choose one without the other, nor can you adjust the volume of the beep, but you can mute the beeps and vibrations. That sort of blunt approach characterises the rest of the Fit's smart capabilities.
But battery life is a non-issue. The button-cell battery lasts for months. And you get 100m of water resistance.
Although there are other models in the Cogito range, the Fit is the first with a fitness tracker, but you still need the iPhone or Android app to access fitness statistics.
Available on the Cogito website (cogitowatch.com) in a range of colour combinations that include black, blue, orange, red and white. Each watch comes with an extra insert to add a contrasting colour to the bezel. Nato nylon straps are available separately.