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The 10 best smartwatches of 2015

Alphr logo Alphr 12-10-2015 elizabethd

Motorola Moto 360© Alphr.com Motorola Moto 360

When the Apple Watch was released in April, Tim Cook and co pushed wearable technology further into the limelight. Since then, the smartwatch market has rapidly evolved to encompass a growing number of players – with Samsung, Garmin, LG, Apple, Pebble, Motorola and Microsoft all fighting for your attention. As the market expands, deciding on a smartwatch is getting tougher.

Here, we've collected in-depth reviews, first looks and all the key information you need to decide whether you want to buy a smartwatch now or wait for a forthcoming model.

If you already know what you're looking for, scroll down and peruse our top smartwatch picks and tip-offs for future releases. If you want to find out what all the fuss is about, and what to look for, head to our buying guide to get the essential information you need before shelling out for a smartwatch.

Best smartwatches of 2015: Recommended

1. Pebble Time

Price: £179 inc VAT

Pebble Time review© Provided by Dennis Publishing Limited Pebble Time review

The Pebble Time certainly isn't perfect, but, with a battery that lasts a week, an all-new colour screen and software that has taken a step forward, it's an improvement on the bulky Pebble and the retro Pebble Steel. Now that it works with both iOS and Android smartphones, it's one of the most practical smartwatches around, if not the most attractive. 

2. Apple Watch

Price: from £299 inc VAT for the Sport, 38mm edition

Apple Watch review - 38mm on wrist© Provided by Dennis Publishing Limited Apple Watch review - 38mm on wrist

After all the hype and expectation, the Apple Watch has made quite the splash. Beautifully designed, with a control system that really works, a heart-rate monitor and the fabulous "Taptic Engine", it's the smartwatch iPhone users everywhere should buy. The only bugbear? Battery life could be much, much better.

3. LG G Watch R

Price: £190 inc VAT

© Provided by Dennis Publishing Limited

The first round-faced rival to the Moto 360 (see below) is LG's G Watch R, which brings a diving-watch-style design to the Android Wear platform, now available on iOS. It has some flaws, but, with the best battery life of any Android Wear device, it's a more practical option than Motorola's smartwatch. It's also something of a looker; we'd give it the fashion-conscious nod over LG's lumpen, unimpressive Watch Urbane.

4. Pebble Steel

Price: £149 inc VAT

Pebble Steel review© Provided by Dennis Publishing Limited Pebble Steel review

The Pebble Steel has since been superseded by the Pebble Time, but it still makes a highly practical smartwatch. The battery lasts a week and, although its looks might not be to everyone's taste, it carries out the job of delivering notifications to your wrist with aplomb. Better still, now that the Pebble Time is here, the price has dropped. Look out for some seriously tempting bargains.

5. Motorola Moto 360

Price: £150 inc VAT

Motorola Moto 360 review© Provided by Dennis Publishing Limited Motorola Moto 360 review

The Motorola Moto 360 is a gorgeous-looking smartwatch. It runs Android Wear and has a very bright screen, a heart-rate monitor and an ambient-light sensor that allows it to adapt to dark and light conditions without user intervention. The price has been reduced to £150, but a second generation is on the horizon that may solve issues such as battery life.

6. Sony SmartWatch 3

Price: £170 inc VAT

Sony Smartwatch 3© Provided by Dennis Publishing Limited Sony Smartwatch 3

It might have been one of the first wave of Android Wear smartwatches, but the Sony SmartWatch 3 left a real impression on the Alphr team. Built by a company with more experience with wearables than most, the SmartWatch 3 boasts a handful of key features that could make all the difference: the transflective screen sends battery life soaring, and the design, while plain and simple, works well on a wrist.

7. Asus ZenWatch

Price: £200 inc VAT

Asus ZenWatch review© Provided by Dennis Publishing Limited Asus ZenWatch review

The Asus ZenWatch brings a touch of class to the world of Android Wear. Of all the smartwatches we’ve seen recently, and particularly Android Wear models, it’s the one that cuts the most stylish dash. With a bit more stamina, it would have been one of our top choices; as it is, however, our heart belongs to the LG G Watch R.

8. Sony SmartBand Talk

Price: £100 inc VAT

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Sony's SmartBand Talk combines fitness tracker and smartwatch features at a very appealing price. Battery life is better than many rivals, thanks to its energy-saving E Ink display, and, although it doesn't have the app-based ecosystem of the Pebble Steel or Android Wear devices, it does the core job of displaying notifications well. It also doubles up as a sleep- and exercise-tracking device. You can even take a phone call on it in an emergency.

9. Garmin Vivoactive

Price: £168 inc VAT

Garmin Vivoactive review: Watch face© Provided by Dennis Publishing Limited Garmin Vivoactive review: Watch face

The Vivoactive joins Garmin’s family of sports GPS watches. With the ability to download apps and customised watch faces from the Connect IQ store, as well as basic notification support, the Vivoactive is as versatile as sports wearables come. There are limitations – it lacks a built-in heart-rate sensor, for example – but, since the Vivoactive supports the ANT+ wireless protocol, it’s possible to connect to accurate, affordable third-party heart-rate, speed and cadence sensors, and the transflective screen technology means that battery life regularly tickles the one-week mark. It's not half as smart as the other wearables here, but if your focus is more on fitness than nifty apps it’s a great choice. 

10. Microsoft Band

Price: £150 inc VAT

Microsoft Band review: On pebbles, blurry© Provided by Dennis Publishing Limited Microsoft Band review: On pebbles, blurry

While not technically a smartwatch, the Microsoft Band has plenty to offer for the asking price. It's jam-packed with tech – there's a built-in heart-rate sensor, an accelerometer/gyrometer and GPS – and we loved the guided workouts and workout plans in the Microsoft Health app. The sheer simplicity of the Band's interface is a boon, too. Comfort is a big issue, as are niggles such as the inaccurate heart-rate monitoring, but the Microsoft Band does a lot right.

Best smartwatches of 2015: The ones to watch out for

Samsung Gear S2

Price: TBC

Samsung Gear S2 review:© Provided by Dennis Publishing Limited Samsung Gear S2 review:

Samsung has thrown down a gauntlet in terms of design with the Gear S2, a gorgeous looking watch with a rotating bezel. It comes in two variants: Standard with a smooth, minimalist design and Classic with a more traditional watch-like style. It may come with Samsung’s Tizen wearable OS, but the Gear S2 will also work with most Android devices – making Samsung’s next smartwatch a definite contender.

Pebble Time Round

Price: $249

Video of Meet the Lightest & Thinnest Smartwatch: Pebble Time Round

Along with the Samsung Gear S2, it seems a trend is emerging for round-faced smartwatches. Enter the Pebble Time Round, the upcoming watch from Pebble and the company’s first to feature a circular face.

Like previous Pebble smartwatches, the Pebble Time Round uses e-paper and the company’s own Timeline UI. It is exceptionally thin, at only 7.5mm thick and weighing just 28 grams. Design-wise, it’s the most fashion conscious Pebble yet, and will apparently be available on UK shores “later this year”.

Huawei Watch

Price: £295

Huawei Watch - on wrist© Provided by Dennis Publishing Limited Huawei Watch - on wrist

The alluringly designed (but unimaginatively titled) Huawei Watch is the company’s first attempt at an Android Wear smartwatch. The specifications are identical to its rivals’, barring one crucial element: its 1.4in AMOLED display. With a resolution of 400 x 400, it delivers the highest pixel density (286ppi) of any smartwatch screen we’ve seen so far.

Moto 360 gen 2

Price: £229

© Provided by Dennis Publishing Limited

Official announced at IFA 2015 in Berlin, Motorola’s pretty follow-up to the Moto 360 is coming out in September. It comes in two sizes – 42mm and 46mm – is powered by a Snapdragon 400 processor, and boasts two-day battery life. From gold plating to pink leather bands, Motorola are going big on customisation with the Moto 360’s second iteration. It will also work for iPhone users, now that Android Wear has moved onto the Apple App Store.

Best smartwatches: Buying the best smartwatch for you

The Best Smartwatches 2015 - buying guide© Provided by Dennis Publishing Limited The Best Smartwatches 2015 - buying guide

The first question we're always asked is: “What is a smartwatch for?”

A smartwatch delivers notifications from your phone, allows you to check your email and control music playback and functions as a fitness tracker. More advanced devices can provide alerts about the places you're going, allow you to dictate messages, play music via Bluetooth headphones or speakers and even download apps. Others, such as Samsung's Gear Fit or the Intel Basis Peak, concentrate more on the fitness and/or sleep-tracking side of things –indeed, the very purpose of the smartwatch is continually evolving as app developers and manufacturers get to grips with the wearables concept. 

The smartwatch market is still in its infancy, but we already know the platforms that will power the most important ones. As in the smartphone market, Apple and Google are emerging as the key players.

The Apple Watch was announced alongside the iPhone 6, and is designed to work with iPhones exclusively. You won’t need an iPhone 6 or iPhone 6s to get onboard, however. Older iPhones won’t work, but the iPhone 5, the iPhone 5c and the iPhone 5s will.

Android Wear is the driving force from Google’s camp: this isn’t hardware, but software that runs on other manufacturer’s watches. Android Wear is now also available on Apple’s App Store, opening up Android watches to iPhone users.

The Best Smartwatches 2015 - Motorola Moto 360 box© Provided by Dennis Publishing Limited The Best Smartwatches 2015 - Motorola Moto 360 box

Normally, we'd look at the substance of a product before the style, but the look and design really matter in a smartwatch. Watches have long been as much a fashion accessory as a functional tool – no one wants to carry around an ugly lump of plastic on their wrist. Thankfully, there's already a wide range of shapes and sizes on offer, from the minimalist, round-faced sophistication of the Motorola Moto 360 to the blandly rectangular, regular LG G Watch.

The Apple Watch may be sold as a single smartwatch, but Apple is offering customers plenty of opportunity for customisation. There are smaller and larger watch faces and various case materials and straps to choose from. The one thing that's missing is a round-faced model; aside from that, the choice is yours.

However, we'd urge you to check out the models that will launch in the next few months or so in addition to those already on the shelves. Rush into buying a smartwatch now and you may find that the model you really wanted was only a few weeks or months away.

Best smartwatch: Battery life and screen technology

The Best Smartwatches 2015 - battery life and screen technology© Provided by Dennis Publishing Limited The Best Smartwatches 2015 - battery life and screen technology

The biggest issue with the Android Wear smartwatches we've seen so far is battery life: with a day or two of use the common denominator, you'll be charging it up almost as frequently as your smartphone.

With this in mind, manufacturers have been hard at work to make this as painless as possible. Wireless charging is a feature that the Apple Watch and the Moto 360 have in common. With these watches, there's no electrical contact required: just rest the watch on the plate supplied. But even the watches that require an electrical contact for charging don't require you to plug in a USB cable directly, with manufacturers usually supplying a proprietary clip or magnetic base in the box that attaches to the rear of the watch.

If you're not keen on such a frequent charging regime, you may want to consider something other than one of the Google or Apple watches. Their LCD or OLED touchscreens are comparatively power-hungry, so there's a limit to how long they'll last, no matter how efficient the components inside.

There are a few options that use screen technology designed to provide better battery life. Perhaps the most famous is the Pebble. This watch employs a monochrome LCD "e-paper" screen that uses far less power than backlit colour screens.

A rival screen technology called Mirasol offers colour and the same kind of power-saving effect. You'll find it in the Qualcomm Toq, although that watch isn't widely available in the UK at present.

These smartwatches will last almost a week without a charge, making them a good deal more convenient than the Apple Watch or Android Wear watches.

If you want to embrace the smartwatch revolution, however, you'll need to go with either Apple or Google. Many of the upcoming watch apps will be designed for these devices, and, in a few months, other watches will start to look dated.

Best smartwatches: Prices

The Best Smartwatches 2015 - prices© Provided by Dennis Publishing Limited The Best Smartwatches 2015 - prices

How much do you have to spend for a smartwatch? The entry-level mark for Android Wear is around £150, rising to around £200 for the more premium models.

The cheapest Apple Watch is £299, increasing to £349 for a larger-screened Watch. Apple's wristwear has an incredible upper price limit, with models reaching well beyond the £10,000 mark.


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