No gadget category has changed more in the last year than smartwatches. There's the Apple Watch, of course, a huge new market for the biggest tech company in the world to tackle. But the Apple Watch has fierce competition from nearly everybody you could think of. Android Wear watches work with the iPhone now, Pebble has a new version of its wearable, and companies from Fossil to Fitbit are all vying for a spot on your wrist.
But don't believe all the hype: smartwatches are neat, but they're not yet the Big New Computing Platform of the future. Mostly, here's what they're good for: triaging notifications so you don't have to pull out your phone, doing some basic health tracking and workout management, and giving you small bits of information like the weather or your next appointment.
Oh, and smartwatches should also be good at the things regular watches are good at: telling you the time and looking good.
But that's today. Tomorrow, those grand promises of a whole new way of interacting with the big digital world from a small little screen could come true. Which is why you should pick a smartwatch that nails all of the points I've mentioned above plus one more: get a watch that has a bright future. That means making sure it's well supported by the company that makes it, integrates super well with your phone, and has a growing third-party app ecosystem.
That last part is why we're giving a different recommendation to iPhone and Android users. If you have an Android Phone, go here to see our recommendation. If you have an iPhone, read on.



If you have an iPhone, the best smartwatch for you shouldn't be a surprise, it's the Apple Watch. It does a better job of working with your iPhone than anything else because it's designed by the same company that makes your iPhone. Everything will feel more polished and integrated, and it'll "just work" in a way that's more familiar to iPhone users. It's the smartwatch that will give you the very best voice control with Siri — other watches end up using weird and annoying workarounds for voice.
The Apple Watch looks good dressed up or down, and it does everything you'd expect a smartwatch to do — and usually quite well.
But which Apple Watch? There's a wide variety of styles, colors, bands, and, most importantly, price points. Our suggestion for most people is just to go with the cheapest one, the Apple Watch Sport, in the color option you like best. There's already a big (and growing) selection of third-party watch bands you can buy to dress up the watch, but the bigger deal is that you won't get any more functionality from spending more money on the Apple Watch or the Apple Watch Edition.
If you've got money to burn and really want one of those more expensive options, go for it, but know that it's probable that Apple is going to keep releasing new watches as the years go on, so at some point your $500-plus is going to a watch that won't be technically up-to-date.
As a smartwatch, you'll find plenty of options for doing digital stuff — sometimes too many! You can customize the watch face with "complications" that give you ambient information, tweak how notifications alert you, and install a pretty large number of third-party apps. Those apps, even with watchOS 2, are going to be uniformly slow and kind of frustrating — but that should get better over time.
Bottom line: you want a watch that you know will get updates and support from the whole Apple ecosystem. That watch is the Apple Watch.



There are a couple of reasons you might want to pick up a Pebble instead of an Apple Watch: price and battery life. There are a few Pebble models out there right now — ranging from last year's basic black-and-white model all the way up to the just-announced Pebble Time Round. Of them all, our pick is the basic Pebble Time, which has a good mix of a color screen, fast operation, and reasonable pricing.
The Pebble smartwatches use an e-paper display, which means that they're always on and look good in direct sunlight, while still giving you battery life that’s measured in days, not hours. Pebbles tend to lean on the sporty side, but you can pick the color and style that looks best to you, and it's fairly easy to replace the watch band.
Pebbles work on both iPhone and Android, but they're slightly better on Android. Even so, on the iPhone you will get notifications and some basic step counting. You'll also get custom watch faces and some third-party apps — and that latter part is unique to Pebble among third-party smartwatches that work with the iPhone (and Pebble's app catalog is actually pretty respectable).
But at the end of the day, Pebble can only work with the tools that Apple provides to third-party watchmakers. That means that voice control will be extremely limited, for one, and for another you're not likely to get apps that are quite as nice as what you can find on the Apple Watch.
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