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How to choose a smartwatch

SAIL

September 29, 2022

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How to choose a smartwatch

You regularly walk, run, swim or ride and you’d like to track your performance so you can monitor your progress from one training session to the next? The best tool to use is a smartwatch, which, once synced to your phone, will ensure you can review key data on each of your outings. But which watch is most suited to your training, and which features should you look for? This article answers all your queries.

In this article, you will learn more about:

  1. The difference between a smartwatch, a fitness watch and an fitness tracker
  2. What to look for in a smartwatch
  3. The features you’ll need based on your chosen activity
  4. A few pro tips

The difference between a smartwatch, a fitness watch and an fitness tracker

Smartwatches, activity monitors, GPS watches, fitness watches or even sports watches… It’s easy to get lost when it comes to the terms used to describe connected watches these days. Put simply, they differ from traditional watches as they allow users to record data linked to their physical activity, such as number of steps, activity duration, etc.

There are two main categories of connected watches: smartwatches, and fitness trackers. They have many features in common, but the smartwatch (a category that includes fitness watches) is a virtual extension of your phone. In addition to recording data, most models are equipped with features such as call and text message notifications, voice command for music, etc. Market leaders in this area are brands Garmin and Suunto, amongst others.

Fitness trackers, on the other hand, often come as bracelets, and their main goal is to measure your physical activity in a slightly more basic way (number of steps, activity duration, sleep quality). The Fitbit product range, for example, includes several models of fitness trackers.

You can find increasingly versatile watches on today’s shop shelves, including GPS smartwatches or fitness trackers which allow you to listen to music. Prices vary from around $100 for a more basic fitness tracker, to over $1 000 for the most versatile connected watches.

 

What to look for in a smartwatch

Going through all the features of each watch model would be virtually impossible, as there are so many different options on the market. However, it can be useful to compare models based on a few wider sets of criteria, such as compatibility, connectivity, data display, battery life or waterproofing.

When it comes to compatibility, most smartwatches and fitness trackers on the market are compatible with the most widely used phones. However, it’s always good to check as you may need to download the latest operating system updates to access the required applications, which use a lot of data.

In terms of connectivity, the vast majority of recent watches use Bluetooth or wifi to sync data to your phone, and some will simply opt for the most efficient connection available.

If you’d like to track your activity in real time, you will need to choose a watch that offers live data display directly on the watch’s face. The most recent options feature touch screens (you may want to get a pair of touch screen gloves for the winter).

The battery life of your watch can be very important if you practice an endurance sport that lasts several hours, such as cycling and trail running, or several days, such as hiking. Most watches have a battery life of several days, but this goes down drastically as soon as the GPS function is activated.

Last, waterproofing can be a good (or even necessary) feature for nautical sports such as swimming. Ask about the waterproofing depth of the models you are considering (ideally, at least 5 ATM).

Keep in mind that you should start by defining your requirements (long or short outings, one or several sports to track, whether your watch will get wet, etc.) to make an informed choice.

The features you’ll need based on your chosen activity

Today, there are dozens of features available for smartwatches and fitness trackers, from simply calculating your daily step count to tracking your mindful breathing minutes, your hydration or stress levels. In order not to get lost, it is important to keep the most basic features in mind (which are often the most important ones too) when purchasing your first watch: tracking of distance, activity duration, cadence, heartbeat, as well as GPS and an altimeter. Here are some features you may require for each of the following sports:

Running watches

Features to look for :

  • Tracking of metrics such as distance, run duration and speed
  • GPS to review your route during or after your run
  • Running cadence metrics to keep track of your running rhythm
  • Heart rate monitor
    Interval training function
    Altimeter to view the elevation data of each of your runs, useful for trail runners

Cycling watches

Features to look for:

  • Tracking of metrics such as distance, ride duration and speed
  • GPS to review your route during or after your ride
  • Heart rate monitor
  • Altimeter to view the elevation data of each of your rides, useful for mountain bikers
  • Sensors for your pedals so that you can accurately measure the cadence and power of each pedal stroke

Swimming watches

Features to look for:

  • Tracking of metrics such as distance, swim duration and speed
  • Stroke count and stroke rate
  • Heart rate monitor
  • Tracking of your SWOLF score, which indicates your swimming efficiency

Hiking watches

Features to look for:

  • Tracking of metrics such as distance, hike duration and speed
  • GPS to review your route during or after your hike
  • Altimeter so that you can know the elevation data of each of your hikes, useful for mountain hikes
  • Pulse Ox (pulse oximetry) for high altitude treks

A few pro tips

  • If you practice several sport activities and would like a versatile watch, look for multisport performance models, which should meet all your measurement needs
  • Before purchasing your watch, don’t hesitate to try it in store. The size of smartwatches’ screens is bigger than that of most traditional watches, so make sure it fits your wrist.
  • If you’d like to train while listening to music, opt for a smartwatch that lets you control your playlist directly from the screen or using voice commands, through Bluetooth.
  • Even if today’s watches feature quite reliable heart rate monitors, some sports enthusiasts still prefer to use a chest strap (usually sold separately) for more accurate data. These often offer more advanced features, such as cross-country skiing power.

You now know everything you need to know on smartwatches and fitness monitors to make the most out of your training session, with the best sports coach right there on your wrist.

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