DEC 3, 2021 / Smartwatch

Fitness band, fitness watch or smartwatch: Which is right for you?

Smart wearables are still a relatively new category of technology for most consumers, with less than a decade of on-shelf availability. A smart wearable can help you get fit, organise your day and even act as a full substitute for your phone depending on its capabilities.

However, there are a lot of quite varied models at a huge array of price points. You can pay in the tens of dollars for very simple models, or north of $1,000 for more premium devices. If you’re not across the differences it can be hard to decide, and even harder to pick the right device to meet your needs.

Of course, everyone’s needs are different. Some may want a band just to track steps for health, while others may need more in-depth sports tracking to meet fitness goals.

Likewise, the difference between having smartphone style ‘apps’ on your smart wearable versus inbuilt ‘features’ of a fixed device may mean more to some than others.

The first step to picking the right smart wearable is picking the right device. Here’s what you should think about.

Will it work with my phone?

There are very few true standalone smart wearables, with most either pairing with or sharing data with a smartphone of some sort. Most wearables will have apps for both Android (Samsung, Google, Oppo, Nokia and so on) handsets and iOS (Apple iPhone), but not all. Most notably, Apple’s very popular Apple Watch will only work with Apple’s iPhones, and some older iPhone models may not work with the newest Apple Watch models.

Do I just want a fitness band?

Pros
  • Relatively inexpensive
  • Smaller and more subtle
  • Typically decent battery life
Cons
  • Less robust build
  • Limited features and apps

The very cheapest smart wearables are often just referred to as “fitness bands” or “fitness trackers”, because they’re predominantly digital step counters with more limited feature sets. The very cheapest may lack displays of any kind, but newer generations have small digital displays that can also act as simple watches. They’re a good match for those who just want basic fitness tracking or who want a more discrete device than a regular smartwatch.

Brands to consider: Fitbit, Garmin, Jolt, Xiaomi, Huawei

Do I want a fitness watch? 

Pros
  • Great for multi-sport athletes
  • Typically rugged designs
  • Usually excellent battery life
Cons
  • Often bulky watches in their own right
  • Fewer app options than true “smartwatches”
  • Can be expensive

There’s a very particular subset of smart wearables that focus intensely on outdoor fitness tracking. They’re typically very rugged both in style and build quality, because they’re meant to be able to take the punishment that comes with cross country trekking, kayaking, ultramarathons and the like. Battery life is generally very good, because you might be out in the great outdoors for days at a time, but the flipside here is that you don’t quite get the full “app” experience of a smartwatch.

Brands to consider: Garmin, Polar, Fitbit

Do I want a smartwatch?

Pros
  • Wide range of real apps
  • Best for communication with messaging and LTE functions on some models
  • Wide range of styles and bands
Cons
  • Can be pricey, especially for extra bands
  • Most models only offer 1-2 days battery life

The premium play in the smart wearables space are smart watches, which somewhat act as smaller companion devices to your smartphone, right down to sharing many of the same apps and services as your phone. LTE enabled models can even be paired to your phone’s SIM so you can use them directly to take and make phone calls and send messages even when you’re nowhere near your phone. You’ll generally need to be with one of the big network telcos (Telstra, Optus or Vodafone) to make that work, and they do charge a supplemental fee for that kind of utility.

They’re typically also the most fashion-conscious models, mostly due to a mix of designs and swappable bands that can switch between (for example) sports-centric bands and more elegant options at will.

Brands to consider: Apple, Samsung, Fossil

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Alex Kidman
Tech Journalist