3 Standout Smart Watches

Long-awaited smart watches are hitting the consumer market. But do these gizmos live up to their hype?

Chester Gould, the inventor of Dick Tracy and his iconic two-way wrist radio, could not have imagined the real thing. Teamed with your smart phone, a smart watch can display real-time fitness data; show phone, text and social-media messages; and even act as a remote control for your phone’s music player. And it could come in handy any time you’d rather keep your smart phone tucked away. Caveat: So-called wearable devices are still rough around the edges. But the three below are standouts in a rapidly evolving genre.

Wrist-ready style. Slightly larger than a conventional watch, the Sony SmartWatch 2 ($200) has a sleek and fashionable aluminum case and a silicon or stainless-steel wristband. The SmartWatch, which syncs to your phone, vibrates softly when you get a call, e-mail or text message (including friends’ Facebook and Twitter posts). With a Bluetooth headset, you can use it to make and receive phone calls, view a list of recent calls, and control (play, stop and skip) songs on your phone. The 1.6-inch LCD screen is easy to read in bright sunlight, although the colorful 220-by-176-pixel resolution lacks the crispness of current smart-phone displays. The device runs three to four days between charges.

The SmartWatch 2 works only with smart phones running Android 4.0 or higher. To pair them, you either touch the SmartWatch to your phone (if it’s NFC-compatible) or use Bluetooth to link the devices. The SmartWatch comes with a few preinstalled apps, but you have to go to the Google Play store to download the really useful stuff. We found some of the apps a bit glitchy, and the user experience was far from seamless.

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Long-distance runner. The Magellan Echo ($150) is less ambitious than the Sony SmartWatch. It connects with your smart phone, but you cannot send and receive calls. But what the Echo does, it does well: display real-time feedback from sports apps, such as MapMyRun, Strava and Wahoo Fitness, running on your Apple iOS device. (Android support is “coming soon,” Magellan says.) The Echo has a decidedly athletic look, and it can run for months on a single inexpensive lithium battery. But miserly energy consumption involves trade-offs. The Echo’s 1-inch, 128-by-128-pixel display is reasonably easy to read, but it’s small and drab. Just to be clear: You’ll need to bring along your iPhone, too, which could prove cumbersome for runners.

Versatile switch hitter. Of the three watches in this review, we’d choose the upstart Pebble ($150), whose development was funded by a Kickstarter campaign. It is more versatile than the fitness-oriented Echo, and unlike the Android-only SmartWatch 2, it works with either Android or iOS—plus it costs less. Like the SmartWatch, the Pebble syncs via Bluetooth to your phone or headset to make calls, and runs a few bare-bones apps that let you display phone-call, text and social-media notifications. It also shows real-time data from fitness apps, and it lets you manage songs playing on your phone.

The Pebble has a slim, polycarbonate case. (A more rugged version, the Pebble Steel, is sheathed in stainless steel and costs $250.) It runs five to seven days between charges, a little longer than the SmartWatch. Its 1.26-inch, 144-by-168-pixel display is reasonably sharp. The Pebble’s stable of popular apps is growing, with Yelp, Foursquare, ESPN and Pandora expected to release Pebble-specific versions soon.

Contributing Writer, Kiplinger's Personal Finance