Thursday 22 August 2019

Ask Adrian: Our technology editor tackles your trickiest tech problems


Recommendation: Fitbit Charge 3 (€139 from most electronics retailers)
Recommendation: Fitbit Charge 3 (€139 from most electronics retailers)
Nokia 4.2
HP Envy X360 13
Adrian Weckler

Adrian Weckler

Question: My daughter has an Apple Watch and she says it helps a lot with keeping track of her fitness. She's recommending one for me as I want to get out and about more. But she has an iPhone and I don't. Do I need one for it to work? Is there an alternative you'd recommend? I'm a bit of a beginner to it all.


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The Apple Watch is designed to work only on the iPhone, so no, it won't work as a smartwatch unless you have that. (You don't say whether or not you have a smartphone at all, but in case you mean that you have an Android model like a Samsung or Huawei, for the avoidance of any doubt, the Apple Watch won't synchronise with these phones.)

If you have another type of smartphone, there are plenty of alternatives. I will say, having tested many of them, that the Apple Watch is (by far) the one with the most features. But that's not necessarily the be-all and end-all for someone with a specific purpose.

(And besides, the Apple Watch has one of the weaker batteries out there, clocking in at between one and three days per charge.)

The key thing to know about most smartwatches is that they're really designed to work with smartphones. What makes them 'smart' is usually a wireless connection to your phone that lets you see important bits of data, or control things remotely from your watch. For example, you say that the trigger for you getting one of these devices is a desire to be more active and to track your fitness or health data. In this situation, basic things like the number of steps you take, the distance you travel or the speed you were travelling at will display on your watch but will be mainly recorded on your phone. (You can use some smartwatches with a laptop or PC, but it's a lot more awkward.)

Anyway, I'm going to assume you have another smartphone and are not about to switch to the iPhone just so you can get an Apple Watch. If that's correct, there are lots of options available to you here.

The most popular basic fitness-oriented smartwatch is undoubtedly the Fitbit. The model most choose here is a slimmish band that comes in an array of different colours, although most of them you see around the place are black. These typically cost between around €60 and €150. For example, the Fitbit Charge 3 costs €139 and is probably the bestseller in the range. Its core functionality is measuring steps and sleep, with full reporting and the ability to synchronise with a number of common running or fitness apps (these apps, such as Strava or Runkeeper, are what many fitness enthusiasts use). It also adds social and SMS messaging alerts (synchronising from your phone) if you want them. But note that because this is a slim band, it's primarily a text-based notification system. And because the screen is small and monotone, the Fitbit Charge 3 has a decent battery life of around five to six days.

So with this, you'll have your basics covered and a reasonable amount of extras at a price that hopefully won't kill your budget.

If you have a Samsung phone, you might consider one of its Gear smartwatches. They're mostly circular smartwatches with a clever way of navigating through features. The front-facing rim of the watch rotates to control certain things. It's a very intuitive way of getting around the watch and is unique to Samsung when it comes to the main smartwatch brands.

A decent option here is the Gear S3 Sport (€179). For walking or running, its native functionality absolutely does the job, integrating nicely with Samsung's S Health platform. With GPS and an accelerometer, it's very solid when it comes to tracking.

One thing I really like about the Gear watches is their 'always-on' display, meaning you don't have to lift the watch face towards you to spark it to life, like you do with the Apple Watch or others.

The Gear S3 doesn't run as many apps as the Apple Watch. This may be a disadvantage to some, but if you're mainly interested in sport and fitness, you might not care.

As I said, there are lots of options. The most recent Android-compatible smartwatch I tested is Huawei's Watch GT (€199 or free for those who buy a Huawei P30 Pro), which I'd certainly recommend if you have a Huawei smartphone and want a simple, effective, fitness-oriented watch.

The battery life on the circular, colourful touchscreen device is almost unrivalled: I got 12 days per charge. But one of the reasons for this is its lack of app support. This is basically confined to being a Huawei Health accessory, so it won't synchronise with the common, popular fitness apps available to the Apple Watch or Samsung Gear watch.

That aside, some very useful features that should suffice for many potential smartwatch wearers. These include workouts, activity records and sleep monitoring. It also comes with GPS, a compass and smaller handy things like a 'find my phone' alarm. And it's water resistant enough to go swimming.

Recommendation: Fitbit Charge 3 (€139 from most electronics retailers)

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