Holiday deals during overnight store hours might have you finally considering your first wearable purchase. The process of buying such a device requires planning, a strategy slightly less intense than that which you’d use to make it out of your first car-buying experience alive. At first glance, the wearable options seem endless, the available features overwhelming, and the price points all over the place. To confuse matters even more, a higher price tag doesn’t necessarily equate to a feature-rich or reliable device.
Wearable novices such as yourself (and nearly everyone else given the relative newness of the market) should consider a number of criteria before embarking on such an expedition. What type of design and user experience are you looking for? Are specific fitness-tracking capabilities a must? What about phone support, companion apps, screen type and audio features? Are you looking for a smartwatch or basic step-counting wristband? And last but certainly not least on the list of pre-qualifying wearable characteristics is battery life.
A wearable’s battery life, while not the sexiest of features, is one of the most important, given that it has the greatest potential to put a kink in your proverbial wearable works if it doesn’t meet your expectations. As most wearable tech reviewers will tell you, battery life suffers from a sort of step-child syndrome, with developers sometimes giving it the short end of the stick in favor of flashier, power-guzzling features. Once you’ve decided whether you want your wearable to act as a reliable, everyday tool that can run for days on a single charge, or an every once in a while toy that needs charging every night, battery life should be your next consideration. Feel free to incorporate the following breakdown of wearables by battery life into your holiday shopping strategy.
Despite the bad rap that wearable battery life seems to have gotten in the past, there are quite a few devices on the market today that feature months-long charging capabilities. The Misfit Wearables Shine, Fitbug Orb, Fitbug Zip, and Garmin Forerunner 920XT clock in at about 120 days of standard use, while the Jawbone Up Move and Misfit Wearables Flash can run for up to 182 days on a single charge. The Withings Activite Pop takes the cake at up to 240 days of battery life.
If this sort of super-extended battery life is up your alley, you’ll then need to narrow the field based on design, features, and price point. The Garmin Forerunner 920XT smartwatch, for example, rings up at around $330, while the Jawbone Up Move clip-on fitness tracker will set you back by only $30. The Fitbit Zip, also a clip-on fitness tracker, is priced to move at $47, while the slightly cheaper Fitbug Orb and Misfit Wearables Shine, along with the much cheaper Misfit Wearables Flash, feature wristband designs. The semi-smart fitness-tracking Pop watch retails at the wearable market’s most popular price point of $150.
This category of battery life exemplifies the challenge consumers face when determining which device is right for them – a basic, $25 wrist-worn step counter or top-of-the-line smartwatch that can double as an elite athlete’s training device? Decisions, decisions.
Devices from Garmin, Xiami, Tag Heuer, and Polar offer a slightly less spectacular battery life of between 24 and 42 days. While the charging capacity doesn’t differ tremendously, the price point does, with TAG Heuer’s 25-hour designer Connected device retailing for $1,500, the Polar M400 for $182, and the Xiaomi Mi wristband for a whopping $23. You’ll need to take a deeper dive into the target market for each device to discern what features match up best with your needs – TAG Heuer’s 4GB of internal storage or Polar’s all-day activity tracking? It’s worth noting CNET has rated the Polar M400 as its favorite watch for runners.
The battery life category of between seven and 14 days seems to offer the most feature-rich experiences at fairly budget-conscious prices. It’s also perhaps the broadest category, with offerings from Withings, Fitbit, TomTom, Jawbone, Pivotal and Garmin in the mix. The Pebble Time Steel smartwatch has won “Best Battery Life” accolades for its 10-day charging capacity combined with stylish all-metal design and digital calendar-friendly features. At $249, it’s at least $100 more than the Fitbit Charge HR wristband, which has won rave reviews for being the best all-around fitness tracker, but only offers five days of battery life.
Lower your battery life standards just a bit and you’ll likely be satisfied with the original Pebble, which offers access to over 6,000 apps, notifications, and seven hours of battery life. Plus, it’s shower friendly, less expensive than the aforementioned Time Steel, and has been dubbed the best smartwatch for the money.
LG, Microsoft, Pebble, and Basis offer wearables with battery life of between two and four days – a timespan that would likely become burdensome for on-the-go users with limited charging opportunities. Tech reviewers of this category of do-it-all fitness trackers have noted that these gadgets have “too many compromises to feel like the right solution for most people.” Their price points, only slightly less than their seven to 14 day counterparts, don’t differ much at all. Perhaps loyalty to Microsoft and Windows devices would lure you to the Microsoft Band; other than that, it’s hard to discern how this category makes up for its lack of battery life.
Otherwise known as “Why Bother?,” this final category includes wearables from Motorola, Nike, and Apple that feature 36 hours or less of battery life. The Apple Watch stands out both for its fanboy allure and its dismal charging capacity, bringing shoppers back to the caveat initially mentioned – super-slick features will wear down a device’s ability to hold a charge. Hailed by some as the best smartwatch overall, and derided by others for its inability to go longer than 2.5 to 3.5 hours during heavy app usage, the $349 (and up) device seems ripe for improvement. Holiday shoppers will want to take note that the Apple Watch 2 will likely go on sale next fall, coinciding with the launch of iPhone 7, and may even feature a built-in video camera. Improved battery life will also hopefully be in the mix. Faithful Apple users may want to put it on their 2016 holiday wish lists.
There are any number of angles from which to make your wearables purchasing decision. Battery life is a good place to start, giving you a benchmark with which to wade through the plethora of choices coming down the pike. Market researchers forecast that over 45 million wearable bands alone will ship by the end of this year, meaning that chances are good someone on your shopping list is in the market for the latest and greatest device. Chances are also good that that someone will appreciate a device that doesn’t need to be plugged in every few hours, and offers the features that best fit their lifestyle. A little due diligence and crowdsourcing of opinion will help you determine the wearable most worthy of being unwrapped on Christmas morning.
December 21, 2015