Wearables are a new category to our gift guide this year, but one that we couldn’t ignore.
In 2014, the wearable category went from niche to certain, from product to platform. Google debuted Android Wear earlier in the year, while mainstays like Fitbit, Jawbone, Misfit and others improved their offerings with improved hardware and a wider gamut of software experiences.
As we approach the Apple Watch, there are numerous wearables, from fitness bands to brain-sensing bands, that will be perfect as gifts this year.
Possibly the most attractive of the Android Wear smartwatches, the Moto 360 is the first available in Canada with a round, edge-to-edge design. Since its release, firmware updates have improved functionality and battery life, but the screen resolution is still lower than we’d like.
Samsung Gear S
Samsung’s Gear S smartwatch features a number of firsts, including a curved AMOLED display and a nanoSIM card slot for 3G connectivity. Like all Gear devices, it only works with Samsung phones, but that’s not a dealbreaker since the list of compatible devices is growing. Its ability to make calls and send texts may not be compelling, but being able to leave your phone at home while going on a run or to the store is certain to entice the early adopter — as long as he or she can stomach the $399 price tag.
At nearly two years old, the Pebble is grandfather of the smarwatch ecosystem. With a bevy of custom watchfaces and apps, it’s one of the few smartwatches with full iPhone compability. Pebble has also built up a network of loyal followers, and the Steel’s entry cost of $199 USD is significantly more accessible than most of the competition.
Price: $199 USD, $219 CAD
Fitbit’s latest fitness band, Charge, builds on the success of the Force — long battery life, versatile OLED display — and adds smartwatch-like features. At $139 CAD, it’s one of the most accessible entries into the market, especially if your goal — and whose isn’t? — is to get fitter in the new year.
Price: $129 – $139
Jawbone’s latest screenless fitness band, the UP3 is both more robust and more intelligent than the UP24. Promising week-long battery and always-on heart rate monitoring, it automatically detects workouts and sleep sessions. With a new slimmer design, UP3 is going to be at the top of many buyers’ lists.
Availability: Jawbone (shipping early 2015)
Price: $179.99 USD
Withings O2 Pulse Activity Tracker
The latest from Withings is a multi-day health and fitness tracker that not only counts steps but tracks heart rate 24/7, including while you sleep. Its OLED screen is also capable of delivering basic readings, too, though it lacks smartphone notifications to made it “smartwatch lite.” At $120 it’s a great way to sync basic health stats to a smartphone and share that info with others for motivation.
A brand new input method with myriad potential applications, Waterloo-based Thalmic Labs’ first product, Myo, uses the muscles and joints in your arm to navigate computers, mobile devices and even virtual reality components like Oculus. Not meant to be an all-day wearable the way a smartwatch or fitness band is, the Myo will enhance existing computing functions.
Availability: Thalmic (shipping early 2015)
Price: $199 USD
Breath deeply. InteraXon’s brain-sensing Muse headband teaches its users to clear their heads and concentrate on being in the moment. Its also a lot of fun.
One of the more interesting wearables, the Narrative Clip (formerly Memoto) clips onto a shirt or jacket and takes a photo every 30 seconds. At the end of the day, users upload those hundreds of megabytes to Narrative’s servers, whose algorithms then distil the best ones and presents them in a stream on an iOS or Android app. It’s a niche idea, but a valuable addition to the wearable ecosystem. It does require a subscription to view all those photos — data crunching is hard work — but you’ll find some gems among the rough.
Price: $229 – $279
Now an Intel company, Vancouver’s Basis has created a smartwatch fitness tracker hybrid with the Basis Peak. Touchscreen-compatible, all-week battery life and 24/7 heart rate monitoring meets automated exercise and sleep tracking that is more accurate than competing products from Fitbit and Jawbone. Later this year, the Peak will be updated to include call, text and app notifications, and its Habits feature encourages users to sleep better and exercise more without scolding.
Price: $299 CAD