By Darryl Budge
This year the competition is hot for the crown of the most desirable and smartest watch that pairs with your smartphone via Bluetooth. In the race for your cash are the Apple Watch, Google's Android Wear platform and Pebble (plus many fitness trackers not covered here).
Here is an overview that will help you avoid buyers regret:
PEBBLE (getpebble.com): Pebble was the first to sell 1 million smartwatches by focusing on 50m water resistance, up to 7-day battery life, step and sleep tracking, buttons-only, iOS and Android notifications with vibration, an e-paper screen visible in bright sunlight, phone music control and weather/news/stock updates via 6000+ customizable apps and watch-faces from developers. The plastic B&W-screen Pebble (out 2013) is $140, or $270 for Pebble Steel (out 2014). Time and Time Steel models ($270 & $390, out May 2015) with a 64-colour screen add a mic for voice responses to Android-4.3+ notifications and Gmail on iOS, 'Smartstraps' to add GPS, heartrate monitor, etc., and a time-scrolling interface will be added to all Pebble models ever sold. Best prices are on Amazon.com (check if currency conversion is the best deal).
ANDROID WEAR (android.com/wear): Like Android phones, Google works with Samsung, LG, Sony, Asus, Huawei and others to add their Android Wear operating system into a round or square full-colour smartwatch. On its own you can track steps or heart-rate, play stored music via Bluetooth headphones, or use one of 200 available Wear apps and games. Some models have built-in GPS, plus Android Wear will later support NFC for contactless payments (which some models have) and a SIM-card for data/calls. Paired with WiFi-internet or an Android 4.3+ phone, you can say "Ok Google" plus a query or action using Google Now, like write or respond to a message, search on Google, manage your calendar, and control music or your Chromecast. Google Now alerts appear based on time, location, your calendar, transit routes or flight time. Downsides: low-power mode can be dim outdoors; most models splash water resistance; ~2 day battery; Android 4.3+ phones only.
APPLE WATCH (apple.com/watch): Compatible only with an iPhone 5 or above, this can be ordered from 11th April in 3 models: Apple Watch Sports ($499+, aluminium bezel and toughened glass);
Apple Watch (US$799-$1629, steel bezel and sapphire crystal screen);
or Apple Watch Edition (18ct yellow or rose gold bezel, $14,000+). All models detect heartrate and come in two case lengths, 38mm or 42mm, plus a variety of bands and buckles. Besides "Hey Siri" voice input, basic uses are calendar, maps, 'Apple Pay' (contactless payments), activity tracking, controls for music, camera, Apple TV and iTunes. Downsides: 18hr battery, no built-in GPS; all models just splash resistant