Some early standouts are emerging in the world of smart watches

April 13, 2014 

Chester Gould, the inventor of Dick Tracy’s iconic two-way wrist radio, could not have imagined the real thing. Teamed with your smartphone, 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. Caveat: So-called wearable devices are still rough around the edges. But the three below are standouts in a rapidly evolving genre.

 • The Sony SmartWatch 2 ($200) syncs to your smartphone, and vibrates softly when you get a call, email 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 smartphones running Android 4.0 or higher. It comes with a few preinstalled apps, but you’ll have to go to the Google Play store to download the really useful stuff.

 • Although the Magellan Echo ($150) syncs to your iPhone, 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. The Echo 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.

 • 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 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.

Jeff Bertolucci is a freelance writer for Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine. Send your questions and comments to moneypower@kiplinger.com. And for more on this and similar money topics, visit Kiplinger.com.

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