Always wanted a smartwatch, but the Apple Watch is out of your price range? A plethora of smartwatches from a squadron of obscure Chinese vendors is available on Amazon. Most cost less than $40.
We compared four of these wearables against last year’s Pebble Time ($79.99) for functionality, design and mobile-OS compatibility. While none of them are as good as the Pebble, a couple of these watches are worth considering. Here’s what we found.
Common Features of Budget Smartwatches
All of the smartwatches we tested are rectangular, with control buttons at the bottom or side, with software and Bluetooth connections that are similar to those for iOS and Android. The clone watches let you install a GSM micro-SIM card and/or a microSD card for enhanced functionality. Their built-in, somewhat unpolished software functions similarly across all the models, with a few slight interface variations. These watches work more or less as advertised, and despite their bulky, generally cheesy look and feel, they may have everything you need, especially if you have a beefy wrist.
My biggest complaint was unreliability. After I turned off the watches, it was an extremely finicky process to start many of them back up.
Aipker DZ09 smartwatch (7/10)
This 1.56-inch, 240 x 240-pixel touch-screen smartwatch differs from the others we tested in that it ships with a 16GB microSD card — a rare convenience for use with the 0.3-megapixel camera, sound recorder and other functions that require storage. Built-in software includes a dialer, messaging, synced contact list and call logs; and file manager, image viewer, calendar and more. Some built-in apps like the browser, Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp require a SIM card (not included). The watch is functional via Bluetooth with both Android BT Notifier and iOS Bluetooth, though it has less functionality when you’re texting with iOS.
StarryBay SW081 (6/10)
StarryBay is one of many brand names for the GT08 smartwatch style, with its clickable side button. The silver model sports a bright, full-color, 1.54-inch capacitive-touch display that offers three different watch faces and an adjustable band that fastens with a flexible, two-pin clamp, which fits smaller wrists much better than the buckle clasp. Without a SIM card, the watch connects to your iOS or Android phone via Bluetooth to let you dial and receive calls.
A BT Notifier app from the Google Play store supports the watch’s advertised “anti-lost” features, contacts, remote camera control, music player, notifications and texting, which worked fine on Android. The iPhone’s built-in Bluetooth facilitates most functions, except for texting and text notifications. The health feature (which tracks steps and sleep) is fine for casual use, but it’s not a replacement for genuine activity trackers.
Padgene DZ09 (4/10)
With a 1.56-inch, 240 x 240 display and sensitive capacitive touch screen, you can make and receive phone calls directly from this smartwatch if you have a SIM card installed. With a microSD card installed, you can also take some extremely low-quality photos with the watch’s 2-MP camera, but I was never able to get the camera to focus on anything, and it requires a BT Notifier app for Android to capture images remotely from your phone.
Other features include a pedometer, sedentary reminder and sleep tracking — if you can sleep with this clunky thing on your arm. A “lost” function works well to warn you if the watch is out of phone range by just a few feet — or sometimes even when your phone is right there.
YEMON Smart Watches (3/10)
Yemon’s smartwatch offers Bluetooth compatibility with both iOS and Android smartphones with its 1.54-inch, TFT LCD capacitive touch screen and 240 x 240 resolution, which lets you view notifications from email, calendar and other apps. The watch supports texting and other features on Android, but only limited features are available on iOS. Its health functions include pedometer, sleep tracker and sedentary reminder. Add a SIM card and the watch supports GSM 850/900/1800/1900-MHz networks.
However, its performance was unstable. Despite the fact that it worked in earlier tests, the Yemon would suddenly stop functioning and would not power up after charging. Later, for no apparent reason, it started up, only to die again later.
f You Can Spend a Bit More … Get Pebble Time
The Pebble Time is a refined smartwatch, with a soft silicone strap and a large, 1.25-inch color e-paper display. The screen was often hard to read indoors, but battery life is about a week, as opposed to a couple of days for most smartwatches. A cottage industry of apps has grown up around the Pebble, which gives it extensive flexibility. With dedicated apps for iOS and Android smartphones, you can get notifications and receive texts, emails, incoming calls and more. Texting (including voice) works with most Android phones. Options are more limited for the iPhone: It’s only available to AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile users in the U.S.