Smart­watches are said to be the new smartphones – and they’re promis­ing to help you reach your fit­ness goals too. MF looks into what the lat­est mod­els have to of­fer

Men's Fitness - - Contents - Words Nik Rawl­in­son, Matt Huckle Photography Danny Bird, Henry Carter

Smart­watches are here to stay – but will they help you train or are they a luxury for those with money to burn?

Is it time to buy a smart­watch yet? As with so many things in life, the an­swer is: it de­pends. They’re cer­tainly still in the cat­e­gory of things marked ‘would be nice to have’ rather than ‘only techno­phobes are hold­ing out’ – but the lat­est mod­els of­fer a host of benefits that are start­ing to tip the scales. So will 2015 be the year you fi­nally stop us­ing your phone to check the time?

Mass-mar­ket smart­watches have been a long time com­ing. Sam­sung and Mo­torola are lead­ing the pack at the mo­ment, with the Gear S (£320) and the Moto 360 (£199) re­spec­tively, but Ap­ple is about to join them this April with three edi­tions of its own Watch – that’s the ac­tual name. At the time of writ­ing, Ap­ple hasn’t re­leased UK pric­ing, but US mod­els are ex­pected to start at $350 (around £275 when you in­clude tax). Ap­ple is also push­ing its smart­watches as a se­ri­ous health-im­prove­ment prod­uct. CEO Tim Cook re­cently pointed out that the de­vice will prompt users to get up and move ev­ery hour, on the back of a large body of re­search sug­gest­ing that too much time spent sit­ting in­creases all causes of mor­tal­ity.


Cur­rent smart­watches are ex­ten­sions of ac­tiv­ity bands such as the Fit­bit Flex and Jaw­bone UP24, com­bin­ing the move­ment-track­ing and step-count­ing fa­cil­i­ties of bands with smart­phone tools such as mes­sag­ing, mu­sic and maps. They’re also built to with­stand knocks and scrapes. The Sam­sung Gear S is the most con­ven­tional in this re­spect, with a strap that en­closes all but the screen. The Mo­torola’s Moto 360 has a more ex­posed chas­sis that’s made of steel, and the Ap­ple Watch – the only range with a spe­cific ‘Sport’ edi­tion – uses alu­minium, mak­ing it 30% lighter than its chrome sib­lings. The touch-sen­si­tive screens have been hard­ened, too, with scratch-re­sis­tant Go­rilla Glass in the Moto 360 and a tough­ened dis­play on the Ap­ple Watch Sport in place of the sap­phire used else­where.

Sen­sors in each watch track your move­ment and lo­ca­tion and feed the re­sults to a se­ries of cut-down apps op­ti­mised for small screens. Both the Ap­ple Watch and Moto 360 re­quire you to sync th­ese to your phone, so you can’t do away with your ex­ist­ing tech just yet. The Sam­sung Gear S is more in­de­pen­dent. With a built-in phone con­nec­tion, the Gear S can go on­line to share your data di­rectly, and you can use it for calls and mes­sages while out of reach of your hand­set. You still need your phone to in­stall apps, but that doesn’t hap­pen ev­ery day.

This is a boon for run­ners be­cause it also means the Gear S can stream live maps from the net and pro­vide turn-by-turn di­rec­tions on the hoof. The Moto 360 and Ap­ple Watch need to be paired with your mo­bile to do the same – and rather than sim­ply choos­ing the watch that best suits your needs, you need to make sure it works with your phone.


Op­ti­cal heart rate mon­i­tors are com­mon in­clu­sions in cur­rent smart­watches. Th­ese shine a light through your skin to read blood flow, which means you can get rid of your chest strap. Most also have in­ter­nal pe­dome­ters to track mo­tion. Th­ese are used by pas­sive fit­ness tools such as Ap­ple’s on­screen ac­tiv­ity rings to record how much you move each day. You can com­plete Ap­ple’s ‘stand­ing’ ring, for ex­am­ple, by get­ting to your feet for a minute ev­ery hour, 12 times a day. For­tu­nately, the Watch also has a more de­mand­ing app that Ap­ple is fram­ing as a wrist-bound PT, al­ways push­ing you to­wards new per­sonal bests.

At the time of writ­ing there are no smart­watch-spe­cific apps that can track sets and reps at the gym. This seems likely to change, though, be­cause each watch is a plat­form for which de­vel­op­ers can build their own apps, and the man­u­fac­tur­ers them­selves will be look­ing to add new fea­tures. Ap­ple has been granted a patent for a weight bar­mounted sen­sor that trans­mits data back to the Watch, which will cer­tainly plug this gap if it ever sees the light of day.

If you’re a swim­mer you might have to hunt around to find a watch that can with­stand the pool, and there are no swim­ming-spe­cific apps yet. Both the Sam­sung Gear S and Moto 360 are wa­ter-re­sis­tant to one me­tre – less than the deep­est point in most pools – and although Ap­ple’s specs are quiet on this point, a rep­re­sen­ta­tive told Ya­hoo! that ‘Ap­ple Watch is wa­ter-re­sis­tant. Sweat­ing, wear­ing it in the rain, wash­ing your hands and cooking with it are fine [but] take it off be­fore you swim or get in the shower.’


Smart­watches are in their in­fancy but they al­ready have a lot go­ing for them. First, they largely re­move the need to have sev­eral gad­gets for dif­fer­ent ac­tiv­i­ties. Sec­ond, they can be up­graded with soft­ware and apps in the way that’s made smartphones so ubiq­ui­tous. It might be a while be­fore they’re a com­mon sight in the gym – but that doesn’t mean you can’t be the per­son to start the trend. Turn the page for MF’s re­views of the best smart­watches cur­rently avail­able

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