Smartwatches are fast becoming more popular than fitness trackers, thanks to the Apple Watch. You don't have to be an iPhone user to wear one, because there are a slew of Wear OS (formerly Android Wear) watches to choose from. But if you're not sure you'd get much use from a smartwatch, all of those options seem like a pretty steep investment. For example, the Apple Watch Series 4 with cellular starts at $499, and that's before you tack on $10 extra a month for the connectivity.
We found a plethora of smartwatches from a squadron of obscure Chinese vendors on Amazon, most of which cost less than $50. We tested several of them to see if any were worthy of your wrist. Our round-up also includes a smartwatch from Swiss company MyKronoz.
Spoiler alert: Most cheap smartwatches aren't great. To get a great, reliable watch with the all fitness-tracking features, the apps and the style you've come to expect, you'll need to spend more than $80. But if you want to take a smartwatch for a test run without shelling out hundreds of dollars, we picked a few budget watches that might be worth a look.
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Many of the smartwatches we tested were 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.
Of the initial batch of smartwatches we tested, only one was worth considering. However, a second batch of watches (the Keoker KW18, Yuntab Y1, Alcatel OneTouch Go, Sepver SN05, and Amenon) were altogether more elegant looking and attractive, with thinner, round faces and more comfortable, better-fitting straps designed for a range of wrist sizes.
The second set of watches also offered more consistent performance, had fewer problems starting up and functioned mostly as advertised. Still, the software was familiar but somewhat glitchy, as were the Bluetooth connections at various points. Some cases proved delicate and prone to scratching when memory and SIM cards were inserted and removed, but you shouldn't have to do that very often.
Want the look of an Apple Watch without the high price tag? Amazfit’s Bip packs a ton of premium features into a low-priced package.
For less than $100, you can get a stylish touchscreen watch with smartphone notifications, lengthy battery life, and built-in heart rate monitor, GPS and GLONASS for accurate workout-tracking. (Cheap heart rate-tracking devices are notoriously unreliable, but we put the Bip to the test and found it to be almost as accurate as our Garmin Forerunner.) You can eke out 45 days of battery life from the Bip without using any of its smart features, but even using the heart rate monitor and GPS to track workouts, we were two weeks in before the watch dipped below 50 percent. That’s incredible for a smartwatch.
The Bip’s 1.28-inch, 176 x 176-pixel color screen is more reminiscent of a Pebble watch than an Apple Watch, but the always-on display is useful for using the watch as, you know, a watch.
The one downside: The Bip lacks an app store, so it’s not really playing in the same field as the Apple Watch, Samsung’s Tizen OS watches, Fitbit's Ionic and Versa, or Wear OS smartwatches from companies like Fossil and LG. But that’s a small price to pay for such a bargain.
Martian’s Notifier is a hybrid smartwatch, which means it sports an analog watch face with smart features. It’s not a touchscreen Apple Watch knock-off like some of the other budget smartwatches we’ve seen. But that’s a point in its favor, because the Notifier has just enough smarts to make it worth every dollar of its very low price.
The Notifier has a 1.5-inch OLED display embedded in its face that shows notifications, including phone calls, text messages, alerts from apps such as Fitbit and Twitter, and silent alarms. These notifications are easy to turn on in Martian’s app for iOS and Android. You can also customize the vibration levels for each notification to make them stronger or less noticeable. And unlike many of the cheap smartwatches we tested, the Notifier never struggled to keep its Bluetooth connection to a smartphone. The Notifier also has a remote camera feature that launches your phone’s Camera app to take a photo and a feature that alerts you when you walk out of range of your phone.
The watch doesn’t have a SIM card slot so you can’t make phone calls like you can with some the other picks we tested, but the overall quality is better than many of those budget models.
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.
The MyKronoz ZeRound2 is an attractive, comfy 1.22-inch round smartwatch with a bright, pretty TFT 240 x 204-pixel face. It’s a pleasure to behold despite a design flaw that cuts off a bottom chunk of the dial and interferes with the layout of some faces and other functions. The watch is solid — and feels a bit hefty at 2 ounces — but its soft silicone strap has broad ridges on the underside that keep it anchored to your wrist.
The watch runs MyKronoz’s proprietary OS, which supports and syncs with a free iOS and Android smartphone app. You can make and receive phone calls over Bluetooth, get emails and set custom alerts. The watch can also track steps, distance, calories, and sleep quality, all of which seemed more or less on target. Unlike some other watches in this price range, the base model does not include a heart rate monitor.
MyKronoz promises three days of battery life, and my experience was pretty close to that claim — two days and change. The only issue I had was that the watch was unable to connect directly with my Contacts list on the iPhone — though it did on Android — and Calendar items failed to appear in the Calendar app, though I did receive notifications. I never took the watch into the shower or a swimming pool, but the ZeRound2’s IP67 rating means it can survive up to 3 feet of water for 30 minutes.
The Y1 is an attractive, sporty, 1.25-inch smartwatch that comes with several appealing, easy-to-read faces. I could listen to music via Pandora and use a picture saved to the microSD card as wallpaper. The soft-textured strap fits comfortably around my small wrist. Its familiar software will connect via Bluetooth to iOS or Android phones, though the watch is mainly geared to run the Android-only Fun Run app, which consistently failed to recognize any smartwatch it was supposed to run with. The Y1 includes a pedometer, calculator, clock and music player. It also offers health tracking via a sleep monitor, sedentary reminder, pedometer and distance-traveled display. The watch immediately vibrates and buzzes when it loses its Bluetooth connection to your phone. If you have a SIM card installed (GSM 850/900/1800/1900 MHz), you can also make and receive calls directly from the watch, though you can also make and receive Bluetooth calls.