Communications manager Germaine Pereira, 31, paid more than $200 for a Samsung Galaxy Active2 smartwatch last month, which she uses to track her gym workouts.
It replaced her cheaper fitness tracker from a different brand, which she bought in 2016 for around $100. “I did not like it as it was not intuitive and lacked smartwatch features,” she says.
People like her are fuelling the growth of the smartwatch market.
Despite the Covid-19 pandemic, the global smartwatch market posted 20 per cent revenue growth in the first half of this year, according to technology research firm Counterpoint Research. It registered year-on-year growth of 26 per cent last year.
Market research company IDC forecasts that the sales revenue of smartwatches in Singapore will reach US$227 million (S$308 million) this year, up from US$181 million last year. It is expected to hit US$272 million next year.
Ms Sujeong Lim, a senior analyst at Counterpoint Research, says: “Smartwatches are evolving into devices that independently perform healthcare and fitness tracking functions, moving away from the concept of accessories attached to a smartphone. This trend is receiving more attention as it responds well to the needs of recent consumers.”
Mr Kenneth Liew, IDC’s AsiaPacific associate research director for devices, adds: “With more people running or cycling during the pandemic, sales of smartwatches to help track these activities have increased.”
He notes that virtual races, which have taken off due to the suspension of mass sporting events, have also helped push up sales of smartwatches as participants have to do their own tracking.
Runs that have gone virtual this year include The Straits Times Run and Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon (SCSM).
Mr Eugene Lim, who runs at least thrice a week, says: “I use my smartwatch for my runs because it provides reliable metrics to track my training progress.”
The 40-year-old account director of a marketing agency, who wears a Garmin watch, is taking part in the SCSM, which started in August and runs for 15 weeks. Last month, he also took part in a virtual global race where teams ran as much as they could in 31 hours and 15 minutes.
Mr Lim says: “Fitness tracking is key to being a part of the virtual running community.”
Stiff competition has also forced smartwatch-makers to up their game.
Mr Alexander Dehmel, AsiaPacific market insights lead at market research firm GfK, says: “Major smartwatch brands, which are facing (competition) from smaller players offering (cheaper options) with similar features, are pressured to offer more advanced features to differentiate themselves and continue charging a premium.”
For instance, the electrocardiogram (ECG) function has been available since the Apple Watch Series 4 launched two years ago. The latest Apple Watch Series 6 is priced from $599.
The Fitbit Sense smartwatch, which was launched this month and retails at $488, even comes with a skin electrodermal activity sensor that is said to track the body’s reaction to stress.
Some smartwatches retail for as low as $85 – for instance, those from brands like Haylou, a subsidiary of Chinese company Xiaomi – but they do not come with bells and whistles like ECG or electrodermal activity sensors.
Public relations consultant Magdalene Ong, 28, who uses an Apple Watch Series 5, says: “The Apple Watch not only looks good, but I can also get health measurements like heart rate and ECG.”
Mr Dehmel notes that some consumers like Ms Pereira may try wearable devices with a basic fitness tracker first. “And if they like the experience, they may upgrade to smartwatches with more advanced features,” he adds.
Ms Pereira says she wanted to get a better fitness tracker, but decided on the Samsung smartwatch as it “seems able to do more for around the same price”.
She adds: “It looks like a real watch and can track my workouts and notify me of messages and calls.”
Smartwatches: How they stack up
The rugged Amazfit T-Rex resembles a Casio G-Shock. While it looks bulky and can stand some punishment, it is a relative lightweight at 58g. The display is big and bright – easy to see in bright sunlight.
The watch, which runs on its own operating system, has an interface that is less intuitive than its competitors reviewed here. It also does not support SpO2, the measurement of the oxygen level in your blood.
In terms of step tracking, readings are about 4 per cent off from those of
my personal, calibrated Apple Watch Series 4. For GPS-tracked runs, its readings for my usual 5km route are up to 250m off.
Reviews of its sleep tracking are mixed. My sleeping and waking times are accurately recorded. While the watch shows the duration of my sleep stages, I find the awake timings to be too long – sometimes 30 minutes – when I do not even remember waking to go to the toilet.
The best part about the T-Rex is its long battery life. It lasts 20 days on a full charge, with three 5km GPS-tracked runs.
GARMIN VENU SQ
This is an affordable smartwatch with great fitness tracking capabilities. It comes with an optical heart-rate sensor with SpO2 tracking, built-in GPS workout tracking and stress tracking.
The Venu Sq looks like a mini Apple Watch, without a rotating crown, but with two buttons on its right. It is lightweight and comfortable to wear.
It does not offer much as a smartwatch. For instance, you cannot tap on notifications to expand to view. Also, there are few watch face options.
But the Venu Sq is pretty accurate in fitness tracking. For step tracking, its readings are only 80 steps off my Apple Watch Series 4’s. For GPS-tracked runs, its readings are only around 120m shorter than my 5km route.
Sleep tracking is disappointing, though. It is unable to pinpoint the time I sleep and wake accurately. Sometimes, it does not automatically track sleep.
However, its battery life is better than many of its competitors’, dropping to only 30 per cent at the end of three days.
HUAWEI WATCH GT 2 PRO
Launched just this month, this smartwatch is a premium version of the fitness-centric Huawei Watch GT 2e ($218) released in May.
The GT 2 Pro comes with a sapphire glass display with a titanium frame and ceramic back. It exudes the same premium feel as the Apple Watch Series 6, but at a much more wallet-friendly price. It even comes with an SpO2 sensor.
It runs on Huawei’s LiteOS operating system, which is intuitive and almost as refined as Apple’s watchOS 7.
Its step-tracking readings vary by only about 3 per cent from those recorded by my Apple Watch Series 4. On GPS-tracked runs, the distance readings are off by only 100m.
It is in sleep tracking that the GT 2 Pro shines. It knows the exact time I go to bed and wake up, even the time I get up to use the toilet.
The app shows sleep-cycle graphs that break sleep patterns into deep, light and REM sleep, providing insights into sleep quality.
Battery life is excellent, with half the juice left after a week of use.
Smartwatches: How they stack up
APPLE WATCH SERIES 6
The latest offering in the Apple watch series looks like its predecessors and you can use your current Apple Watch bands with it.
The new watch has several upgrades, including a faster S6 chip, an always-on altimeter, and a brighter display for easier viewing in sunny conditions. It can also measure the oxygen level in your blood, also known as SpO2.
With watchOS 7, the Series 6 can now track sleep, but, unlike its competitors, it does not do so automatically. You have to set the sleep and wake time. Also, it records only your sleeping hours – with no breakdown of light and deep sleep.
But in terms of step tracking, the Series 6 does a superb job. The readings are very close to those of my personal, calibrated Apple Watch Series 4, with a mere difference of 50 steps. On my usual 5km jogging route, the GPS-tracked runs by the Series 6 are only 10m to 20m off.
A big downer is the battery life. The battery level drops to 50 per cent by the end of a day, so you should probably charge the watch before you go to bed.
It is still the best smartwatch for an intuitive interface and capable fitness features. Unfortunately, it is also the only smartwatch here that does not support Android phones.
SAMSUNG GALAXY WATCH3
The Samsung Galaxy Watch3 retains the gorgeous looks of its predecessor, along with the series’ unique rotating bezel.
This bezel lets you navigate the smartwatch’s interface without blocking the display. And by turning it, you can easily scroll through the watch’s Tizen operating system.
When connected to an Android phone, notifications appear as tiles you can tap on.
The watch can measure SpO2. But its electrocardiogram measurement – found in the Apple Watch Series 6 – is not available yet, pending approval by the authorities.
Unlike the Apple watch, this device automatically tracks sleep and sleep quality.
Step tracking is accurate. The watch registers only 1.5 per cent more steps than my Apple Watch Series 4. On my 5km jogging route, the GPS tracks only 50m more than the actual distance.
The watch has about 30 per cent power left at the end of two days.
Fitbit’s new flagship smartwatch looks no different from its previous one, the Versa 2. But it now comes with a stainless steel, instead of aluminium, frame.
It features built-in GPS, can estimate your SpO2 levels, and is the first smartwatch to have an electrodermal activity sensor, which tracks the body’s response to stress.
To take an electrodermal activity reading, place your palm over the entire screen – touching all four sides of the device – for two minutes. This reading will combine with your heart rate, heart-rate variability and sleep patterns to give you a stress score (lower means more stress).
I find Sense’s sleep monitoring to be spot on. It accurately pinpoints my sleeping and waking times, and shows the different sleep stages – rapid eye movement, light and deep sleep.
The step-tracking function records up to a 6 per cent difference compared with my Apple Watch Series 4. But the distance it records is only about 60m shorter than my 5km route.
Rated to last six days on a full charge, the watch has 20 per cent battery life left at the end of five days.
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