This should be a very interesting holiday season when it comes to wearables. Smartwatch sales dropped steeply during the year, while fitness trackers continued to sell like hotcakes.
But at the same time, smartwatch makers began adding an emphasis on health and activity features, while fitness tracker makers like Fitbit Inc (NYSE:FIT) added smartphone-like capabilities such as notifications.
It’s almost like the two categories are converging!
Add in the drama of smartwatch pioneer Pebble throwing in the towel and the situation gets really confusing for holiday shoppers.
Wearables are going to be hot this Christmas, but do you choose a smartwatch or an activity tracker? What’s the best smartwatch to cover all the bases? This edition of our 2016 gift guide features five of the best smartwatch and activity trackers currently on the market.
Holiday Gift Guide 2016 (Best Smartwatch and Fitness Trackers): Fitbit Charge 2
Fitbit is the undisputed king of activity trackers and the new Fitbit Charge 2 is its flagship.
It combines the best of the previous Charge and Charge HR in a next-generation device. There’s a larger OLED display with touch support. The Charge HR’s PurePulse heart rate sensor is incorporated, along with Fitbit’s usual array of movement sensors.
It’s compact enough to wear as a sleep tracker and with a five-day battery life, it’s actually feasible to wear it at night.
Fitbit also put some effort into making this tracker stylish. It’s available in a range of colors, plus two special edition versions and the bands are interchangeable.
If you’re shopping for someone who wants solid fitness tracking and basic notifications in a stylish device that doesn’t need nightly charging, the Fitbit Charge 2 is the one to beat. Starting at $149.95, it’s also an affordable wearable.
Holiday Gift Guide 2016 (Best Smartwatch and Fitness Trackers): Apple Watch Series 2
Like Fitbit, Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) is the leader in its wearable category. In this case, it boasts the best smartwatch sales of any company in the industry.
Introduced in the fall, the Apple Watch Series 2 is the second generation of the most popular smartwatch in history.
All versions of the latest Apple Watch offer built-in GPS, water resistance to 150 feet, a super bright OLED display, a fast dual-core CPU and run watchOS 3 — with thousands of third party apps. For Apple fans (and take note, an iPhone is a requirement to use an Apple Watch), there is simply nothing better.
What makes the Apple Watch such a great gift idea is the range of options it’s offered in.
Whether the person you’re shopping for wants a small smartwatch or something larger, black or gold color, a classic leather band or something colorful, there’s a choice. And from a buyer’s perspective there is a huge range of prices, from $369 to a $1,299 Hermès (OTCMKTS:HESAF) version.
To cut the cost a bit, there’s still the option of the original Apple Watch. $100 less (starting at $269), it looks identical to the Apple Watch Series 2, but lacks the GPS, speedier CPU and brighter display.
Holiday Gift Guide 2016 (Best Smartwatch and Fitness Trackers): Misfit Ray
No everyone who wants a wearable is interested in having a big, multifunctional display strapped to his or her wrist.
The Misfit Ray could be one of the best gifts for these people. It looks like a small metallic cylinder mounted in a simple bracelet. Optionally, it can also be mounted in a necklace. It uses button cell batteries that last for six months a pop.
However, in the background, this wearable is counting steps and tracking sleep. It’s waterproof and can be worn swimming. It has vibration alerts for texts, alarms and reminders. It has a single button that can be used to take selfies with a smartphone, control music or even smart devices.
A smartphone (iOS, Android and Windows are all supported) does the heavy lifting in terms of displaying information. But that keeps the Misfit Ray sleek and unobtrusive, and also inexpensive at $99.99 (reduced to $79.99 for the holidays at the time of writing).
Holiday Gift Guide 2016 (Best Smartwatch and Fitness Trackers): Garmin Vivosmart HR+
If any company has the sports smartwatch figured out at this point, Garmin Ltd. (NASDAQ:GRMN) is a good candidate. While smartwatch sales in general declined over 50% over the past year, Garmin’s smartwatch sales are up a whopping 324% taking it to second place, behind Apple.
The company’s popular Vivosmart HR+ has sometimes been referred to as a “Fitbit on steroids.”
This fitness band is packed with sensors and is highly acclaimed for accuracy. It includes a built-in GPS so you don’t need to carry a smartphone while running. It packs a heart rate sensor, detects stairs and is swim-friendly. The HR+ can automatically detect if the wearer is walking, running, biking or engaged in other popular activities.
The battery is good for five days between charges, it supports notifications and it can be used with both iOS and Android (as well as Mac and Windows PC computers).
At $199.99 (on sale for $149.99 at the time of writing), the Garmin Vivosmart HR+ is not only a great activity tracker, it’s one of the least expensive GPS-connected wearables.
Holiday Gift Guide 2016 (Best Smartwatch and Fitness Trackers): Apple Watch Nike+
Apple gets a second entry in this gift guide because of its partnership with Nike Inc (NYSE:NKE).
The Apple Watch Nike+ may just be the perfect middle ground in this smartwatch vs. fitness trackers battle.
It has all the features and capabilities of the Apple Watch Series 2, making it a class-leading smartwatch. But it has also been customized to reflect the Nike partnership, including a custom ventilated band, exclusive watch faces and Nike+ Run Club app integration.
Starting at $369, the Apple Watch Nike+ does a good job of covering smartwatch, sports watch and fitness tracker needs in a single device — especially for fans of Apple and Nike gear.
As of this writing, Brad Moon did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.