Apple Watch faces new smartwatch competitors

The Apple-vs.-Google rivalry is embarrassingly one-sided in the smartwatchmarket. You have the Apple Watch, the only contender you’ll likely see on people’s wrists outside tech events like the IFA trade show, which runs through Wednesday here, and then you have many lesser timepieces built on Google’s Android Wear software.

But less than two weeks before Apple may introduce a new Apple Watch — this time, rumors suggest, one with its own LTE mobile broadband — three vendors brought new smartwatches to IFA that run neither Apple nor Google’s software.

And two of them can boast of something no Apple or Android Wear watch delivers today: battery life that spans multiple days instead of demanding a nightly recharge.

Garmin’s vívoactive 3 ($299.99 or $329.99 depending on configuration and now available for pre-order) may be the most promising of them. Like the Apple Watch, it includes GPS and a heart rate monitor, can make NFC mobile paymentsand can run apps from its own store.

Unlike Apple’s wristwear, the barely thicker (0.46 inches) vívoactive 3 displays notifications from Android as well as iOS phones and always shows the time on its 1.2-inch display instead of darkening when idle. And Garmin says it will run as long as a week between charges in smartphone mode, or up to 13 hours with the GPS active.

Garmin also introduced a hybrid smart watch, the vívomove HR ($199.99 for a Sport model, $299.99 for a Premium version). This .46-in.-thick timepiece combines traditional, moving hands with an embedded OLED display to track your activities, show your heart rate, and present phone notifications.

It doesn’t have the vivoactive 3’s GPS or NFC support and doesn’t match its battery life either. Garmin says it will run up to five days in smartwatch mode, or two weeks as a plain old watch.

The Fitbit Ionic, announced a few days before IFA, matches the vívoactive 3 in most aspects. This $299.95 device, shipping in October, also features GPS, a heart rate monitor, NFC mobile payments, notifications from both Android and iOS phones and its own app store. With an estimated four days of battery life in regular smartwatch use, or 10 hours with GPS active constantly, it, too, should outlast Apple Watches.

The Ionic, however, also features 2.5 gigabytes of memory to hold music files. But its squared-off looks may not appeal as much to fans of traditional watch aesthetics as Garmin’s round-faced entries.

Samsung, meanwhile, introduced its Gear Sport smartwatch at an Aug. 30 event. This is farther off — the company won’t announce a price or a ship date until fall — but looks like a logical, ruggedized successor to its current Gear S3 smartwatch.

Like that $349.99-and-up wearable, the Gear Sport includes GPS, Samsung Pay mobile payments, Android or iOS notifications, and an always-on display. This upcoming 0.46-inch-thick model adds water resistance up to 50 meters down and 4 GB of storage for apps and music.

Samsung isn’t talking battery life, but poking around the settings of one of the prototypes set out at its event here revealed a time-left estimate of about 31 hours in its default mode, while a stripped-down “power saving” mode listed a run time of 89 hours.

That, too, would put Samsung’s contender ahead of Apple’s — unless Apple reveals its own advance in smartwatch battery life at its Sept. 12 event.

Disclosure: IFA’s organizers are reimbursing most of my travel costs, along with those of a contingent of other U.S. journalists.

Rob Pegoraro

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