One of the biggest trends in the world of Tech & Gadgets is wearable technology – fitness trackers, wristbands and smartwatches.  But what is a smartwatch and should you get one?

Smartwatches are computerised watches. Instead of just telling the time, they provide a wealth of other information, such as messages and incoming calls. Some can even play music and track calls.

Watches with extra functionality have existed for years in various forms, including the Casio C-80 Calculator Watch (1980) and Seiko TV Watch (1982). In 2009 had a brave stab with the GD 910 which included a touchscreen and cost £600.

[Related story: Smart watches through the ages]

Being produced by more manufacturers, at a more affordable price, within the last year smartwatches have become mainstream.


What do smartwatches look like?

Smartwatches are tiny computers, with processors, RAM and memory along with 1.5-3-inch touchscreens with icons you tap.

They run using software. Google recently unveiled Android Wear – an operating system designed especially for wearable devices, connecting to an Android smartphones. The Apple Watch runs Watch OS designed to be used with Apple smartphones.

Samsung Gear Live smartwatch

Smartwatches come in different colours and shapes, with styles to suit everyone. Choose from plastic or metal, bright colours or black and white. Many offer you the ability to download additional faces for a more personal touch.

Features available vary depending on how advanced the watch is, but some include a camera, accelerometer or heart-rate monitor.

Some include water and dust resistance chassis so they can be used outside and even survive a dunking.


How do smartwatches work?

Smartwatches need to connect wirelessly to a smartphone. This is done using Bluetooth – specifically the latest ‘low energy’ version that consumes less power.

Information from the phone is then sent to the watch. Information such as incoming calls, text messages, emails and social networking notifications are displayed on the screen, vibrations are also used to alert the wearer to notifications.

LG Urbane watch

Some watches respond to voice activations. Use the command ‘OK Google’ to an Android Wear watch and you can ask a question, send a text message or schedule meetings using your voice.

Apps (free and paid for) offer additional functionality.  They can track steps, distance covered, play music and even browse the web.  Apps are available from Google Play App Store or bespoke stores created by manufactures such as Pebble and Samsung.


Who makes smartwatches?

The majority of consumer electronics manufacturers are planning to make smartwatches.

Samsung and Sony have both launched multiple smartwatches. The Motorola Moto 360 runs Android Wear and is available now, LG and Huawei have interesting versions coming soon.

Pebble Time

One of the most popular and critically acclaimed smartwatches is the Pebble smartwatch, which originally started as a Kickstarter project, raising $10 million (£60,000,000) of a $100,000 (£60,000) goal. It's successor the Pebble Time (above) broke crowdfunding records.

Apple recently unveiled its debut smartwatch. The Apple Watch (below) is designed to be used with new iPhones, it includes a dial- or Digital Crown – for navigation.

[Related article: Apple Watch - your questions answered]

Apple Watch Sport

Is it worth buying a smartwatch?

Smartwatches start from around £100, rising to around £250. In the United States, the Apple Watch will start at $349. That translates into about £216, but we’d expect it to be priced from £299 in the UK.

Although they are expensive for many people, they are cheaper than some designer watches.

At the moment a smartwatch is not a substitute for a smartphone, instead view a smartwatch as an extension of your phone. Wearing a smartwatch means that instead of continually reaching into your pocket to look at your phone, notifications are sent directly to your wrist. 

If this functionality doesn’t bother you, or maybe you don’t use your phone very much, then a smartwatch probably isn’t for you.

Smartwatches are still in their infancy; early devices had flaws related to battery life and compatibility.  But wearable technology is going to continue to improve so if you are a technology fan, keep your eye on the smartphone market.