Top 21 smartwatches and activity trackers for the holidays (and beyond)

One certainty this holiday season: There will be no shortage of gift options for smartwatch lovers and fans of fitness trackers. To ease the burden of selecting the right one, we rounded up the best watches and trackers, and spotlighted their strengths and weaknesses.

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Plenty of Apple Watch Options

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Waiting for the Apple Watch? Rumor has it you'll still be waiting after Valentine's Day. If you want something to wrap (or unwrap) this holiday season, don't despair. You have plenty of other cool options, ranging in price from $50 all the way up to $1,200.

To help you find that perfect gadget, we sorted through the deluge of wristband activity trackers and smartwatches released during the past six months, along with a few more that are expected soon. Keep in mind, though, that we're still in the early days of wearables, and many of these devices have shortcomings. Even so, the following 21 high-tech wrist wraps will likely set your pulse racing — and record your heart rate.

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Activity Trackers


Misfit Flash

As its name implies, the Misfit Flash is unlike any other wearable. For starters, it's only $50, inexpensive for an activity tracker. Like its older sibling, Misfit Shine ($100), which I've used, Flash is a round device that slips easily into a wristband. It also clips to your pocket, and you can pop it into Misfit t-shirts and socks. Flash comes in seven colors, too. Misfit tracks swimming and is waterproof up (down?) to 30 meters. Flash's "display" conveys information, including your progress toward goals, expressed via blinking lights, which you'll either like or loathe. Flash is "a versatile, easy-to-use and extremely affordable fitness tracker," according to CNET. (As of this writing, Flash is only available for pre-order but should be released soon.)

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Jawbone UP Move

Similar to Misfit Flash, UP Move is a disc-shaped tracker that's available in multiple colors. Both devices lack traditional displays and convey information via lights. Both cost $50 and can be worn in your pocket, on your wrist or clipped to your clothes. (You need to purchase an optional $15 wristband for UP Move.) Both devices also use replaceable batteries that last for up to six months, according to the companies. Choosing between Flash and UP Move, then, is about preference for appearance, apps and the ways they capture and display activity information. For what it's worth, some reviewers say Misfit's device looks better, while Jawbone devices have a better app and sleep-tracking features. (Disclosure: I consult for a company that has Jawbone as a client.)

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Moov

Similar in appearance to Misfit Flash and Jawbone UP Move, Moov ($80) differs in approach. The "wearable coach" monitors your physical activities in real time, "helping you prevent injury, coaching you to land softer," according to the company. Moov's motion-sensing system tracks your type of movement, as well as how you're doing it. For example, its accelerometer and gyroscope detect movement and force of motion, and its magnetometer measures rotation. The device works with multiple apps, including Moov Run & Walk, Moov Swim and Moov Cardio Punch. "If you want to get better at your workouts and have more fun doing them, without paying for a personal trainer, the Moov is a mini but mighty motivator," according to Tom's Guide.

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Runtastic Orbit

Runtastic Orbit ($99) is an activity tracker that works with Runtastic's Android and iOS apps. The device comes with two wristbands (one black, one blue) and a clip. It is waterproof up to 30 feet, syncs with the Runtastic Me and Runtastic GPS apps and displays real-time information from those apps on the Orbit's screen. TechHive reviewer Jon Phillips said of Runtastic Orbit: "Scads of competing products already track steps, calories burned, and sleep cycles. But once a wristband becomes an auxiliary display for the GPS-based exercise data collected by smartphones, you have a slightly more interesting story." He added that the device isn't "pretty or even cheap" but is a "serviceable activity-tracking wristband."

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Fitbit Charge

From the ashes of the ill-fated Fitbit Force, which was removed from the market after users reported rashes, rises the Charge ($130). Fitbit's newest wristband is a fitness and sleep tracker with one smartwatch function: caller ID notifications from your Bluetooth-connected smartphone. If you don't want additional notifications, you'll like Charge. I appreciate its ability to automatically log my sleep every night. Charge also has a wristband that's easier to clasp (and keep clasped) than the Force wristband. Unlike some fitness wristbands, though, it's not water resistant so you can't wear Charge in the shower or pool. (Heads up: In early 2015, Fitbit is expected to release two new fitness bands, Charge HR ($150) and Surge ($250), both with additional features and functionality.

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Timex Move X20

Timex has been around since Charles Darwin roamed the earth. (The year 1854, to be exact.) The famous watch company recently released Move X20 ($130), a wrist-based activity and sleep tracker in its Ironman product line that syncs data with Timex's Android and iOS apps. Move X20 also sends caller ID and text notifications, as well as weather alerts, from your phone. Timex says the battery lasts for seven days on a charge. It's available in lime, black and violet. Timex also offers One GPS+, a GPS-enabled sports watch that can send and receive SMS messages, even if you don't have your smartphone nearby, according to Timex. At $400 and up, though, it's pricey.

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Mio Fuse

Heart rate tracking looks like the next big thing in activity trackers and smartwatches. For several years, I've used Mio's Alpha watch ($199), which continuously monitors your heart rate without a chest strap and feeds accurate data to compatible fitness apps, including my favorite, RunKeeper. As much as I like it, Mio Alpha is a one-trick pony. Fortunately, the company plans to ship the Fuse ($149) on Dec. 8, which tracks heart rate, steps, pace, distance and calories. Its black band comes with crimson (for large sizes) and aqua (regular size) accent colors. It doesn't offer any smartwatch features, however, such as notifications.

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Garmin vivosmart

I like Garmin's vivosmart activity tracker a lot. (It costs $170, or $200 with a chest strap heart rate monitor.) Along with its activity and sleep tracking features, vivosmart can display caller ID, SMS messages, calendar reminders and other notifications. (You may grow weary of all those alerts, however. I sure did.) The vivosmart is comfortable and comes in various accent colors. It's water-resistant for showering and swimming. If you haven't yet bought into a fitness-tracking ecosystem, such as Fitbit or Jawbone, and just want a reasonably priced tracker with some smartwatch features, vivosmart could be the wearable for you. Garmin also makes vivofit ($130), a fitness band that lacks smartwatch notifications and other vivosmart features.

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Jawbone UP3

Jawbone calls its new UP3 ($180) "the world's most advanced tracker." Unlike other Jawbones, UP3 features "heart health monitoring," and it uses sensors to measure resting heart rate. A software update planned for 2015 will add continuous heart rate monitoring, respiration, hydration and galvanic skin response. Jawbone's goal is to monitor your overall health, including stress and fatigue levels, for a more holistic view. Like other Jawbone wearables, UP3 lacks a screen but shows some basic information via LED lights. As with the Misfit products, you'll either appreciate this simpler look (not everyone wants notifications on their wrists) or hate it. (Disclosure: I consult for a company that has Jawbone as a client.)

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Sony SmartBand Talk SWR30

Sony hasn't been quite as active in the smart wearables space as rival Samsung — but it's not far behind. Among Sony's latest: SmartBand Talk, a wristband activity tracker with an e-ink display that lets you send and receive brief phone calls. The battery supports up to an hour of talk time, according to Sony. SmartBand Talk has built-in accelerometer and altimeter sensors to track activity data, which you can view in Sony's companion Android Lifelog app or on the band's display. You can also interchange wristbands. As of this writing, however, the SmartBand (available in black or white) is difficult to find. I located only one online retailer, Expansys, that has the $200 black SmartBand Talk in stock.

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Basis Peak

Basis Peak ($200) is a fitness and sleep tracking wearable that also offers continuous heart rate monitoring and supports the GATT Bluetooth LE protocol to stream heart-rate data to third-party fitness apps such as Strava, RunKeeper and Endomondo. A TechHive reviewer experienced inconsistencies with the heart rate monitoring and said its "infrequent but still very real heart-rate dropouts are annoying." He concluded: "The real-time heart-rate tracking isn't perfect, but it comes close. And with automatic sleep and exercise tracking, and an improved industrial design, the Basis Peak is much better than its predecessor." A December Peak firmware update is expected to add smartwatch notifications.

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Microsoft Band

Microsoft got in on the activity tracker action with Microsoft Band ($200), an ambitious wristband packed with features. GPS (an unusual feature for most tracker wristbands) is used to record distance, pace and route. A UV monitor lets you know the UV index, to help you manage sun exposure. Along with smartwatch notifications, the Band displays Facebook and Twitter messages, as well as weather and stock updates, and it can be used to pay at Starbucks. If you have a Windows 8.1 phone you can use Microsoft's Cortana to take notes and create reminders by speaking into the Band's microphone. PC World said the wearable is "almost" worth $200 but needs waterproofing, a slimmer design and a better display.

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TomTom Runner Cardio

GPS maker TomTom's latest sports watch is aimed at runners and called the Runner Cardio ($270). It has heart rate monitoring features, with no chest strap required. You can select a heart-rate intensity zone to up your burn, and Runner Cardio delivers real-time running information, including distance, time, pace, speed and calories burned. The device syncs with services and apps including TomTom MySports, Strava, MapMyFitness and RunKeeper. Runner Cardio "effectively integrates a heart-rate monitor into a GPS watch, without sacrificing much in the way of battery life or design," according to Tom's Guide.

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Smartwatches With Fitness Features


Pebble Steel

I bought the original Pebble smartwatch in 2013 and promptly returned it because it was (way) too high maintenance. Oh, the constant updates! Argh, the frequently dropped Bluetooth connections! However, the follow-up Pebble Steel delighted many reviewers. (I've not tested one.) Says Forbes: "The stylish Pebble Steel is the number one smartwatch you want to wear." Pebble recently dropped the Steel's price to $200 and released a firmware update that enables the smartwatch to track fitness activity and monitor your sleep in the background. "The updates and the price cuts make Pebble a much more compelling smartwatch option," according to PCWorld. The original Pebble is also available for $100.

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Samsung Gear Live

"The Gear Live is the best smartwatch I've ever used," said TechHive reviewer Jon Phillips in July. Before you get excited, Phillips also said that isn't "a remarkable achievement considering all the crappy-to-middling efforts we've seen from Samsung, Sony and Qualcomm. If I were being generous, I'd say Samsung finally landed on a simple, wrist-friendly interface that does away with messy nested menus and convoluted features like voice calling." Gear Live ($200) comes in black and wine red, it tracks steps and heart rate, and it is based on Android Wear. You also need to pair it with a select set of Samsung smartphones, such as the Galaxy S3, S4, Note 3 or Mega.

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LG G Watch

LG's G Watch ($230) is an Android-Wear-based smartwatch available in black or white, with optional straps in a variety of additional colors. Along with all the functionality you get with Android Wear, including Google Now cards that pop up to deliver location- and time-relevant notifications, the G watch has a built-in accelerometer for counting steps. Reviews have been so-so, however. TechHive: "Android Wear is a solid step forward in smartwatch interface design, but LG's implementation is uninspired." LG also makes the LG G Watch R smartwatch (pricing and availability TBD) and the Lifeband Touch activity tracker wristband ($150).

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Sony SmartWatch 3 SWR50

Sony was among the first to release a smartwatch, and the SmatchWatch 3 is its latest entry into the rapidly expanding market. It's also Sony's first Android-Wear-based smartwatch. The SmartWatch 3 includes built-in accelerometer, compass, gyroscope and GPS sensors to gather activity data, which you can view on the watch or in the companion Android Lifelog app. SmartWatch 3 is available in black and "sport" (lime color) models, with optional straps in pink and white. It's mildly water resistant, and it can be worn while showering or doing the dishes but isn't meant for swimming. The smartwatch should go on sale soon for about $250. "With its waterproof body, interchangeable straps and Android Wear operating system, the SmartWatch 3 is a big step forward from its dismal predecessor," according to CNET.

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Moto 360

The Moto 360 ($300) brings a classic, round watch face to an Android Wear-based smartwatch and activity tracker. Its Moto Body feature records heart rate, steps, distance and calories burned, along with analytics for each of these activities. Users can also create custom watch faces. Despite these lures, the Moto 360 hasn't received universal acclaim. "Weak battery life, technical glitches and a bulky frame" mean the Moto 360 is "not the Android Wear watch you've been waiting for," according to PCWorld. Though the watch was released just a few months ago, there's already talk of a Moto 360 2.

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Samsung Gear S

Samsung is cranking out smartwatches. The Gear S (about $350) is noteworthy because, unlike most of its competitors, it can make and receive calls on its own. (It requires a wireless plan from one of the usual suspects in the United States: AT&T, Verizon Wireless, Sprint or T-Mobile.) In addition to its standalone phone features, the Gear S lets you track runs, steps, heart rate, calories and other health-related data. It has a curved, two-inch Super AMOLED screen, which is large for a smartwatch. The Gear S is not, however, based on Android Wear, and it still needs a recent Samsung smartphone to install apps. The Gear S's standalone features are also "pretty limited," according to CNET.

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Apple Watch

No wrist-based wearable has received as much attention as the forthcoming Apple Watch. TIME magazine recently proclaimed it one of the best 25 inventions of 2014 because "it wholly reimagines the computer for the wrist, using a novel interface that combines a touchscreen and physical buttons." Apple's recently released WatchKit for developers provides a rough idea of what Watch apps will be like, including a "glances" feature (for short bits of info) and "actionable notifications" that let users "take action right from their wrists." Big questions remain, though. Exactly when will the Watch be released? Apple says "early 2015;" other rumors suggest "spring." Just how much will those fancy deluxe models cost? Some reports say as much as $1,200, though low-end models should start at $350.

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Withings Activité

The Withings Activité is a luxury, Swiss-made, classical "analog" watch with the beating heart of an activity tracker. When paired via Bluetooth with Withings' smartphone app, the round watch (with white or black faces covered by sapphire glass) will automatically track your movements — including pool laps, as it's water resistant up to 50 meters. The watchstrap is calf leather, but you get an additional silicon strap for swimming. Activité tracks sleep and wakes you with silent alarms. It's already won two CES 2015 awards, but unfortunately, as of this writing, the $450 (yowsa!) watch is out of stock.