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How to Choose a Smartwatch or a Training Watch

How to Choose a Smartwatch or a Training Watch

The best smartwatches (“smartwatches”) and training watches (“fitness watches”) offer good smartphone functionality, but also allow reliable monitoring of your physical activities. Find out what features to take into account to find the best model for your goals.


Smartwatches vs training watches vs activity monitors

In 2020, we grouped together smartwatches (“smartwatch”) and training watches (“fitness watch” or “sports watch”) in the same test. Thus, you will no longer find a specific category for training watches. The devices on which you can download applications are found in the "smartwatch" category and the others in the "activity tracker" category ("fitness trackers").

Smartwatches (“smartwatches”) are above all designed to be an extension of your smartphone, that is to say they allow you to have access to it directly on your wrist. Their primary function is therefore to synchronize with your phone and offer you advanced features in this regard, such as text message notifications and social networks, the ability to call someone and receive calls, control of music, the presence of voice assistants, etc. Several smartwatches also offer advanced physical activity and fitness tracking functions, often just as powerful as those offered on training watches. On the other hand, this versatility comes at a price: smartwatches are generally sold quite expensive,

Conversely, the main function of fitness trackers is to track and measure your physical activities as well as certain elements of your overall health (sleep monitoring, for example). They have several built-in sensors that measure heart rate, number of steps, distance covered, etc. Some models also allow you to answer a call and send a text message, but none allow you to make a call.


Running watches

Choose a smartwatch with built-in GPS in order to obtain reliable measurements of the distance traveled, your cadence and you're positioning. So you won't need to carry your phone with you during the race. In addition, the display of data on the screen is essential so that you can follow your workout live. Finally, choose a watch with a heart rate monitor that offers reliable measurements.


Bicycle watches

First, choose a smartwatch that allows bike tracking. The device must offer tracking of distance and speed while cycling. Plus, choose a model with a heart rate monitor that offers reliable measurements. Prot├ęgez-Vous has not tested battery life with GPS on, but make sure it has enough battery life if you plan on going for long rides with GPS on. Information on battery life depending on the mode (without GPS, GPS with music, GPS without music, etc.) should be found on the manufacturer's product sheet. Consider: If you are mountain biking, you might find an altimeter useful to keep track of your climbs and descents.


Watches for swimming

Unsurprisingly, the chosen watch must be water resistant, and the manufacturer must mention that the device allows swimming tracking. Opt for a watch that measures distance traveled, time, speed and number of strokes while swimming. To follow your training directly in the pool, choose a watch that displays the data on the screen. To consider: the measurement of the SWOLF score, that is to say the effectiveness in swimming. If you're interested, check with the manufacturer to make sure this metric is available. For now, Prot├ęgez-Vous does not test smartwatches when swimming.


Smartphone features

There are many smartphone features that smartwatches offer. All models can receive text message and call notifications and allow reading text messages. Also, the majority of them allow you to respond to a text message. In terms of calls, 31 out of 38 devices tested were able to receive calls and a little over a quarter were able to make calls. As for remote music control, the vast majority of models tested can perform this command. Are you a fan of social networks such as Facebook and Twitter? Several watches allow you to receive alerts or respond to messages. Finally, voice recognition is offered on just under half of the models tested. With a voice assistant, you can ask your watch to call someone, send a text message, add a reminder, etc. Be aware, however, that just because an option is offered does not mean that it works well. To make sure, check our product sheets. For example, if you are a music lover, you will no doubt want the remote music control to work the best it can.


The main characteristics to consider

Compatibility and connectivity

With the exception of Apple branded models - which are only compatible with the iOS system - all other watches come with both operating systems, Android and iOS. Make sure, however, that your phone has a sufficiently recent version of the system, otherwise synchronization will not be possible. Please note, some devices have more limited functionality for iOS phone users, despite compatibility

All the watches we tested are equipped with a Bluetooth connection, and several of them have a Wi-Fi connection. In order to conserve battery power, your device will use the connection that requires the least power, namely the Bluetooth when your phone is nearby or Wi-Fi if Bluetooth is not available or your cell phone is turned off. In addition, the use of the Wi-Fi connection is preferable for the transfer of heavy data (for example a card or several pieces of music).


Battery life

Smartwatches can run an average of five days (with GPS turned off) before needing a recharge. Note that the autonomy can be a day only for some models and that the battery life will vary a lot depending on your use (watch mode, smart mode, GPS mode, etc.). You should find this information on the manufacturer's product sheet.


Physical activity monitoring

Number of steps, distance covered and activity time

The majority of the watches we have evaluated allow relatively reliable monitoring of these parameters. If your device has a built-in GPS, the distance traveled will be measured based on it. If the device does not have GPS, or if it is not activated, the watch will calculate the distance using the step counter.


Built-in GPS and running pace

Do you jog? If you want to follow your running pace (in minutes per kilometer), your distance and your position accurately without having your phone with you during your activity, the integrated GPS is essential. This data is particularly useful for following the evolution of your performance. One notable drawback, however, is that using GPS significantly reduces battery life.

The majority of smartwatches tested have built-in GPS. Some other devices have the “connected GPS” function, meaning that the watch uses nearby cell phone sensors to pick up GPS data. The main disadvantage of this feature is that you will need to have your phone with you.


Heart rate

All smartwatches allow this very useful data to be measured. The performances obtained are however very varied, going from "very bad" to "very good". Be sure to check this assessment if you’re training is based on your heart rate.


Sleep and goal tracking

Sleep tracking

Devices equipped with the "sleep monitoring" function analyze the quality of your sleep: its duration, body movements, breathing, heartbeat, etc. This data can be useful if you want to build an effective fitness program that will keep you moving, eating right, and sleeping well.


Goal tracking and motivational functions

Is your goal to run 10 kilometers or take 10,000 steps in a day? Almost all of the watches we have tested track your progress towards your goal. The vast majority of them also have a motivation function (sometimes called coaching), which reminds you to include workouts in your routine by sending notifications to your watch or smartphone. For example: “You have been quite inactive in the last few days. A little race today? ”



Several watches have a flexible and adjustable strap, a little more comfortable and less bulky than a rigid strap. In store, take the time to try on the styles that interest you to make sure they are comfortable to wear. Also pay attention to the weight and size of the product: some models are much more bulky than others.

Several watch models can be personalized (you choose the material and the color of the strap), but this may incur additional costs.


Other features to consider

Altimeter. If you are into outdoor activities and want to know the altitude of your location, the built-in altimeter is a necessity for you. A barometric altimeter collects altitude based on changes in pressure, while those without a barometer rely solely on GPS data.

Water resistance. Protect yourself classifies water resistance in two ways: on the one hand, models that are resistant to splashes and submersion, and on the other hand, devices that are only splash resistant. Keep in mind that many manufacturers recommend against wearing devices that are splash-proof only in the shower.

Food tracking. Several models that we have tested offer you the possibility to follow your diet. All you need to do is enter the foods you eat into your smartphone's mobile app database. This will give you access to a complete profile of your daily calorie consumption and energy expenditure. However, you have to be very diligent in this regard for this function to be accurate and useful. While this feature is available, keep in mind that many nutrition and exercise professionals advise setting physical goals - taking a certain number of steps per day, for example - rather than counting the calories you eat.

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