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Apple Watch, Android Wear, or Pebble: how do they stack up?

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Now that we've had a real chance to see the Apple Watch, we've got a pretty good idea of how it stacks up against Android Wear and Pebble. Those other two smartwatch platforms are the right ones to compare it to; there may be other smartwatches, but there really aren't other smartwatch ecosystems. Those are the three you have to choose from.

Read next: Read our Apple Watch review.

Actually, you have fewer than three to choose from. If you're using an iPhone, you can pick between the Apple Watch and Pebble — Android Wear won't work for you (for the time being, anyway). Same with Android: you either pick Android Wear or Pebble. There's no way that Apple is going to make it simple to use the Apple Watch with an Android phone.

Battery life could be your real deciding factor

So basically, unless you're interested in the Pebble, a comparison isn't going to help you with a purchasing decision between Apple and Android. Once you've picked your phone platform, you have a simple choice: would you rather have a full-featured smartwatch with a touchscreen that lasts about a day, or a simpler one that lasts nearly a week? If you want the simpler one (and don't mind how it looks), get the Pebble. If you want the fancier one, get the fancier one.

Apple Watch: the definitive review

But that simple choice belies a surprising amount of complexity and difference between these three platforms. It also doesn't tell you much about where each is going — so let's break it down, if only because it's fascinating to see how all three companies approached the question of what a smartwatch is supposed to be and how it's supposed to fit into your life.

Price

Apple Watch: Starts at $349 for Apple Watch Sport with aluminum chassis and glass display. Regular Apple Watch starts at $549 with stainless steel design and sapphire display that better protects against scratches. The version we reviewed came in at around $700. Apple Watch Edition starts at $10,000 and soars up to $17,000. Note that no matter how much you spend, the basic specs stay the same.

Android Wear: Smartwatches running Android Wear typically range between $200 (Asus ZenWatch) and $300 (steel Moto 360 / LG G Watch R).

Pebble: The original Pebble remains available for just $99.99, with the Pebble Steel variant priced at $199.99. The upcoming Pebble Time is priced at $199, and the company will repeat its strategy of selling a more premium Steel model for a higher cost of $299.

pebble time

Platform

Apple Watch: Apple's first smartwatch runs Watch OS, with a clean, streamlined design that includes a typeface designed by Apple itself. Watch OS works alongside iOS on your phone to deliver notifications and receive text messages and phone calls. An iPhone is required to use most functions of Apple Watch. There is a lot to say about how the Apple Watch works, you really should read our full review.

Android Wear: Google's smartwatch platform runs a version of the Android operating system that's been tailored for your wrist, with an enormous focus on Google Now and surfacing information precisely where and when it's needed.

Pebble: Seeing the competition move ahead in recent years, Pebble has revamped its software for the new Pebble Time watch — but it's not out yet. Visually, it's still not as sophisticated as what you'll find on Apple Watch or Android Wear — but crucially, Pebble's is the only smartwatch platform of the main three that works with both iPhone and Android smartphones.

Style

Apple Watch: Apple offers by far the most customization options for a single smartwatch. Three models of Apple Watch exist, and they each come in two different sizes. From there, Apple also lets consumers choose between several wrist bands that can change up the device's style (and also dramatically impact price). Whereas Android Wear watches come in both square and round styles, Apple Watch offers no circular option.

Android Wear: Thanks to its ecosystem of manufacturers, Android Wear offers a wide variety of hardware designs, though you're generally on your own when it comes to replacing the strap. Motorola offers the widest array of aftermarket wrist bands, though it's easy enough to swap out those on other Android Wear watches.

Pebble: Pebble Time is thinner and lighter than the company's older smartwatches, and upgrades the previous black-and-white display to a nicer color screen. It's coming soon. The existing models aren't very beautiful, but they are at least functional.

Apple Watch charging GIF

Battery life

Apple Watch: Since the screen is often turned off while you're wearing it, Apple Watch can last through a typical day of usage without any problems, but users will absolutely need to charge it nightly.

Android Wear: For most Android Wear smartwatches, the same holds true. They'll comfortably make it through a day — and software updates have allowed devices like the Moto 360 to go longer. And it's getting better, with watches like the G Watch R able to last an entire day with the screen on. But you should still expect to be charging an Android Wear smartwatch frequently.

Pebble: Longevity is the main advantage of Pebble's smartwatches. They can last for days on end, requiring a charge once per week. And Pebble does all that while keeping the screen on. Pebble has vowed that despite the inclusion of a color screen, the upcoming Pebble Time will maintain the company's reputation for leading battery life.

Apple Watch Fitness GIF

Fitness

Apple Watch: Apple has made health and fitness a central part of the Apple Watch's purpose. The device can monitor your heart rate, daily workouts, and offer reminders when you've been inactive for too long during the day. Fitness data is synced with an Activity app that appears on your iPhone when Apple Watch is paired and connected.

Android Wear: Beyond tracking your steps taken each day, many existing Android Wear watches also include a heart rate sensor. Android Wear feeds your health data into Google Fit, a central hub that can also pull in information from third-party fitness trackers or your Android smartphone.

Pebble: Pebble puts less of a focus on fitness than its smartwatch rivals. You'll find a step counter among the watch's features, but that's about it for what comes by default. You can extend its fitness tracking capabilities some by downloading third-party apps, but it's still fairly limited compared to the scope of what Android Wear and Apple Watch offer out of the box.

moto 360 crop

Notifications

Apple Watch: Apple's smartwatch can display any notification that would normally appear on your iPhone, but developers also have the option of tapping into the Watch's software and showing notifications that can be acted upon from your wrist, rather than require you pull out your phone to respond.

Android Wear: Android Wear works similarly; it can mirror the notifications on your Android Wear, but developers who support the platform can enable users to do more (like responding to messages with voice dictation, or checking into a flight

Pebble: Since it's not as deeply tied into iOS or Android, Pebble is somewhat limited in the notifications it can provide. But it checks off all the basics and can make sure you never miss any alert on your phone.

Apps

Apple Watch: To use third-party apps (or most apps, really) on Apple Watch, the device must be connected to your iPhone. Apple makes it easier than Android Wear to browse through the apps on your watch, however; just press the digital crown and you'll see everything on one, swipeable screen.

Android Wear: Plenty of developers have added Android Wear support to their smartphone apps, offering functionality that extends beyond mere notifications. You can hail a Lyft ride, make Amazon purchases, or add items to your Wunderlist to-do list from your wrist.

Pebble: Pebble will continue offering a slew of third-party apps through its own store, though the company hasn't yet brought on some of the bigger apps you'll find on Android Wear — and soon Apple Watch.

Asus ZenWatch photos

Watch faces

Apple Watch: Users can customize the watch faces that come included with Apple Watch to show upcoming appointments, alarms, the current weather, or other relevant information. The layout and colors used in some watch faces can also be adjusted — but Apple Watch does not yet offer the option of downloading new watch faces, nor can developers create them.

Android Wear: New watch faces can be downloaded from Google Play, making Android Wear's personalization options pretty limitless.

Pebble: Like Android Wear, Pebble gives users full freedom to download and install watch faces they like from the Pebble store.

Pebble Time Steel

Touchscreen

Apple Watch: Yes, the Apple Watch features a touchscreen with full support for swiping gestures.

Android Wear: Yes, Android Wear smartwatches include touchscreens.

Pebble: No, Pebble's lineup of smartwatches do not yet include touchscreens; you interact with them by using physical buttons on the watch's side.

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