Is Wearable Tech Worth Buying on a Budget?


With new technology getting better, smaller, and capable of more, smartwatches, smartglasses, and tracking devices are designed with your convenience in mind. Although the wearable tech market still needs to ripen, product quality and costs are converging toward a buy moment. Here are some smart wearables worth considering.


One of the first high-profile smartwatches, the Pebble Smartwatch (starting at $150), gained notoriety as a Kickstarter crowd-source funding success. The Pebble device debuted in early 2013 and holds its own against pricier models while exceeding the performance of entry-level smartwatches. One stand-out feature is its compatibility with Apple and Android devices, something most rivals lack. Notifications (through a sound or vibration) include email, text messages, calendars, caller ID, and whatever apps you connect to or download. The music it plays can be controlled through iTunes, Spotify, or Pandora. The Pebble's charge lasts almost a week and recharges through a standard USB cable.

Users appreciate the reliability, simple yet stylish design, and compatibility. They are less thrilled with the absence of customer support and the fact that the Pebble still seems like a prototype. And some wanted more functionality along with better apps. Indeed, this wearable tech product is still a work in progress and should improve over time with ongoing software tweaks and app debuts.

Activity Trackers.

We found two fitness bands in the mid-price range that offer users a lot in the way of metrics and designs that make them easy to wear 24/7. (Budget-minded users can find even more money-saving alternatives in Cheapism's best cheap fitness trackers buying guide.)

Our top choice is the Fitbit Flex, starting at about $100, which tracks steps, distance, and calories and compares your active versus inactive time. It monitors sleep in terms of length and quality and even wakes you with a vibration. The app lets you sync the Fitbit Flex to your phone (iOS or Android) or computer and set goals that are monitored through five LED lights (each light represents 20 percent of your goal). The rechargeable battery lasts five to seven days. Reviews indicate that users like the feel and functionality of this wearable tech product, as well as the community (i.e., the social capabilities with the Fitbit app). Some users wish it offered more -- a heartbeat monitor, for example, or a full LCD screen.

The runner-up choice is the Garmin Vivofit Fitness Band, with a starting price of $130. Like the Fitbit Flex, the Garmin Vivofit monitors calories, steps, sleep quality, and inactivity, and can pair with a mobile device. It displays a red "move bar" on the screen that lights up after an hour of inactivity, with additional segments added for each 15-minute increment of stillness. The band, with its display screen, doubles as a watch and offers quick views of data (e.g., steps, distance, and calories burned). The Garmin Vivofit also analyzes inactivity data and customizes goals based on past performance to encourage a more active lifestyle. An online fitness community lets you track progress and earn badges. Garmin claims the disposable battery lasts up to a year, a feat no other fitness band comes close to reaching.


The smartglasses market is still finding its footing, and the Vuzix M100 is currently the only commercially available pair worth considering, even at its $999 price point. The Vuzix M100 boasts a sleek, compact design -- all the better for stylish unobtrusiveness. It runs on an Android OS, contains a 5MP camera, and can shoot 1080p HD video. It also sports an expandable microSD card slot that stores up to 32GB of data, and can stream video through its Wi-Fi capability. The glasses feature several modes: local, which uses the device's memory to run apps; HUD, which uses apps that run on a paired Android device; or collaborative, which is a mix of the two and allows the most computing power.

Of course, we can't overlook the most famous smartglasses: Google Glass. This $1,500 product just entered an open-beta phase, so anyone can buy it now. But unless the price falls, there's little reason for frugal, tech-savvy consumers to choose Google Glass over the Vuzix M100. The Google device's one distinguishing feature is app support, a shortcoming that Vuzix is trying to address through a new partnership with AT&T for app development.

Another wearable tech newcomer on the horizon is the ChipSip Smart Glass, a Wi-Fi-compatible device that offers lots of computing power, video/image recording, and GPS capability. A release date is nearing, with an expected price tag of about $500.

Given all the play in the smartglasses market, we suggest waiting a while before making any purchases. Prices may drop and capabilities undoubtedly will increase as more apps are released.