If you’re looking to pay top dollar for the latest in phone technology, the decisions you have to make are pretty minute. They may just come down to: Do I want iOS or Android? If we’re being honest with ourselves, any high-end phone is going to look like a bit of the future in your pocket, mimicking either Apple or Samsung’s design aesthetics.
With the announcement of Nixon’s Mission—an Android-powered smartwatch tuned specifically for extreme sport weather—the range of choices you have to find a watch to fit your lifestyle has already eclipsed the phone market. Where an iPhone 7 goes appropriately with just about any environment, the smartphone marketplace has diversified its choices so you can pick out a matching device the same way you would a tie or purse—or a pair of sunglasses or snowboard decals.
So what are you looking for in a wrist device? Performance and usability? Fashion-forwardness? Durability? The right price tag? Let’s try to condense the field of next-gen outdoor choices into something manageable.
The aforementioned Nixon Mission slaloms on the market on October 10, and is clearly aiming to carve itself out a space in the activewear device market. Advertised specifically for surf and snow, it comes with an industry-leading guarantee of 10 ATM water resistance—roughly 300 feet below water—and a selection of customizable faces to match the occasion. The façade itself is highly ruggedized with a surgical-grade steel bezel and a Gorilla Glass face (the same as on most Android phones), and looks like it can take a beating, whether it be a from snow-covered tree or a bit of coral.
This bezel comes in 12 different styles and colors, and the soft silicon band comes in 24, presumably to match your environment of choice. The software itself backs up what the appearance advertises, with special platforms to provide up-to-date sport-relevant info on things like recent snowfall, wind direction, and potential wave sizes. Hardware-wise, the Mission is nothing special but perfectly respectable, with decent (but not leading) battery life provided by its 400mAh battery, 512MB of RAM, a Qualcomm Wear 2100 processor, included GPS, and 4GB of storage space. At a reported price tag of $400, expect this watch to be the strongest candidate for anyone looking for a durable, sporty smartwatch.
If the Nixon aesthetic isn’t an option for your tastes, the nearest competitors stack up nearly as tall, with varying levels of comparable functionality. For example, the Mission clearly seeks to take the market share previously occupied by the Casio Smart Outdoor WSD-F10, which is tweaked to cater to hiking, fishing, and biking. The Casio, however, lacks built-in GPS—somewhat counterintuitive for a dedicated outdoor watch—and overall it looks a lot less rugged and outdoorsy than the Mission. Additionally, it runs $100 more than the Mission, so this option is rapidly becoming obsolete.
Other sport-centric smartwatches currently available are more fitness-focused, like the Garmin Vivoactive HR and the Moto 360 Sport. Compared to the Mission and even the WSD-F10, however, these will feel more like glorified FitBits. Each features GPS to inform specialized apps for running, swimming, and biking, and in the case of the HR, even golfing. Both offer heartrate monitors to count calories burned, and the software in the HR even analyzes the cadence of your running pattern. The most obvious disadvantage to both these options is the most apparent one as well: they’re both pretty ugly. I said before that any current smart-device will look like a bit of a spaceship on your wrist, but in the case of these two, the spaceship might be very Star Trek. The original series.
Both are a single piece of silicone around the embedded device, which will be highly susceptible to scratches (though maybe that is appropriate for an outdoor watch), and which leave very little to get excited about when you look at the more fashion-forward smartwatch options, like the LG Urbane. Both also sacrifice the quality of their display in favor of battery life, leaving both of them with dim, faded-looking screens—good luck reading them in direct sun. Thus, the saving grace for each is, predictably, the price, which clocks in at $250 for the Vivoactive HR and $300 for the 360 Sport. Consider these options only if you’re in the smartwatch market on a budget, as unlikely as that sounds.