'Wearables' has become the catch-all term for any wearable tech that we have on our connected selves. Whether it's watches that do more than just tell the time, virtual reality headsets, or bands that enable us to track our fitness as we run to our desks, wearable tech has infiltrated just about every area of our lives.
And of course, wearables can also help you be more productive, reminding you about client meetings and helping you be more aware about taking breaks from your computer (the Apple Watch reminds you periodically to get up and walk around).
Here we’ve listed our favourite bits of wearable tech in each category, plus two alternatives at varying price points. Naturally, as designers we want the tech we own to look good, so we’ve made sure that all our options look the part, too.
The best smartwatch for designers
Apple Watch Series 3
Still the best smartwatch out there
Models available: GPS or GPS+Cellular in 38 and 42mm sizes | Wireless tech: Wi-Fi and Bluetooth | Waterproof: Yes
Has there ever been a better smartwatch? When it comes to wearable tech, the answer is no. The cellular connectivity is nice to have, but remains an expensive luxury at £5 per month. Added to which, it’s still only available through EE, which isn’t much good if your iPhone isn’t on the network, too (it has to be, you see).
If you have an Apple Music subscription, or iTunes playlists synchronised to your phone, then getting music onto the Apple Watch is a cinch anyway. On the fitness side, it’s no Garmin (see below) but if you’re a casual runner, swimmer or gym-goer then its fitness tracking is more than enough.
The battery life is a lot better than other similar devices, and you can get nearly two days out of it. The integration with iOS is predictably excellent and the waterproofing welcome. Plus, there are numerous finishes to choose from and plenty of choice in terms of straps as well. And if you have trouble remembering to go to meetings and keeping track of notifications then the Apple Watch will certainly help there, too.
Garmin Fenix 5: $550/£409
Yes, it’s expensive (the various models culminate in the 51mm Fenix 5X at £770) but what you get here is the ultimate GPS watch for fitness freaks. If you only run you probably want a Forerunner instead, but if you’re into multiple sports (cycling, swim training, skiing, golfing, paddle sports and all variations thereof) and want them all tracked properly, then look no further.
Samsung Gear Sport: $289.99 / £249
The Apple Watch is all very well, but it’s no good if you have an Android phone. If you do, the Samsung Gear Sport is the clear wearable technology choice (it actually works with iOS as well). Running Google’s Wear OS smartwatch software, the Gear S3 is the best smartwatch currently available that’s not an Apple Watch. The battery will last for several days, and the blue and black versions are splashproof, too.
The best fitness tracker for designers
Fitbit Charge 2
The best fitness tracker that you can set and forget
Wireless tech: None, although can use your phone’s GPS | Tracking: automatic, including sleep | Battery life: Up to 5 days
Although Fitbit keeps trying to get into the smartwatch space (currently with its Versa and Ionic), fitness trackers are still what it is best at. The Charge 2 is the company’s best fitness tracker at the moment, and can track step counts and sporadic exercise.
The key benefit is that this band doesn’t need you to say you’re starting exercise to track it – it just keeps a log of whatever you’re doing. That should be standard for many pieces of wearable tech, but the fact is that a lot of smartwatches and trackers need to be told when you’re starting a period of increased activity. And nobody remembers to do this every time.
It isn’t a running watch, however, and it also isn’t that smart, with notifications limited to call, text and calendar. That’s a shame, since the large screen is perfect for additional information. It is comfortable, however, and tracks general fitness consistently well. The sleep information provided within the app (iOS and Android) is also very welcome.
Samsung Gear Fit 2 Pro: $177 / £209
Without doubt the best-looking fitness tracker with its stunning OLED display, the Gear Fit 2 Pro is a premium offering that edges into smartwatch territory (indeed some retailers actually call it a smartwatch). Crucially, it adds GPS, while it’s also water- and dust-resistant and can track swims, too. Notifications are fairly basic but there’s a built-in music player to make up for it – like the Apple Watch it’ll pair with some Bluetooth headphones.
Moov Now: $49.99 / £45
A favourite waterproof tracker, this comes with a replaceable battery that lasts around six months. It sports an integrated audio coach and can keep tabs on swimming, cycling and more, as well as sleep tracking. As there’s no screen, you do need your phone nearby to see how you’re doing, but that’s no great shakes.
The best headphones for designers
B&O Play H8i
Superbly-designed noise-cancelling headphones
Wireless tech: Bluetooth | Play time: up to 30 hours | Weight: 215g
Like other products from Bang & Olufsen’s more accessible sub-brand, the H8i’s are superbly finished. And, like other B&O Play headphones, they’re designed by Copenhagen-based Jakob Wagner Studio, one of Denmark’s most respected design studios. The H8is are brand new this year, are wireless via Bluetooth, and feature active noise cancellation that you can toggle on and off with a switch.
Available in black or ‘natural’ (the tan colour you see here) they feature up to 30 hours playback, though you can get a lot more than that by attaching a cable. They will even pause your music when you remove them thanks to a proximity sensor, while a transparency mode means you’ll always be able to tune into an office conversation should you need. There are two voice microphones for making clear phone calls. It helps they sound fantastic, too.
Bowers & Wilkins P9 Signature: $898.90 / £699
As our more expensive choice we’re tempted to recommend Oppo’s epic PM-1 Planar Magnetic Headphones (£999), but the company is shuttering its audio division so you might not be able to get hold of them for too much longer. Instead, we’ll plump for B&W’s P9 Signature, which sound almost unbelievable. They’re a long, long way from the earbuds that came free with your phone.
Audio-Technica ATH-SR5BT: $149 / £129
We were tempted to choose AT’s lovely ATH-R70x reference headphones (£261), but they’re open-backed so not great for use at work. Instead, we’ve plumped for the excellent ATH-SR5BT Bluetooth wireless headphones, which offer 38 hours of playback, look nice and subtle and are versatile and light to wear, too.
The best VR headset for designers
An excellent all-in-one VR headset
Display: 5.5-inch WQHD LCD (2,560 x 1,440) | Field of view: 100 degrees | Storage: 32 or 64GB
If you’re interested in VR and the potential of it as a platform of the future, there have so far been two ways you can go; a cheap headset (like the Daydream View below) that you pair with a compatible smartphone, or a high-end super-expensive headset that requires a fairly powerful PC.
The Oculus Go fits into neither camp; it’s a comfortable, smartphone-free headset that doesn’t cost the earth. It’s similar to the more expensive Oculus Rift (which does rely on a PC). The Go doesn’t need a smartphone because it basically is one, running on a similar Qualcomm Snapdragon platform to many high-end phones.
It has its own 5.5-inch display and 32GB of storage (there’s also a 64GB option). It’s not as immersive as more expensive headsets on the market as you are limited to three degrees of freedom, and the app selection isn’t the best, but there’s a lot more to come here.
HTC Vive: $439 / £499
It’s expensive and you need a whole room to use it in, but the HTC Vive offers an absolutely incredible experience in many ways. You do need that powerful PC for it to go alongside, but it is totally immersive and some of the experiences you can have with it are incredible. The price is prohibitive for many (but you should try one if you can).
Daydream View: $76 / £89
It needs to be paired with a compatible Android phone (this is a Google-marketed headset) but Daydream View is incredibly comfortable, simple to use and comes with a little remote. In short, it’s an easy gateway into VR. You can even wash the pad you stick your face on. Check out the list of supported phones.
The best wireless earbuds for designers
Once you get past their appearance, they really are brilliant and totally wire-free
Wireless tech: Bluetooth | Play time: up to 5 hours | Weight: 46g
The AirPods have one big disadvantage: they look silly. It would be way better even if they were black or grey. Anyway, once you’ve got over that, they will gradually weave themselves into your life as one of the most versatile pieces of tech you’ve ever owned. While they can work with other types of Bluetooth devices, they’re designed for Apple gear, obviously. If you have an iPhone 7 or later they will automatically sync, and they work particularly well with Apple Watch.
The main advantage of the AirPods is that you hardly even know you’re wearing them. You can use one or both as a headset, which is brilliant if you make a lot of calls. They automatically switch depending on which one is in your ear, and auto-pause if you take one out to talk to someone.
Sound quality isn’t top notch but is so much better than the wired EarPods that Apple bundles with its phones. The battery life is a disadvantage – you will wear it out in a long morning – but the charging case carries enough juice for 24 hours of total listening.
Sony WF-1000X: $142 / £154
All the best true wireless earbuds are around the same price, so this isn’t exactly an expensive option, but they are a little more than the AirPods. The key extra is that they offer noise cancelling and, while the AirPods do let in background noise, the Sonys have a special ambient mode. They’re available in black or gold.
Jabra Elite 65t: $169 / £143
The Elite 65ts aren’t the best sounding true wireless earbuds around, but they are very comfortable, and simple to set up and use day-to-day. They also rapid-charge – 15 minutes will be enough for a 90-minute commute. You can adjust the amount of ambient noise you wish to allow in, too.