On test: Cheap smartwatches that you've never heard of

Budget smartwatches from Amazon put to the test - is it worth buying one?
On test: Really cheap smartwatches

If you type 'smartwatch' into the search box on Amazon, amongst the Moto 360s and Sony SmartWatch 3s you'll see a load of results for cheap, budget smartwatches from manufacturers you've probably never heard of.

Some work with iOS, some work with Android and some work with both. But do they really? Do they actually perform the tasks you'd expect from a smartwatch on the eve of 2016? Is it really worth saving a few bucks by avoiding the usual Android Wear suspects and opting for an unknown quantity?

Definitely worth buying: The best budget smartwatches

Team Wareable has had five of the top rated cheap smartwatches strapped on our collective wrist for the last couple of weeks. Here's how we got on…

Paul Lamkin: JideTech D360 - $42.99

This is probably the most unique looking of the budget smartwatches that we tested and, for the basics, probably the most efficient too. It paired ok, held its connection for a little while and actually did provide notifications, of incoming calls and text messages.

Until it lost its connection after about half an hour that is. After that we couldn't get it to pair with either an iPhone or a Samsung Galaxy S5 and it was essentially a digital watch, albeit with a pretty metallic face, and a limited battery life. You'll get a day before you have to clamp (quite literally) the world's ugliest charger around it.

While it was paired, we tried to get more out of it – calendar updates, Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp messages and the like. To do this you need to download a separate APK Android app – all in Chinese. And there's not a chance we were ever going to attempt this.

The built in pedometer requires you to manually start it every time you want your steps counted and the other 'apps' – camera shutter, music controls and so on – don't seem to do anything at all.

Mike Barker: Yarrashop GT08 - $52.08

The GT08 is a square faced smartwatch modelled after the Apple Watch, only bigger and lacking the sensors…or the usability.

Combined with a stiff band, it's difficult to fit the watch comfortably on the wrist. Securing the watch tightly enough was also an issue so I found I had to wear it loose. The clasp is similar to the double-pin closure found on Fitbit bands, which holds well enough. However it popped open and the watch fell off once.

You can apparently insert a SIM card into the Yarra for text messaging and calls, though even after prying the back off and taking out the battery, the SIM tray wouldn't lift out.

The Yarra behaves more like a phone than a smartwatch. Many of the basic settings for the watch are hidden under 'Phone settings', and when launching the radio app you're prompted to plug in the headphones, yet there's no headphone jack. Pairing over Bluetooth was never successful, so I was unable to test any notification features.

The reminder app allows you to set the prompt interval, however it failed to nudge me to stand at any point. As for the activity tracker, the app consists of a timer and pedometer counter when keeping time. Measured against the Apple Watch pedometer, the result was about 10% fewer steps.

The Yarra comes with a front-facing camera, pretty much only good for taking small and awkward selfies (although that could describe all selfies).

Dan Sung: Lemfo U8 - $14.99

This watch has no name other than Smart Watch but when I tried to pair it, it went under the handle of U8, so let's stick with that.

There are problems from the off with the badly translated instructions on how to pair it with a couple of QR codes that ended in landing sites written in heavy Chinese. Not even Google Translate could get through it. Sentences in the manual such as "can also be installed via smartphone 'Searching' Bluetooth notice application and download and install the application treasure" did not help much either.

When we did a search of Bluetooth notice apps, there were 10s, none of which actually did the trick. The end result was that U8 never connected to our phone. If it had connected, the promise was emails, SMS, phone dialling and mobile camera control.

The rest of the U8 is actually quite pleasing, if totally budget and occasionally unintentionally funny. The strap is soft and comfortable, the touchscreen is responsive and bright enough even if the viewing angle needs to be rather specific. We never really got the little flap for the Micro USB charging port on the side to close, though.

App-wise, there's a tidy little calculator, a pedometer (which didn't work), and a sleep monitor which claimed to be able to detect the difference between light and deep sleep. It definitely couldn't but it's helpful comments like "Sleep too little!" will be missed.

The U8 ended up coming off like one of those Doro phones for old people; only one that would have convinced them that, as they suspected, new technology is everything that's wrong with the world. In this case, they'd be right.

Don't buy a U8. Even if it is the cheapest option on test by quite some margin.

James Stables: Hannspree Prime - £59.99

This isn't actually a cheap smartwatch from Amazon. It's a genuine 'branded' smartwatch that Hannspree is actually flogging for £59.99. The fact that it's clearly a copy of the Samsung Gear 2 (and exactly the same watch as the Memteq example, below) is by-the-by.

Pairing the Hannspree was easy, there's no app so you simply pair it through your smartphone's Bluetooth menu. Keeping the watch paired is another story, though.

When connected to our iPhone it synced with contacts and showed call history. However, we never received any notifications as it never stayed paired for more than a few minutes.

The watch faces on offer are naff and the screen is very dull, so it's hard to see what's going on. The touchscreen's responsiveness is pretty good, however, better than expected. Even though, dealing with the small menus is nearly impossible and the miniaturised keyboard is laughable.

The camera is awful in every situation. We did manage to record a video, we think, but it wouldn't pair to the smartphone, as usual and disappeared into the ether.

On the plus side there are plenty of built in apps like a calculator, a (hilarious) pedometer and a sleep tracker – but this needs started and stopped like a stop watch.

It's way overpriced. Even more so considering the watch below is exactly the same, but half the price (minus the SIM card slot you're never going to use).

Sophie Charara: Memteq S1 - $38.00

Another Gear 2-alike, bringing back er, interesting memories, the S1 paired pretty easily to my Android phone first time round so I thought it was all go. After this initial flurry of optimism, though I didn't have as much luck, sadly the S1 (as my phone is naming it) is very unreliable. One time this was because Bluetooth visibility had been turned off in settings for some reason, but even when this was sorted we had some problems.

It's chunky, pretty uncomfortable but not to the point that you can't wear it, the single power button works okay and at least charging is easy, and fairly quick, via Micro USB. You might be interested in the camera, which shoots still and videos. Don't be, it's terrible and - probably due to connectivity issues - our 'footage' didn't save to either the watch or our smartphone.

One tap on the watch face brings up a few more - none are particularly pretty - or swipe to get the Android-style screen. Touch capability just about works and you can swipe through small, Android style icons and swiping down from the main screen brings up notifications. Of course, you probably won't have any as the Bluetooth connection is so flaky. Onscreen keyboards abound and every app seems to need to be started and stopped, like the sleep monitor. One thing that did work was the music controls for your smartphone's music app. That's something, I suppose.

Overall, as a UI it's kind of useless for a smartwatch screen. The viewing angles on the low-res square display are pretty terrible, too, so it's not so easy to glance at. The colours are fairly bright though. As for battery life, we went from 100% to 50% in a matter of a few hours and didn't get more than a day.

If the Bluetooth connection had just been reliable, we'd say there's enough here if you only care about function and not about style or intuitive controls. But it's basically Gear 2 inspired tat.

Conclusion

Don't do it. Just steer well clear. Even the one that costs less than $15 should be avoided at all cost.

If you want to try out a smartwatch but don't want to fork out the $150 - $350 for an Android Wear device, check around on eBay for second hand LG G Watch or Samsung Gear Live. You'll probably pick one up for less than $100 and, we promise, you'll have a much better experience.

12 Comments

  • jpsousabikes says:

    Thanks for the summary. 

    I'm a Chinese Smart Watch Collector.  I have about 8 of them.  By far the best is the ZGPAX S8 (about $90) but that's really a Smart Phone that you wear on your wrist and it solves all the problems that the ones you discuss exhibit by being a full Android 4.4.2 mobile device.  Of the really cheap ones, I like the No.1 D3 (about $23) the best.  It has no problem with BT connection and can even provide some notifications but its HRM is very wrong so it would be hard to sell.  Of the intermediate ones I like the Haier V1 (about $40) mostly for its really bright display. But its HRM is very wrong and its health functions do not link to any app that I've found.  Worst problem I have with these watches is not NOT CONNECTING to BT but instead not RELAYING any useful data once connected.  So for health functions, best bet is the S8 after downloading Google Fit. 

    • fossilbay says:

      I have just bought a Chinese Smart Watch ( no other branding) off the street in Hong Kong

      Should this have a separate charger, otherwise I cant see where you plug in the USB cable

      Any ideas?

      don

    • greatkeen says:

      HI , which watch (Chinese) would you recommend for iPhone 6. Features i want in the watch are, making calls & answering (via BT) but builtin microphone & loudspeaker, usual features of sports band such step counter, sleep monitor, heart rate measurement, notifications (sms, whatsapp, etc). 

      i would appreciate multiple recommendations so i maybe easily able to source them to my country . 

      Thank You in advance.

  • ihatespam says:

    The one i have was actually called "u8" when i bought it, looks the same as your "u8", only mine is black. I knew going it that it was going to be.. useless.. but i wanted to see how things have changed since i bought the last $12 so called smart watch. Not much has changed in six years. The last one i bought 6 years ago was better- i still use it occassionally to play mp3's while i fall asleep. It had an audio out to connect to the desktop speakers. This one, not so lucky. Each function is clunky, buggy and just feels generic to use. The watch itself looks ok, probably generic, but not so much that it screams "look at how cheap i am". It doesn't even tell you the time reliably- i left mine on accidentally, the next day the battery was dead, no bluetooth, no ped, it wouldn't even tell me what time it was, which makes this pretty much useless.

  • RobertShowell says:

    GT08 Is easily one of the best smartwatches of all time

  • PakShorty says:

    I have the GT08. It cost me A$25 delivered from eBay. For the price - brilliant.  It''s a freedom machine - phone calls and sms, bugger all the other functions - combined with a watch.

    I had no problem putting in a sim, I put it in my regular phone first and copied the contacts to it Making a call is a breeze.

    Installed BTNotification on my Samsung S4, again no problems pairing and using. It even pushes Skype, and with a little tweaking I can use the voice command. Tho to be honest, I rarely carry both. Why would you anyhow? Most who do are on an ego trip or are tech freaks who must have the latest.

    Loosen up people, its a 25 buck phone, you won't get a fucking Ferrari or a fully fully featured mobile internet device. BTW, how many of the top devices are stand alone - take a sim card?

    You want the Ferrari performance and function? Pay for it and stop knocking products that probably have potentially more mass appeal.

  • PakShorty says:

    PS Paul the sim gate on the GT08 is easy. Slide it up as you did on earlier model mobiles, the gate opens to around 90*. Put in the card, close the gate and slide it back down.

    Yes the band is a little stiff when you first use it. Put it on your wrist and body heat makes it more soft and comfortable. I'm 6'2' and 100+ kilos. I've fat wrists and ride a motor bike - flexion, extension on the brake and throttle. It's never came undone.

    Comparing these devices to the Apple watch, Samsung Gear, Pebble or what ever is invalid and elitist.

    There's millions of us out there who just want a phone, no bells and whistles, couldn't give a fuck about the internet, think social media is for ego driven wankers.

    If you want to do an honest review, review what you get for less than 50 bucks, not what you don't get compared to a $500+ fully specked piece of bling which still relies on having a partner device.

  • siemen1994 says:

    well its probably not the watches fault you guys are not able to figure out you need to install a specific app for this (you mentioned you did not want to but you need to ) if you dont these things are indeed just digital watches.

  • Sofia2110 says:

    why is the U8  watch so cheap? I am thinking about getting one but I would like to know is it what it seems? I have seen reveiw son how amazing it is and how cheap it is but if it's so good then why so cheap? I mean if the company made this amazing watch why would the make it like $7 £12 €14?? I just want to know is it too good to be true???

  • Carolporter says:

    Wi.ll.this.smart.watch.work,for.my.i.phone.six?

  • Nik says:

    Can someone please tell where can I find a smartwatch with motion sensor, camera, tf slot, wifi, Bluetooth and it is cheap? 

  • samkd says:

    True Paul, Buying gadgets at so cheap cost are not worth. They won't last longer and will certainly have errors soon or later. Instead, looking for 2nd sale is a great option to consider. Totally agree. 

    Samsung Gear 2 and 3, Fossil's Android wear, Huawei Smartwatch, LG Watch Urbane 2, Garmin Forerunner 225, Motorola Moto 360 Sport, Alcatel OneTouch are some of the amazing smartwatch choices, what's yours? You might like our review https://goo.gl/cvoUO5

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