The Best E-Paper Smartwatches

Pros and cons of e-paper watches and the best buys

The cutting-edge smartwatches on the market include bells and whistles such as waterproofing, cellular connectivity, and bright color displays. However, not all users need these features. If you want a smartwatch that provides at-a-glance notifications along with basic activity tracking, you might want to save on cash and go for a basic model. If this sounds like you, an e-paper smartwatch could be the perfect fit.

Pebble watches.

E-Paper Smartwatch

E-paper refers to a display technology that you're probably familiar with from e-readers. Rather than offering rich colors, an e-paper screen is usually black and white — though color versions exist — and tend to reflect light as would paper. The result is a rather flat experience that's good for reading in direct sunlight outside and that offers wide viewing angles.

An e-paper smartwatch is one that features this display technology rather than an AMOLED screen like on the Samsung Gear S2 and the Huawei Watch or an LCD like on Motorola's Moto 360 2.

The Upsides to an E-Paper Smartwatch

The most obvious advantage to having a smartwatch with an e-paper display is that you get much longer battery life. This technology requires less power than other display types, so you don't need to charge your watch anywhere near as frequently. Looking at the top smartwatches from a battery life perspective, you'll see that e-paper options such as those from Pebble rank high. Depending on your lifestyle and whether you tend to forget to plug in your tech every night before bed, the ability to go several days on a charge could mean you ultimately get more use out of your smartwatch.

Beyond long battery life, e-paper smartwatches offer great viewing angles, so you don't have trouble making out the notifications on your screen even if you're outside under direct sunlight. If you're a frequent outdoor runner or spend a lot of time outside, this feature could make a difference. It's unlikely you'll be reading e-books from your wrist on a smartwatch, so it's not as essential to have an e-paper display on this sort of wearable as it is on an e-reader, but it can still come in handy. 

The Downsides to an E-Paper Smartwatch

If you want a stunning visual experience on your smartwatch, chances are you'll be left underwhelmed by an e-paper display. Even if you pick a model with a color e-paper screen, it won't be the brightest on the market, and hues won't be the richest. Overall, e-paper displays are decidedly dimmer than their LCD and OLED counterparts, so keep that in mind when you're comparison shopping across different types of smartwatches. It's also worth checking out in person all the models that interest you so you can test-drive their display and other features.

Now that you have an idea of what sets this type of smartwatch apart from others, you can begin to evaluate whether it's the right pick for you. If you're not deterred by the disadvantages mentioned above — and if the longer-than-average battery life and improved viewing angles and sunlight visibility make a difference for you — look at some of the top picks.

Sony FES Watch

The fact that this wearable sells at the MoMA Store tells you a lot. It's all about form, and function is more of an afterthought. However, the FES Watch is striking. It's made from one strip of e-paper, and you can switch at the push of a button among 24 designs for the watch face and strap. Calling it a smartwatch might be something of a stretch since you won't be able to use it with popular apps like Instagram and Twitter, but it's quite a conversation starter, and it lasts a whopping two years on a charge.

Pebble Time

The Pebble Time smartwatch offers great functionality in a simple package. The e-paper display with LED backlight featured on this smartwatch provides 64 colors, and you get up to seven days of battery life on one charge. Keep in mind that you control the display with three physical buttons rather than by pressing and swiping directly on the screen, which could feel clunky to some users. The Pebble Time features the Timeline interface, which presents your relevant info in a chronological format. The Pebble Time is a popular smartwatch that is still on the market.

Fitbit bought the Pebble brand at the end of 2016, and the Pebble brand no longer makes smartwatches. Pebble online support ceased as of June 2018, although an unofficial developer group provides extended support. Fitbit now makes smartwatches, but they don't have an e-paper display.

Pebble Time Round

If the Pebble Time's list of features is appealing to you, but you want a more sophisticated package and a design that looks more like a standard wristwatch, the Pebble Time Round is worth a look. This wearable has a color e-paper display and three physical buttons. Unlike the Pebble Time, the Pebble Time Round features a round display (hence the name) and is rated for up to two days of battery life. This is because it comes in a much slimmer package, so you are sacrificing longevity for looks.

However, it could be worth the trade-off if you're diligent about keeping the wearable juiced up and if you want a smartwatch that's more office-appropriate. Pebble watches feature enhanced activity-tracking and a smart alarm feature for waking you up when you're in your lightest stage of sleep. If you want to use a smartwatch to kick-start your fitness efforts, this could come in handy.

Pebble 2 + Heart Rate

Despite its demise in late 2016, Pebble smartwatches still dominate the e-paper smartwatch category, as a whole. The final Pebble pick here is worth including due to its fitness-focused features. This gadget is clunkier than some other options, but its black-and-white e-paper display is rated for up to seven days of use on a charge, and you get a 24/7 heart-rate monitor that measures your pulse automatically. If fitness tracking is a priority for you, this model could be a solid choice, though it looks like a much older and less refined cousin of the Pebble Time.

Clearink Smartwatch

Clearink specializes in e-paper displays for smartwatches and small tablets. The 2017 Clearink smartwatch has a 1.32-inch color e-paper display with a 202 DPI screen, which is a big improvement over its introductory model. It also boasts a 30 percent better color gamut and only half the power of its first generations, thanks to a 5V battery.

Bottom Line

Compared to wearables like the Apple Watch, these e-paper smartwatches might seem basic and pared down. They tend to be lighter on features and much less expensive than their brethren with brighter displays. That said, if you don't need all the bells and whistles and simply want to view notifications on your wrist, one of these gadgets could fit the bill. Just make sure you do your research and decide what features matter to you the most before committing to one of these or any other smartwatch.