The Best E-Paper Smartwatches

The Pros, Cons and The Top Picks

Pebble

The cutting-edge smartwatches currently on the market include fancy bells and whistles like water-proofing, 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 more basic model. If this sounds like you, an e-paper smartwatch could be the perfect fit.

What Is An 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 just black and white (though color versions do exist) and tend to reflect light as would actual paper. The result is a rather flat (matte) experience that's best for reading — especially in direct sunlight outside — and offers wider viewing angles.

So, an e-paper smartwatch is one that features this display technology rather than an AMOLED screen (like on the Samsung Gear S2 or 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'll get much longer battery life. This technology is much lower-power than other display types, so you won't need to charge your wearable anywhere near as frequently. Looking at the top smartwatches from a battery life perspective, you'll see that e-paper options like those from Pebble rank high. Depending on your lifestyle and whether or not you tend to forget to plug your tech in every night before bed, the ability to go several days on a charge could mean you ultimately get more use out of your smartwatch. However, you'll have to be the ultimate judge of how important this feature is. 

Beyond long battery life, as mentioned above e-paper smartwatches offer great viewing angles, so you won'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 simply spend a lot of time outside, this 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 could 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 all the models you're interested in in person, in a store, so you can test-drive their display and other features.

The Best E-Paper Smartwatches

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 will make a big difference for you — keep reading for a look at some of the top picks.

1. Pebble Time

The Pebble Time offers some great functionality in a simple package. The e-paper display with LED backlight featured on this smartwatch does have color (it was actually the first Pebble watch to feature a color screen), and you'll get up to 7 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-screen, which could feel clunky to some users. The Pebble Time features the somewhat recently introduced Timeline interface, which presents your relevant info in a chronological format.

2. 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 perhaps looks more like a standard wristwatch — the Pebble Time Round could be worth a look. Like that previously mentioned model, 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 unfortunately it's rated for only up to 2 days of battery life. This is due to the fact that it comes in a much slimmer package, so you are sacrificing longevity for looks in this case. However, it could be worth the tradeoff if you're diligent about keeping the wearable juiced up, and if you want a smartwatch that's more office- or formal wear-appropriate. Also keep in mind that Pebble watches now 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 help kick-start your fitness efforts, this could come in handy.

3. Sony FES Watch

The fact that this wearable is sold 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 quite striking; it's made from one strip of e-paper, and you can switch between 24 different designs for the watch face and strap at the push of a button. 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!

4. Pebble 2 + Heart Rate

Another Pebble smartwatch, you ask? Yes, this Kickstarter-favorite brand is clearly dominating this list, and in fact a quick Google search reveals it dominates the e-paper smartwatch category as a whole. Still, the final pick here is worth including due to its fitness-focused features. This $129.99 gadget is clunkier than some other options mentioned above, but its black-and-white e-paper display is rated for up to 7 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 does look like a much older (and less refined) cousin of the Pebble Time and Pebble Time Round.

Bottom Line

Especially compared to wearables like the Apple Watch, these e-paper smartwatches might seem quite basic and pared-down. And indeed, they tend to be lighter on features and 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 these — or any other — smartwatch.