2022 will soon be over, and it is the right time to look at what innovations were brought to the market by the many small and big players that constitute an ever-growing health-tracking watch market.
Even if tech aficionados date the birth of smartwatches to 1972 with the Hamilton Pulsar, these devices were far from “smart” despite being digital. The two most significant market players, the Apple Watch and Samsung Galaxy watches, have constantly been upgraded over the years, and 2022 was no different.
In this article, we will not focus on the brands but mainly on the features and aim to identify if the health-tracking watches of 2022 are more than an incremental release and are worth considering.
The year 2022 is one to remember not only for the new features being introduced but also for the number of models released. All the key manufacturers introduced new devices.
With Samsung, we saw the Galaxy 5 Pro available either with Bluetooth or LTE and the Samsung Galaxy 5 available in 40mm or 44mm.
Apple gave us not just one, or even two, but three new smartwatches: the Apple Watch Series 8, the new Apple Watch SE, and the innovative Apple Watch Ultra, which is more a game changer than a simple upgrade of the Apple Watches.
Fitbit has a cycle of two years when it comes to their smartwatches. In 2022, we saw the Fitbit Sense 2 and the Fitbit Versa 3. At Digital Health Central, we always said the Fitbit Charge 5 was one of our favorite fitness trackers. Even if we did not see an upgraded Fitbit Charge 6 hit the market in 2022, we could expect it to be released in mid-2023…and we look forward to it.
Regarding the top-of-the-line sports smartwatch, Garmin still has a place of choice in the heart of any athlete or people looking for a super durable and no-fuss watch. For good reasons, Garmin is one of the favorite brands for military personnel. The year 2022 was also good for Garmin as the Garmin Vivosmart 2, the Garmin Forerunner 255 and 955, Garmin Tactix 7, and Garmin Fenix 7.
2022 was probably one of the best years for health-tracking watches but more than a plethora of new models, let’s check if these new models delivered and are worth considering when it comes to health monitoring.
This article will be divided into the analyses of critical vitals: blood pressure, blood oxygen, Heart rhythm, Heart Rate Variability (HRV), electrocardiogram, sleep tracking, and body temperature measurements.
Measuring blood pressure with a smartwatch in 2022
Measuring blood pressure reliably is still one of the features of smartwatches that need to be included. With half of the American people suffering from high blood pressure, this is most certainly a health smartwatch feature makers are working hard on.
The optical sensors still have a different accuracy than standard blood pressure inflatable cuffs.
Even though the Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 Series offers such analysis, its clinical accuracy still needs to be improved. A recent article published in the scientific journal Frontiers in Cardiovascular Research concluded that “The smartwatch-based BP measurement is not yet ready for clinical usage. Future studies are needed to validate wearable devices further…”
It does not mean that you can not use a wearable device to measure your blood pressure, but it may be wise to rely on those that include an inflatable cuff.
In our selection of the best smartwatch to monitor blood pressure in 2022, we recommended the Wearwiz (formerly YHE) BP Doctor Smartwatch. Despite having a relatively tight strap, our blood pressure measurement results were very close to those we did when using an FDA-approved standard blood pressure device.
Apple is famous for releasing only devices that are accurate and can be clinically validated. Even if the company has been rumored to work on blood pressure measurement features, the technology does not appear ready yet, and Bloomberg do not anticipate a Blood Pressure measurement Apple Watch before 2024.
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Measuring Blood Oxygen with a smartwatch in 2022
Reliable Blood oxygen analyses seem easier to achieve, but we must admit that the results can sometimes differ according to the device used. Apple have been one of the leaders in this field, and the Apple Watch 8 does not disappoint. What we found troubling is that Garmin gave us results that could differ significantly compared to FDA-Approved finger blood oxygen sensors. It can be disconcerting to realize that a high-tech $400+ device does not beat a less than $100 device.
We found that the results differed primarily due to how the watch was positioned. Therefore, our advice is to find the right tightness. Also, remember that measuring blood oxygen depends on the amount of sweat on the skin.
Sometimes, just wiping your wrist and the watch sensor is just what it needs to improve the blood oxygen measurement results dramatically.
Heart Rhythm and Heart Rate Variability
Detecting heartbeats has been one of the initial features developed in wearable devices. However, over the years, most of the sensors improved, and heart rhythm accuracy is not an issue anymore. Even if chest strap monitors are still the gold standard for detecting heartbeats since they use electrodes recording electrical signals instead of optical sensors, using a smartwatch is still a reliable way to measure the heart rate…at least when resting.
According to a study reported in Harvard Health Publishing, the inaccuracy of heart rate monitors are mainly due to the activities practiced.
The optical sensors in a smartwatch will detect a change in blood flow. So it is no surprise that jumping, running, and moving the arms will impact the position of the sensors, leading to an increase in inaccuracy.
Garmin and Apple devices are famous for delivering accurate results. Even though this study was conducted with previous generations of both makers, the results were in line with the control measurements.
More than an issue with overall accuracy, the problems are more linked to maintaining the analyses accurate when exercising. One solution is to tighten your strap slighter more than usual when practicing physical activities. This way, the optical sensor will always stay in close contact with the skin.
Heart Rate Variability (HRV) gained a lot of interest in recent years as a way to gain health information. Based on the heart rate and time difference between two consecutive beats, the accuracy of an HRV analysis. Following the acquisition of FirstBeat Analytics, Garmin took the lead for HRV analyses. The results are used not only for health and stress analyses but also for optimizing the training sessions.
The Garmin Forerunner Series devices benefit from this great combination of accurate sensors and algorithms. The Apple Watch may be excellent as a lifestyle device, but to date, Garmin have still the lead for serious athletes…and an accurate HRV analysis is part of their leadership.
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Recording a clinically relevant electrocardiogram(EKG) is becoming possible from the comfort of your home. Apple, Fitbit, and Samsung all offer devices that may not compare to a 12-lead hospital device. Still, their single-lead analyses are not to be underestimated…at least for detecting arrhythmias.
The new smartwatches released in 2022 leverage the technology introduced in previous models.
In that sense, 2022 saw few real breakthroughs but incremental improvements.
Tracking sleep with a smartwatch is now standard practice, and here again, we have yet to see any real innovation…more of an improvement of the algorithms and sensors.
The Fitbit Sense Series was long considered a very reliable device even though the excellent review conducted by the Quantified Scientist YouTube channel found the Apple Watch as one of the best smartwatches available to analyze heart rate and sleep stages.
Measuring Body temperature with a Smartwatch in 2022
When looking for an actual change in the 2022 wearable devices is the addition of body temperature sensors to the Apple Watch Series 8 and Ultra. In one of our previous articles published in 2021, we regretted that the Apple Watch did not include temperature sensors.
It took time, but the omission of such sensors has now been corrected. Apple devices now include two temperature sensors that will track the body temperature while sleeping while minimizing the biases due to the environment.
Like the Fitbit Sense Series, you should not expect to obtain raw values of your core body temperature but to track the temperature variations to a pre-established baseline.
The year 2022 certainly saw numerous newly released health-tracking watches. But, more than the release of game-changer devices, except for the Apple Watch Ultra, smartwatch companies have entered the age of reason and broad adoption.
With more than 42 million wearables sold in Q2 2022, the market has reached the age of reason and broad adoption.
The leaders are now competing to improve their range one step after the next. As long as you buy a device from a reputable brand, it becomes clear that there is no wrong choice. Samsung and Apple are targeting their smartphone ecosystem, Garmin is focused on sports addicts to improve their training and performance, and Fitbit rely on well-priced devices that offer well-rounded products.
Even if smartwatches can connect to continuous glucose monitors, the road may still be long for this highly anticipated innovation to hit the market. More than one year ago, Macrumors.com indicated that Apple’s suppliers were working on short-wavelength sensors to measure blood sugar levels. It may take a couple of more years to see this innovative technology on the shelves, and one thing is sure is that metabolic analysis may be the next big thing to shake the world of wearables.