Cheap smartwatches: Smart buy or a waste of money?

Jack Wallen put a sub-$60 dollar smartwatch to the test and was surprised at the results. Find out if this budget device is worthy of your wrist.

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Image: iStock/Ridofranz

I depend on my smartwatch. I use it to track my exercise, I use it to catch phone calls and messages I might otherwise miss, I use it for alarms, and even to track my heart rate (which becomes more and more important with age). Oh, I also use it to keep track of the time (imagine a watch doing something so simple). 

My smartwatch of choice for the past year has been the Samsung Galaxy Active2. So far it's been the most dependable and accurate. It's not perfect, but it does a fine job of handling the tasks I throw at it. That watch sells for around $220.

So, when I was approached by a company called Cubot to review a smartwatch that retailed for $59, you can bet I was curious. I've used smartwatches by companies like Amazefit that seemed a good buy at first but never failed to, well, fail me. What could a piece of tech at that price point have to offer?

As you might expect, I was skeptical. At a quarter of the price, I assumed you'd get a quarter of the reliability and usability.

I was wrong. 

At least on certain levels.

SEE: Samsung Galaxy S21 Series: A cheat sheet (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

When the Cubot ID206 arrived, I pulled it out of the box and my immediate reaction was, "Oh look, an Apple Watch clone." The device looked like an Apple Watch knockoff, but I knew the truth. This was a knock-off Android device, and expecting the same level of functionality and craftsmanship would be a mistake.

To that, I was still (mostly) wrong.

After wearing the Cubot watch for a week (along with my Samsung watch—yes, it was a bit awkward at times), I've drawn some surprising conclusions.

TL:DR—if you're on a tight budget, you could do a lot worse than the Cubot ID206.

Let me explain.

First, the aesthetics.

The look and feel of the Cubot

As I said, the Cubot looks very much like an Apple Watch (Figure A). No, it's not as refined, and you can immediately tell that corners were cut (the strap alone feels very much like a $50 watch strap should). But the Cubot does feel rugged, as though it could go the distance and stand up to whatever you throw at it. Did I push it to the limits? No. I did, however, do my usual runs with the watch, which is where the rubber, quite literally, meets the road.

Figure A

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The Cubot ID206 is on the left. On the right is my Samsung Active2.

How does it compare?

The first thing I did (after setting up the Cubot) was go for my usual weekly run. This is a shorter route, at seven miles. I know this run is seven miles because I've checked it with numerous sources. I wore both watches and started their run timers at the same time. At the end of the run, the Samsung watch clocked the run at 7.1 miles. The Cubot clocked the run at 5.59 miles. So I knew, right out of the gate, that the Cubot might not be the best fit for those who intended the watch for accurate exercise tracking.

However, it's not all that black and white. 

On the days that I do not run, I most often use a rowing machine. When comparing the Samsung vs. the Cubot, the results were quite similar. Calories burned were close, steps taken were close, and heart rate was almost dead on. Because of this, I decided to write the inconsistency of the run tracking to GPS issues.

SEE: Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 3 5G: A cheat sheet (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

The next step in checking the accuracy was to run with the phone along with the watch. When I run I use my daily driver Pixel 5 for music. That phone is also associated with my Galaxy watch. I connected the Cubot watch to my Pixel 4 (because that's what I most often test with). Carrying two phones during a run isn't my idea of a good time, so I opted to only carry one. For my next weekly run, I took the Pixel 4 with me and, you shouldn't be surprised by the results, the Cubot tracked the run at 7.2 miles and the Samsung watch clocked the run at 5.8 miles.

Lesson learned. Smartwatches are only as smart as the phones they are connected to. Separate them and the watches become less accurate.

Features here and features there

To my surprise, the Cubot watch includes most of the features I need (such as alarms, heart rate, blood oxygen, sleep tracking, weather). The only difference is that the Samsung Galaxy watch UI is a bit easier to navigate. It should be, at four times the cost. But once you get used to how the Cubot interface functions, it's just as easy to work with.

So, as far as features are concerned, there isn't a marked difference between the two.

Battery life

Honestly, the Samsung Active2 battery has never been good. Because I use it heavily for exercise, I'm lucky to get two days out of the battery. Much to my surprise, the Cubot is getting almost twice that from the battery. That's important. And getting considerably longer battery life from a considerably cheaper watch could be a real deal maker for some.

The conclusion

The holidays are fast approaching, and you're probably going to consider purchasing smartwatches for those on your list. You'd be smart to go the Samsung or Apple route. But if your budget is tighter, don't overlook the cheaper options. The Cubot ID206 might not be the best watch on the market, but it goes a long way to prove that price can sometimes be deceiving.

If the Cubot ID206 was the only smartwatch I owned, I honestly don't think I could complain. It might not feel quite as comfortable as the Samsung, and the UI might not be as efficient, but at the end of the day, it works and works well. 

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By Jack Wallen

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic, The New Stack, and Linux New Media. He's covered a variety of topics for over twenty years and is an avid promoter of open source. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen....