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What Can a $1,000 Sports Watch Do That My $20 Version Can’t?

Plenty. Whether it needs to is a completely different matter

Providing justification for the high price of an expensive sports watch is a challenging feat. Call me basic, but I don’t require my watch to be able to accomplish the same functions that my iPhone and MacBook can, and I certainly don’t need my watch to rival them in overall expense. 

So before you go running off to buy a fancy new sports watch, let’s evaluate their essential functions, identify what you should expect to pay to benefit from those functions and determine whether or not you’re being gouged for all of the add-on features you’ll probably never use.

First, we’ll start with the features contained within a standard-issue sports watch:

Clock: No shock here.

Stopwatch: In case you want to time elements of your training routines, or to see which 10-year-old can run the fastest down to the mailbox since almost every children’s watch comes standard with a stopwatch these days.

Alarm: I suppose if you need to wrap up your outdoor run by a certain time, it would be a good idea to set the alarm on your wrist. Good luck hearing it if you’re wearing headphones or earbuds, though.

Calendar: For people who like to glance at their wrist to be reminded of what day of the week or month it is.

Water Resistance of Up to 50 Meters: If you can free dive any deeper than 15 meters without your eardrums exploding, you’re a tougher human being than I am, and I hate you for it.

LED Lighting: For when you’re alone at night in the dark and need to look at your wrist to be reminded of what day of the week it is.

Thus far, we can get you that watch for under $20. I’d say we’re doing pretty good. Let’s give ourselves a round of applause.

Oh, so you demand more out of your watch and have money to blow? Okay, big spender! Here’s what else we can offer you:

Shock Resistance: So that nothing goes awry if the watch is dropped or whacked.

Electro Luminescence: A fancy backlight for a liquid crystal display.

Split Time: For people who want to track their time splits when they repeat certain distances.

Water Resistance Up to 200 Meters: In case you feel the need to descend nearly seven times the maximum training distance allotted for the training of search-and-rescue divers without a dive watch, at least your sports watch will still work. 

Accuracy Plus-or-Minus 15 Seconds Each Month: I was kind of hoping my digital watch would give me the correct time all of the time, plus-or-minus zero seconds.

Well, we just shot into the $50 price range by adding those five additional features. I’d guess that we should be well accommodated for almost anything we’d encounter during most indoor or outdoor workouts, or if we fall off a cruise ship or get ejected from a submarine in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

Now, if you don’t need to buy the watch yourself and you want to slap it on your Christmas list for some other poor sucker to procure for you, we can see what adding some additional features will do for us:

24-7 Heart-Rate Monitoring and Sleep Tracking: Will give you advance warning whenever you’re about to transform into the Incredible Hulk.

30-Hour GPS Mode: Tracks your exact position. More accurately, it tracks the exact position of your fancy watch, thereby making the watch easier for the police to locate after someone swipes it from your unmonitored gym locker while you enjoy a post-workout shower.

Barometer: Measures air pressure, in case you decide to pilot a hang glider.

Altimeter: Displays your height above sea level, in case you decide to scale a mountain. Unfortunately, this is a worthless feature in Florida.

Compass: For some reason, even with the GPS tracking feature providing you with your exact position on a map, you still require a compass.

Step Counter: For all of those people who obsessively count their steps, this will have you staring down at your wrist after every trip you make to and from the office vending machine.

Burned Calorie Tracker: Very likely an inaccurate calorie tracker displaying inflated numeric figures to comfort you and convince you that you don’t actually need to run today.

That certainly took a turn. Now we’re talking about hundreds of dollars. I don’t know about you, but I think we should really go for it and see what happens if we quintuple our spending:

Solar-Powered: Now your fancy watch is receiving a charge directly from the sun’s rays.

Night-Vision Capability: Converts your screen so that it can only be deciphered through night-vision goggles, just in case you and your buddies decide to do some late-night laser tag.

Stealth Mode: Disables all GPS tracking, wireless activity and communication so that law enforcement officials would never be able to track your movements after the fact if you decided to do something extremely shady.

Kill Switch: Wipes all user memory, and probably your internet browsing history, because… yeah…

Turn-by-Turn Navigation: Because some folks are too good for Google Maps.

Enhanced Performance Metrics: For the money you’re paying, these better be accurate.

Oxygen Sensor: Actually uses special light beams to track how well your body is absorbing oxygen. Personally, I’m starting to hyperventilate just from being overwhelmed by this huge list of watch features.

Energy Monitor: A built-in fitness advisory tool that makes suggestions as to when it might be an opportune time to either train or rest.

Smart Notification: Receive and send texts and emails straight from your wrist, like a vintage James Bond or Ethan Hunt.

Music Apps: This is beginning to sound like you just slapped an iPhone onto your wrist.

Contactless Payments: Your credit card information is stored directly within your conspicuously expensive watch. I don’t see any possible ways that could backfire.

Golf-Course Mapping: Comes preloaded with the maps of 41,000 golf courses. The sad math behind this feature brings you to the realization that if you golfed on a different course every day of your life, it would take you more than 112 years to golf on every course loaded into this watch. No human being will ever golf on every course in existence. How depressing.

Safety and Tracking Features: Alerts the authorities if you’re in danger and experience an emergency, which you may ultimately require simply because you wore this watch. After all, wearing a gadget-packed mortgage payment on your wrist is likely to attract some undesired attention.

With all of these features and more — like waypoint tracking and jumpmaster controls for parachute drops (no kidding) — this watch is yours for a grand. However, I’m altogether confused about who it’s intended for. Between the stealth mode, night-vision switch, kill switch and golf-course mapping, it seems like the target market consists of superspies who parachute down to topple evil dictators, and then kill time by playing Bingo, Bango, Bongo on the unseated despot’s private golf course. 

If you’re spending more than $1,000 for a sports watch on the high end of the luxury spectrum, you’re probably wasting money for all of the extra features you’d never use in your daily life. However, if you’re somehow finding practical uses for every feature in the highest of the high-end sports watches, you should surely put together your autobiography, because that’s a story worth telling. I bet you’ll even be able to write the whole thing on your watch.