Buying a full-price Sport Band for my Apple Watch ($49) is probably one of the dumbest financial decisions I’ve ever made. Sure, it’s a nice band, and I did want a workout-ready alternative to the fancy Milanese Loop I picked out when I bought the first-gen Apple Watch in 2015. But I just bought another sport band that’s equally nice—in fact it seems downright identical—on Amazon, for less than $10.
Then I bought two more bands, a nylon strap and a lovely red leather band, and still came in under $48, shipped. Obviously I’m never buying a band at the Apple Store again.
Made for Apple Watch?
Yes, Amazon and other online retailers are packed with reasonably priced Apple Watch bands, both original designs and knockoff versions that look virtually identical to the bands Apple sells. This isn’t news—Apple opened up the Apple Watch band market to third parties shortly after shipping the watch, but the Made for Apple Watch program differs from the MFi program for AirPlay and Lightning accessories. Apple simply sells the stainless steel lugs that connect a band to the Apple Watch to any interested third party, but doesn’t approve the actual designs.
The stainless steel Apple Watch lugs that Apple sells to third parties have a laser-etched “Made for Apple Watch” on the metal edge, although you might not be able to see it. But if third parties want to sell Apple Watch bands that don’t use the “official” Apple Watch lugs, that’s OK too. You can often tell by looking at the price—Apple’s lugs range from $9.18 to $11.33 per set, so if you’re buying a band that costs $10, the likelihood of those lugs being “official” is slim to none.
Unsurprisingly, none of the bands I bought have official lugs. But I officially don’t care. The lugs on these cheap bands seem just as strong. They can’t be wiggled or yanked loose from the Apple Watch without pressing the tiny release button on the bottom of the watch itself. The silicone sport band I bought has plastic lugs instead of metal, but that doesn’t seem to affect performance either. Bottom line, I don’t think having unofficial lugs on a band is a deal-breaker, especially if it keeps prices so low.
So let me tell you about the bands I bought. Obviously I can’t vouch for the quality of every cheap Apple Watch band on Amazon, but I do plan to test more. If you have suggestions you’d like me to look at, just tweet links to me at @sfsooz.
The sport band knockoff: Here today, gone tomorrow
Remember how I said I’d bought a $49 Sport Band from Apple once upon a time? Yeah, I lost it. So my goal for this whole exercise was to replace the Sport Band without spending too much. And I quickly found a contender: This silicone band from FanTEK, for which I paid $9.88, with free Amazon Prime shipping.
On Amazon, it’s melodically named FanTEK Soft Silicone Sport Style Replacement iwatch Strap for Apple Wrist Watch 38mm Models. It comes in Small/Medium or Medium/Large, in two dozen colors—or it did. Turns out, about a week after I bought it, it disappeared from Amazon. Then about another week later, the rest of FanTEK’s Apple Watch bands vanished too. (The company still offers bands for some Samsung and Fitbit smartwatches.) Welcome to life in the Internet’s flea market.
Too bad, because this is a nice band. It’s just as soft and supple as Apple’s Sport Band, and identically sized, with the holes in the same place. I don’t mind only having one size—Apple’s Sport Band comes with both S/M and M/L sizes in the box, but unless you’re sharing Apple Watch bands with someone with a differently sized wrist, you really only need one. One weird bonus: This silicone FanTEK band doesn’t make my wrist smell as weird after a day of wear as Apple’s fluroelastomer Sport Band does.
If you want to try another silicone sport band, I found this one from iXCC for $9.49 with Amazon Prime, and this one from Huanlong for $6.99 and free non-Prime shipping that comes in more colors but quotes slower delivery times. I’ll order ’em for our next round of testing.
The nylon band knockoff: Pugo Top
I was never wild about the look of Apple’s Woven Nylon bands ($49), which debuted with the Apple Watch Series 2 in 2016. But I figured for $14, I might as well try it for myself. So I picked up a blue nylon band from Pugo Top for $13.99 with Prime shipping. And guess what, it’s now out of stock.
This is my least favorite band of the three—it’s a little bit stiff and itchy, but when I compared it to Apple’s Woven Nylon band, I found them about the same. I think the Pugo Top one will fray on the edges—it’s already starting to a tiny bit—and the stitching on the little loop that holds excess band doesn’t look as precise. The lugs, though, are metal and seem sturdy. I wasn’t able to bend them, and they connect firmly to the watch.
The Pugo Top band is good enough for the money if you’re after that nylon look, but I didn’t want to keep wearing it after testing. While it’s unavailable, this one from Shielda is $14.99 with Prime shipping, and comes in tons of colors. And this one from Inteny is $13.99 with Prime shipping and they’ll even throw in a matching silicone band for free.
The classic buckle knockoff: Fullmosa
Apple’s leather bands aren’t cheap—the Classic Buckle is the least expensive by far, and it still costs $149. That’s not a price I’m willing to pay, so I was thrilled to find this pretty close knockoff from Fullmosa for $17.99 with Prime shipping.
Both are made from real leather, and Fullmosa says its hardware and lugs are stainless steel just like Apple’s. There are some subtle differences. Apple’s Classic Buckle has stitching around the edges of the band, but the Fullmosa band does not; its top and bottom layers are glued together. And the Fullmosa band has two loops to hold the excess part down, while Apple’s band has one.
Still, Fullmosa’s band feels good, looks good, and even smells good. The lugs and buckle are sturdy and the whole thing seems very well made. It comes in five colors, which range from $12.99 (brown) to $18.99 (purple), but I love the bright red version I chose.
Like I said, I’m hooked. I always loved the look of Apple’s Leather Loop, for example, but it doesn’t even come in 38mm sizes—unless you buy a knockoff on Amazon. And that fashion-forward Hermès Double Loop that circles your wrist twice but costs $489? I’ll be trying to find the best version I can for around $30. Suggestions? Hit me up on Twitter at @sfsooz.