In a few short years, smartwatches have gone from curiosity to ubiquity, as more and more folks see the myriad ways in which they can make life that much easier. They’re not as necessary to modern life as a smartphone, but they can make modern life more convenient, whether it’s by tracking and coaching your exercise as a fitness trackers, functioning as a mobile payment device at the coffee shop, or just serving as a more discrete way to check your texts.
Smartwatches exist somewhere between technology and fashion, so both tech and watch companies have gotten into the game, and there are a lot of options from companies as diverse as Apple, Samsung, Michael Kors, and Fossil. Before you invest in one, be realistic about your needs and wants. The best smartwatch for you is compatible with your smartphone, has enough battery life, is water-resistant, and, oh yeah, looks good.
To give you a head start, we scoured the glut of offerings on the market and found some old faithfuls that have performed over successive iterations along with a couple of young upstarts that should be considered if you’re just getting started. Whether you’re looking for a workout buddy or an everyday life coach and companion, we’ve got a smartwatch for every need and every budget.
The device that took fitness wearables to the next level updated in December 2018, and if you’re an Apple aficionado, you’ll be pleased with the Watch Series 4. But even if you’re a neophyte, the product is emblematic of the company’s user-friendly interface and intuitive design, creating a watch that belongs at the top of the pile.
Pros: The Watch Series 4 took what was already great about the Series 3 and turbocharged it. Whereas the previous screen maxed out at 40 millimeters, the new edition expands it to 44 (even as the case itself is slimmer). Inside, the processor has also been upgraded, doubling the speed of the former. Optical heart rate sensing, taken right from your wrist, also received an overhaul, making it more accurate during your workouts and while at rest. Speakers, automatic workout detection, and the same suite of communication methods your iPhone has—along with a handy walky-talky feature—make this useful in all the ways you think and likely a few you haven’t thought of yet.
Cons: Apple products carry with them a premium price tag and the necessity to wait in line at its stores for service—two things we don’t especially relish. Still, its products are ready to go shortly after leaving the box, and if you’re already an Apple user, they pair quickly and easily with your other devices. If the juice is worth the squeeze, your smartwatch search is over.
This is the smartwatch for people who don't want it to look like they're wearing a smartwatch. The Withings Steel smartwatch has an analog face with a percentage to goal tracker at 6:00 and a small monochromatic screen at 12:00.
Pros: This watch does the basics well. We’re talking about fitness tracking, sleep tracking, and smartphone notifications. The battery life of 25 days (not hours, days), also just can’t be beat. And it’s the most stylish watch on this list for those averse to the wrist-mounted touchscreen.
Cons: The feature set on this watch is limited, so don’t expect a lot of bells and whistles.
Samsung and Android go together like peanut butter and jelly, but we don’t just love the company’s Gear S3 Frontier for that reason alone. While most smartwatches make you look like you’re ready to beam back to the mothership, this unit has the timeless design of a diving watch—but with guts of modern computing power.
Pros: First, the Gear S3 Frontier won’t make you look like a nerd. Its large face displays time similar to any other wristwatch. But rotate its metal bezel and a host of options jump to life, including GPS, Samsung Pay, step tracker, and heart rate monitor. It’s also super durable, with a military-grade casing that withstands water, drops, temperature, and dust. For further disguise, add-on bands ensure this watch completely blends in. While pairing it with your Android device makes the most sense, Apple users can also connect it to their iPhones without much trouble. Of course, you can take calls, make texts, and receive alerts.
Cons: Our only gripe is that it’s not as versatile as Apple’s offering. Rather than make one unit and packing in every feature a la the Watch Series 4, Samsung makes multiple wearables that hew toward various uses. The Gear S3 Frontier should be considered more of a lifestyle watch rather than a workout companion (for the latter, check its Galaxy Watch Active). In short, rather than just buying this wearable, figure out how you’ll most use it, and then select the unit that most makes sense. (Alternately, just buy the more expensive Apple Watch and be done with it.)
Fitbit introduced the world to the concept of fitness wearables, but with the rise of smartwatches, it had to reinvent itself into a more comprehensive package. The Versa is the epitome of these two sides. We love it most for its core commitment to activity.
Pros: Fitbit is all about getting you moving, and the device should best be seen through that lens. It tracks more than 15 different workouts and activities as well as sleep, steps, and heart rate. It even plays workouts for you to follow along with right on its screen. Store up to 300 songs on it for use with Bluetooth headphones, or you can upload your favorite Pandora and Deezer playlists. Of course, it integrates with the Fitbit Labs workout apps to take your exercise to the next level or discover new ones.
Cons: While it’s designed mostly for the fitness-focused, many of these acolytes cited small glitches that were more annoyance than make-or-break. Still, it should be noted that step- and metric-tracking begins promptly at 12 a.m. without a means of adjusting it if you’re a night owl or work a graveyard shift. Others cautioned against its waterproof claim. Still, if you’re a core gym rate, there’s not a system more tailored to your wants and needs.
First it was with its GPS systems in your car. Then Garmin established itself in the bike and running world, creating wrist-mounted systems that allowed you to track your distance, pace, and duration with the accuracy thanks to utilizing former military satellites. With the vívoactive 3, the company combines this heritage of precise data collection with the broad functionality of a smartwatch.
Pros: Outdoor or indoor, those involved in a fitness regimen will love the sport-specific tracking features, all tied to its independent GPS system. A runner, swimmer, or cyclist? Track your progress inside and out. But it also allows you to track activities like yoga and others through heart rate monitoring. The fiber-reinforced polymer case is the one we’d trust most on this list for open-water swims. But even if you’re not a core athlete, features like the cardless Garmin Pay system and Connect IQ app store allow you to add features that make it an all-around performer.
Cons: A quick scan of Amazon customers shows that the average buyer is an outside exercise buff, and really, that’s where this watch fits. This shouldn’t take away from everyday features mentioned above, but it’s so activity focused that it doesn’t make sense for those not relying on this robust performance to purchase it. Can you picture yourself in Spandex on a typical weekend? If not, there are better options.
This rugged watch has a touchscreen, customizable dials, and the ability to make payments with Google Play.
Pros: What looks like a normal analog watch is overlaid over a touchscreen that cleverly reacts to what’s happening. It will flash lightning when the weather takes a turn and gather “dust” when you’re behind on your workout schedule.
Cons: There’s no integrated microphone or speaker, so you won’t be able to talk into your wach, 007-style.
If you’re like many men, Fossil was your first wristwatch back in the day. But the company has made plenty of inroads into the tech field since then, and its smartwatches are a worthy inclusion on this list while rivaling the rest with its dashing good looks.
Pros: Fossil has been telling time for men for decades, so it’s no wonder that of all the smartwatches on this list, its Gen 4 Explorist feels most like a watch. However, it’s still packed with features, including heart rate tracking, Google Pay, untethered GPS, notifications, Google Assistant, a microphone, and controls, customizable watch faces, custom goal and alarm settings, multiple time zones, and a whole lot more. It’s beautiful, too, and something you don’t have to take off while wearing a suit.
Cons: With a max charge of a mere 24 hours, its battery capacity left us scratching our heads (maybe it’s so packed with features Fossil didn’t have room for a bigger battery?). Still, with a one-hour rapid recharge, we suppose we’d get used to a daily stop at the outlet.
Looking for a no-frills, inexpensive smartwatch? This one is an Amazon bestseller that's lightweight with a battery that lasts up to 30 days.
Pros: The battery life on this thing is fantastic when compared to most smartwatches on the market. It still has built-in GPS and optical heart rate monitoring, with the ability to track all of the standard health data — sleep quality, steps taken, calories burned, etc. — and workouts for different kinds of physical activity.
Cons: This thing is stronger as a fitness tracker than a smartwatch, as it can show alerts for texts, calls, and apps but not do the extra stuff that a more fully-featured smartwatch can.
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