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Published Jul. 23, 2021

The Apple Watch was not the first connected watch. Thanks to Dick Tracy, people have been dreaming of wrist-worn communicators since the 1940s, and companies have actually produced usable companion devices since the early 2000s. But since “Apple’s most personal device ever” launched in 2015, it’s come to dominate the smartwatch market by sheer volume. However, the best wearable for everyone isn’t necessarily Apple’s. In fact, the best Apple Watch alternatives provide all kinds of fantastic functionality without having to commit to iOS. 

Really, the phrase “Apple Watch alternative” sometimes does these gadgets a disservice. Apple’s offering is great, but there are other top smartwatches and fitness trackers on the market that deserve to be recognized for their own forms and features. You can find brainy accessories that satisfy all kinds of purposes: collecting health metrics, delivering notifications, tracking outdoors adventures, and much more. So let’s look at the non-Apple products that can keep your phone in your pocket but your life connected to the web.

What to consider when looking for the best Apple Watch alternatives

There are a variety of non-Apple Watch smartwatches, on all kinds of different platforms—and, luckily, many of them will work with both Android and iOS, in case you ever switch phones. Apple Watch alternatives come in a few different flavors. There’s the direct competition, which would be Google’s Wear platform—think of it as Google’s version of the Apple Watch operating system. It allows many different manufacturers to make their own smartwatches that pack the same apps and features. There are also more fitness-centric offerings, both for casual workouts and for intense outdoorsiness, and then a whole crop of budget-friendly smartwatches that provide health tracking and notifications.

It’s worth noting that recently, Google announced a new focus on its Wear OS platform, with a whole new crop of smartwatches coming out shortly. That new focus extends to a new partnership with Samsung. Currently, Samsung smartwatches—many of which are quite good—use an operating system called Tizen. Moving forward, though, Samsung will be using Wear OS. That means that if you buy a Tizen watch now, you probably won’t see the big new Wear OS updates. On the plus side, though, these watches might become a bargain purchase. Samsung has promised to give its Tizen smartwatches three years of support with updates.

What’s the difference between a smartwatch and a fitness tracker?

In general, the phrase “fitness tracker” is used to differentiate from a smartwatch in a few ways. Fitness trackers are typically smaller. They often look more like a bracelet with a small screen than a big, fancy watch. They are, as their name suggests, focused on fitness: a good fitness tracker should have not just a step tracker, but also a heart rate monitor and sleep tracking tech. Many high-end fitness watches can also integrate with more robust devices like chest strap heart rate monitors. 

That said, the line between fitness tracker and smartwatch has blurred. Modern fitness trackers have some features we’re more likely to associate with smartwatches They may have the ability to deliver notifications of texts and emails from your phone, might have a speaker so you can activate Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant. Some even sport similar faces and design elements.

But if you plan on wearing your wristpiece all the time, it’s fair to want something less like a fitness tracker and more like a full-featured smartwatch: you want it to have a bigger screen, because you’ll be looking at it more, and to have non-fitness-focused features too.

What’s the best Android smartwatch?

Apple has its WatchOS, the operating system that powers all of its Apple Watches. Google has its own, called Wear OS, which offers many similar features. A Wear OS watch often has NFC (near-field communication), a technology that enables you to pay with your credit card (or use public transportation or store gift/loyalty cards, etc.) by physically holding the watch to a point-of-sale terminal. Wear OS supports tons of apps, like Google Maps, calendars, note-taking apps, and many more. It’ll have a big touchscreen to navigate, along with voice control. It’ll have GPS, lots of fitness apps, a heart rate sensor, and, well, a battery life that isn’t stellar, usually two days at most.

Wear OS didn’t initially take off the way WatchOS did, for a few reasons. For one thing, even though many more manufacturers make Wear OS watches, the designs don’t measure up to Apple’s sleek industrial design language. For another, many Wear OS watches have been underpowered, with underwhelming processors that make the Wear OS experience seem slow and ponderous. 

But Google took notice of this and recently announced a huge overhaul of its Wear OS strategy. The company is putting lots of effort into fixing what didn’t quite work with past versions of Wear OS devices and gadget fans are hopeful that the next generation of Wear OS smartwatches will be faster and better than before. 

The manufacturers of these smartwatches haven’t been able to confirm whether their existing smartwatches will support the new Wear OS version just yet. It’s possible that some will, but you should be aware that right now is a tricky time to be purchasing a smartwatch.

Do I have to spend hundreds of dollars on a smartwatch?

The current generation of Apple’s Watch, the Series 6, starts at a whopping $399. If you don’t necessarily need all the bells and whistles, just something that’ll track your health metrics and stick that data into a fitness app, plus maybe deliver some alerts, you don’t need to spend that much. In fact, you can spend barely a tenth of that price and get something surprisingly great.

The biggest use cases for smartwatches, according to Statista, are notifications and fitness tracking—and you can snag a budget smartwatch or fitness bracelet that can do that for you, acting as your everyday connected wearable at a fraction of the price of full-featured smartwatches.

What about Fitbit smartwatches?

Fitbit, which is actually owned by Google, already announced that they’ll begin making Wear OS smartwatches soon. Currently, though, Fitbit uses its own operating system, which is heavily focused on fitness. Fitbits generally pack solid battery life, advanced health features like skin temperature and blood oxygen monitors, and automatic exercise tracking. 

They also do include a few more smartwatch-like features, too. The top-of-the-line Fitbits have an NFC payment system, so you can pay for stuff by tapping your watch on a point-of-sale device. They have voice assistant features so you can respond to text messages, and the ability to take phone calls as well. 

What’s the most stylish smartwatch?

Smartwatches and fitness trackers aren’t known for being the most stylish accessories. They have some fundamental requirements that make being stylish difficult. For example, they have to be big enough to contain a touchscreen, a heart rate monitor, and a battery, which means that even the smallest tend to be on the bulky side.

For those who take wristwatches seriously, even the Apple Watch can be underwhelming from an aesthetic perspective. It’s a basic square made of glass and aluminum. Most Apple Watch alternatives are the same way: either a slim bracelet-style fitness tracker or a square or circular smartwatch. These tend to look just fine at the gym or when out for a run, but in more formal settings can look out of place.

Luckily, a few companies are getting on board with different designs. Some of these cope with the difficulties of smartwatch design by scaling back what they can do to the basics, like step tracking; the Amazfit Neo leans into the retro-style chunkiness, and hybrid smartwatches like the Withings Steel HR Sport are basically just regular analog watches with step tracking built in. 

The best Apple Watch alternatives

The best Apple Watch alternatives are delightfully varied, and you’re sure to find one that strikes your fancy. Let’s take a look at the best of the best.

Best dedicated fitness tracker: Fitbit Sense

The Fitbit Sense is the company’s best and brightest smartwatch. It packs onboard GPS to track your runs and bike rides, it has both Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa for checking the news or sending texts, and it even has something no other smartwatch has: a skin temperature sensor. It also has a six-day battery life, which is very strong.

Best smartwatch for Android users: TicWatch Pro 3

Big and Fast

The fastest Wear OS by Google smartwatch you can buy. TicWatch

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With a Snapdragon 4100 processor, the TicWatch Pro 3 is among the fastest non-Apple smartwatches on the market. It has all the usual high-end smartwatch features, including onboard GPS and NFC for payments, but it also has one very clever feature: a lower-power LCD screen right on top of its regular screen, so you can switch over for up to 45 days of battery life in “essential mode.” That said, this is a large and chunky watch, not for the small of wrist.

Best smartwatch for the triathlete in training: Garmin Forerunner 945 LTE

Sleek and Powerful

A runner’s best pal. Garmin

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Garmin specializes in super-advanced fitness and outdoor tech gear, and the Forerunner 945 is specifically focused on running. It includes a dizzying array of stats and tracking to ensure you improve: it calculates elevation changes, measures your pace against an average for your level of fitness, and can even pair with a chest strap to measure stuff like ground contact time and stride length.

Best stylish smartwatch: Skagen Falster 3

Danish-Inspired Design

This Google Wear OS watch is startlingly handsome. Skagen

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Skagen, the Danish-design-inspired imprint of Fossil, has a line of smartwatches called the Falster which have uniformly been extremely stylish and good-looking watches. These use Google’s Wear OS, with all of its features, but the stainless steel watch is slim and stylish. You can also swap out the band for any number of alternatives.

Best budget smartwatch: Amazfit Bip U

Killer Price

This diminutive fitness tracker packs in the features—and battery life—for a crazily low price. Amazfit

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Amazfit is an emerging maker of budget smartwatches, and the Bip U is a great one. It has a nine-day battery life, measures your heart rate and steps and blood oxygen levels, delivers notifications from your phone, and can sync with apps like Strava and Google Fit. You’ll lose some features—it doesn’t have any apps, and you can’t take phone calls with it—but it’s one heck of a price for what you get.

FAQs

Q: What are the disadvantages of Apple Watch?

Apple’s smartwatch may be popular, but it definitely has disadvantages. Most importantly, it’s not compatible with Android phones. That means that 73 percent of the global smartphone market is out of luck. It’s also only available in the one square style, which may not be to everyone’s taste.

Q: What is the best and cheapest smartwatch?

If you’re looking for the combination of best quality and cheapest price, we like fitness trackers: they’ll include the most popular uses for smartwatches (fitness tracking and notifications) without all the other stuff, so you can save money. Amazfit has an array of different options for a super low price, while Fitbit has some of the best combinations of software and cheaper options.

Q: What is the best non-Apple smartwatch?

We think the best non-Apple smartwatch will vary depending on what you’re looking for. If you’re just wanting to track your fitness and exercise, we like the Fitbit Sense; if you have a Samsung phone and want a full smartwatch experience, the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 is a great option; and if you want something to help on your running journey, look at Garmin’s offerings.

The final word on the best Apple Watch alternatives

The best Apple Watch alternatives are already pretty good, and they’re about to get a lot better. Whether you jump into Wear OS or Fitbit, you’re sure to find something you love.

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