Current smartwatches offer cutting-edge breakthroughs: Easy-to-use operating systems with responsive touch screens, voice activation, seamless syncing with your smartphone via WiFi and Bluetooth connectivity, along with a myriad of apps and features all with a swipe of your fingertips. The first generations were a bit bulky and sometimes slower than we would’ve liked—but the latest versions are easier to navigate, more stylish, and also combine fitness/heart-rate/oxygen rate tracking along with GPS tracking and navigation. All these features allow you to access information so quickly that you are never out of the loop with the added bonus of managing your health.
There are so many brands and features to choose from—so we’re here to help you understand the latest products and features at a glance, so you can pick the best one for your budget and lifestyle.
- BEST SMARTWATCH FOR BATTERY LIFE: Garmin Fenix 6 Pro Solar
- BEST ANDROID AND IPHONE-COMPATIBLE SMARTWATCH: Samsung Galaxy Watch 3
- BEST SMARTWATCH DISPLAY: Apple Watch Series 6
- BEST HEALTH AND FITNESS SMARTWATCH: Fitbit Sense
- BEST “SMART HOME” SMARTWATCH: Samsung Gear Sport Smartwatch
- BEST BUDGET SMARTWATCH: Apple Watch Series 3
Things to consider when buying a smartwatch
Smartwatches are essentially lightweight wrist-sized mini-computers that sync via connections with your smartphone or via their own cellular hookups. In addition to time telling, smartwatches offer apps to control music, maps, weather, schedules, calendars, email, shopping, voice activation, reminders, and fitness, and heart rate tracking. Let’s walk through a few key features such as battery life, compatibility of operating systems, display size, ease of use, and sensors for fitness/health tracking.
How often will you need to charge it?
Most smartwatches have an average battery life of only 1 to 2 days, and the more smart features your watch has and that you use, the faster the battery will drain. However, if your desired uses for your smartwatch are more fitness and GPS only, there are batteries that can last with limited use up to 120 days. Smartwatch batteries started as liquid lithium batteries, but most commonly now use rechargeable batteries of lithium-ion polymer technology. These newer batteries are lightweight and safer as they have a lower chance of leaking electrolytes. The battery in your smartwatch is designed with a magnetic charging cable and can take anywhere from one hour to overnight to fully charge. Some options on the market even utilize a hybrid charge harnessing solar power.
There is a great deal of variability in charging speed and battery life between models and brands. As we mentioned earlier, a user with a smartwatch loaded with apps, who uses the watch very frequently will see a faster battery drain. The smartwatch configuration, cellular network, signal strength, and streaming quality are among some of the factors that affect battery life. Bells and whistles are cool but It’s important to consider which features you want and use on your smartwatch and turn the rest off to receive the most optimal battery life.
Best smartwatch for battery life: Garmin Fenix 6 Pro Solar
Juice From The Sun
Rugged, premium quality pick with emphasis on sports and navigation. Amazon
This smartwatch is a great choice when long battery life is an important consideration (and when outdoor sports or wilderness adventures are a lifestyle consideration). With a power manager feature and solar-charged battery, allow for up to 14 days of battery use without plugging in the charging cord. Battery can support GPS Activity up to 28/36 days with solar charging. Able to withstand water pressures of up to 100 meters, it makes rain, snorkeling, or just aggressive puddle splashes no problem.
Which operating system is best?
Operating systems and their subsequent compatibility are important to consider with your smartwatch purchase. A popular operating system offered in various smartwatch brands is Google’s Wear OS, brands that use this include Huawei, Fossil, TicWatch and Misfit. Wear OS syncs with your smartphone and aligns with physical sensors that track your fitness and health goals. GPS tracking is possible with Wear OS but not offered in every smartwatch – sometimes you might have to take your phone along for this feature.
Custom operating systems that are developed specifically for certain brands are found in many big brand smartwatches and often are most compatible with specific smartphones. For example, Samsung uses Tizen OS, most recently updated and rebranded as One UI. This custom operating system is open-source, which means that developers can use it and build on it for free, although it’s predominantly found in Samsung smartwatches, fitness trackers, and TVs. While it can be used with both Android and Apple smartphones, it has the most options when paired with Android and Samsung smartphone devices.
Apple is another major brand with its own unique operating system, the watchOS. As is typical with Apple devices, this operating system is designed solely to be used with iOS Apple Smartphones. A plus for iPhone owners is this smartwatch operating system is designed to work seamlessly with that device.
The popular fitness tracker company Fitbit, uses their own FitbitOS for their smartwatches, which works with either Android or Apple smartphones and must be updated and managed through an app installation. Similarly, Garmin smartwatches use their own Garmin OS, which is managed through an app installed on either your Android or iPhone.
Best Android and iPhone-compatible smartwatch: Samsung Galaxy Watch 3
Android And iPhone-Compatible
For those who don’t want to look like they have a computer on their wrist. Amazon
One of the first big pros for the Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 is simply how stylish it looks. It doesn’t initially scream “smartwatch,” so it works no matter your overall aesthetic. But it’s real power comes from the fact that, although designed to work with Samsung phones, it’s actually iOS and Android compatible. That flexibility makes infinitely more functional than a watch that is only compatible with a single OS.
How big is the watch face?
Typically, a larger display makes the watch easier to read and use, and feel easier to control. That being said, we are inherently limited by the size of our individual wrists! In addition to literal size, the quality of display is affected by the quality of the screen. Brightness, retina display, graphics, and font choices, and the user interface all make for a more satisfying user experience, even in a tiny watch face. New features designed to make these small screens more accessible include easy to use zoom features for quicker font and graphic recognition.
Best smartwatch display: Apple Watch Series 6
You Can’t Go Wrong With This
Is swim-proof, with faster access to information, and new health monitoring sensors. Amazon
The newest in the series of Apple smartwatches, the Series 6 is offered in two sizes, the 44mm being the larger option. The addition of an always-on retina display adjusts to become 2.5x brighter when you and your wrist are outdoors—which makes for easier use in direct sun. In addition, the accessibility feature allows for zooming in on font and graphics making displays and text messages easier to read. As with most Apple products the user interface is clean and easy to navigate. Drawbacks include compatibility with only Apple brand smartphones and an approximately 1 day of battery charge with moderate use.
Will you be tracking health and fitness?
When fitness is your main intended use for your smartwatch, we suggest going with a smartwatch designed specifically with this in mind. The most advanced technology available today can do some amazing things! Some smartwatches can now track electrodermal activity and anticipate stress, as well as track your skin temperature, heart rate, blood oxygen levels as well as track steps, stairs, workouts and use GPS technology to analyze your pace and distance traveled. Apps can help suggest workouts, motivate your goals, manage stress, and promote sleep.
While some other smartwatches offer some kind of nod to fitness tech, their offerings are likely OK for the casual fitness enthusiast but won’t satisfy the hardcore. The focus and versatility that comes with a dedicated fitness device will make sure you’re getting the most out of both your smartwatch and your workout.
Best health and fitness smartwatch: Fitbit Sense
Battery Lasts Up To 6 Days
The first name in wearable exercise technology delivers a powerful pick to consider. Amazon
Built around a holistic health program, the Fitbit Sense performs the expected functions such as heart rate and body temperature monitoring, but it also adds sleep pattern regulation and stress management. It allows you to access saved data, and track patterns and irregularities in addition to setting fitness goals.
What level of connectivity do you want?
It may seem like the most basic thing to ask yourself when it comes to a smartwatch, but how easily and reliably it connects to either a base phone or WiFi can mean the difference between a functional device and an expensive accessory. Consider the smartwatch as part of a larger, interconnected system. You’d rather have a device that can seamlessly integrate and play nicely with your existing devices, rather than one that runs independently.
It’s increasingly important as smartwatches themselves become more and more sophisticated. Rather than simply pairing with a phone and mimicking the phone’s functionality, smartwatches can interact with other WiFi- or Bluetooth-connected devices such as external speakers and even your television. The ability to use your smartwatch as a remote control or even as a hub to steam app-based media is fun and unique, and requires a device that has the flexibility and capability to pull it off smoothly.
Eventually, your smart home—and its smart appliances—will all be able to communicate with each other, and many can already be controlled by a smartwatch. New doors are opening in terms of total control being literally an arm’s length away, so you may want to find a watch that gives you a step up.
Best “smart home” smartwatch: Samsung Gear Sport Smartwatch
Turn On Your Smart Lights
Your first step into a larger world of watch-controlled appliances, media centers, and home amenities. Amazon
Not only is the Gear Sport surprisingly swim-ready and water-resistant up to 50 meters, but it also features a Samsung Connect app that allows you to control door locks, lights, and other smart home functions with the press of a button. It features some limited fitness tracking apps and allows you to set up a quick-pay feature through Samsung Pay. Versatile, stylish, and unusually rugged for a smartwatch, it may well never leave your side (or, rather, your wrist).
Brands to know
Although smartwatches generally struggled to get the kind of foothold in popular culture that the iPhone or portable music devices enjoyed, the technology Is still powered by some of the biggest names in tech and innovation. As the product category expands and matures, more adoption is almost certainly likely—in either case, it’s good to know that some of the big guns still feel strongly about its potential.
A name so synonymous with intuitive, sleek tech, the word “iPhone” has almost reached the ubiquity of “Band-Aid” to describe an entire product category. Founded in 1976 as Apple Computers by Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, and Ronald Wayne, it has grown from PCs to handheld devices to, now, music platforms, streaming TV channels, and voice-activated personal assistants. You know the name, you know the logo.
As you can gauge from its original name, ProNav, Garmin staked its claim by creating GPS devices for cars, boats, aircraft, and outdoor activities. It was founded in 1983 by Gary Burrell and Min H. Kao (the company is a portmanteau of their first names – “Gar” + “Min”) and the first customer for their GPS devices was none other than the U.S. military. They have since expanded into wearable tech and other activity-based devices.
A South Korean tech conglomerate powerhouse, Samsung has been manufacturing consumer electronics for decades. In fact, Samsung itself can trace its origins all the way back to 1938, when it was a trading company. They produce everything from Blu-ray players to smart speakers to televisions to smartphones and beyond.
Best budget smartwatch: What You Get for Under $200
There are a lot of choices under $200 in this category, and as a rule of thumb if you only want GPS without cellular the price point goes down. Another cost-saving trick when looking for a deal is to find an older version when newer versions have been released. For example, the Apple Watch version 3 with GPS is a great option for a perfectly good (albeit slightly older model) at a much more reasonable price. The series 3 includes an optical heart sensor, retina display, altimeter, 8GB of storage as well as Bluetooth 4.2 connection.
The smartwatch may not have reached the level of absolute necessity like some other handheld and wearable devices, but its ability to enhance and interact with those must-haves make it an intriguing and, well, fun addition to your tech. Finding one that suits your lifestyle goes beyond just aesthetics. Knowing how and why you want one will help you narrow down your field and ensure you find the right one. For example, if you’re looking to make it a part of your active, daily fitness lifestyle, you’ll want one that can handle it. If you’re looking to eventually control your entire house with a flick of the wrist, you’ll be looking for completely different functionality. The category is also still growing and just testing its limits, so getting used to using one now is never a bad idea.