The 30-Second Review

The best smart watch lets us keep our phone at arm’s distance, letting us know of texts and calls while remaining a sometimes incognito fashion accessory. We dug into tech reviews to separate must-haves from perks and then brought in 19 smart watches to test for ourselves call responsiveness, text-ability, app accessibility and general ease of use and comfort. While the right smart watch for you depends largely on the type of smartphone you have, three watches stood out for their reliable connectivity, gorgeous interfaces, and easy navigation.

Best Apple Smart Watch

With the largest screen and smallest profile of our top picks, the square face and sporty band mean the Apple Watch stands out as far more than an ordinary watch. We loved its high-tech appearance and features, and easy navigation.

The Apple Watch only works with iPhones, and while it comes with a cellular version, we prefer the GPS-only edition. The Apple Watch 3 (GPS+Cellular) means your watch can operate independently of your smartphone (by being connected directly to your cellular network), but this greatly shortens your battery life to a few hours, instead of a full day.

Best Android Smart Watch

The Samsung Gear Sport matches high-tech build quality with an intuitive layout and multiple navigational tools (including a rotating bezel). Its look is more tech than fashion (read: black on black), but remains indiscreet for most occasions.

Best Fashion Smart Watch

Fossil Q Venture Series
An immediate tester favorite for its sophisticated and versatile look, the Q Venture series has nine models with the same technology. While it only uses one button to the Samsung’s two plus bezel, we loved its beautiful screen, quick response time, and intuitive navigation.

The Best Smart Watch

Our three top picks all have high-quality touchscreens that look beautiful and are responsive to taps, swipes, and scribbles. Additionally, they all scored well in our connectivity test, sending us notifications of calls and texts within a few seconds of our phones receiving them. Testers loved the look and feel of them, and it’s easy to find new bands to swap out your style. To choose between them, you’ll want to take into consideration the type of smartphone you have, and whether you prefer an emphasis on tech or fashion.

While Apple’s proprietary software means this watch only works with iPhones (and vice-versa, iPhones work best with this watch), the Apple Watch ($330) stood out in testing for its versatile and easy navigation with its touchscreen, dial, and button. Small details, like being able to zoom in to look at apps, and dozens of customization options, ensured the Apple Watch was a tester favorite. Though its square touchscreen won’t blend in as an “everyday” watch — it looks solidly tech — we loved visually crisp and beautifully clear images and icons.

The Samsung Gear Sport ($300) has a similarly gorgeous screen to the Apple and Fossil and can be used with any Android or Samsung phone. We loved the Samsung for being easy to navigate: the touchscreen responds to our every, well, touch, the Gear Sport has two buttons, one for waking the watch up, and the other for accessing the main app page. But it’s the rotating bezel (the metal ring running on the outer edge of the watch’s face), which scrolls through various options, that reduces finger fatigue and makes the Sport one of the easiest watches to use.

The Samsung Gear Sport is similar to the Apple Watch in that they are both slim, high-tech smart watches with a solid-black color scheme for the default band and casing. But if you’re looking for a smart watch with more options and aesthetic appeal, we loved Fossil’s Q Venture series ($255–$275, depending on band style). The Fossil Q Ventures' nine style options (compared to Apple’s four and Samsung’s two) make it easy to find your ideal look beyond simply “themes of gray.” We also loved the Q Venture’s highly responsive touchscreen— a good thing, since that’s its primary source of navigation (its solitary button will only wake up the watch and open the main app page). We liked this watch out of the box for its immediate sense of style, and fell in love with how it matches its high-quality look with high-quality performance.

Our Top Picks for The Best Smart Watch

Best Apple Smart Watch

Apple Watch Series 3 GPSThis slender smart watch looks high-tech with a performance to match.

The Apple Watch was a tester favorite thanks to its high-tech appearance, easy navigation, and for being the most immediately customizable watch (no third-party apps required). In tests, Apple did well, with an average call response time of 9 seconds. We also loved that we could even answer phone calls through the watch, thanks to its tiny speaker. Some other watches have the option of “answering,” but all this does is answer the call on your phone, subjecting the person on the other end to the sounds of you rustling through your purse or jacket pocket for it.

Apple Watch for Smartwatch

The Apple Watch 3 has a sleek and streamlined design, from its slim band down to its small wireless charge cable.

We liked how this watch balances its multiple navigation options without losing its streamlined feel and appearance. The touchscreen, button, and dial (what Apple calls the “crown”) help you zoom in and out and move between apps fairly effortlessly. With this easy navigation it’s easy to forget we’re typing on a screen slightly smaller than an Oreo. In particular, we loved Apple’s app homepage, which displays all of the apps as icons in a honeycomb-like display. You can use the touchscreen to move around, and the dial to zoom in or pan out, to precisely tap on the one you want.

Home-screens-for-Smartwatch

The app homepage for Apple Watch (left) lets us see all of our apps at a quick glance, while the standard Android Wear home page (center) has a long scrolling list, and the Samsung displays them in a neat dial formation (right).

We also loved its beautiful, high-resolution screen, and particularly appreciated how customizable the Apple Watch is. While you can’t opt for third-party designs, you have 12 different watch faces to play with. You can tinker with color schemes, add or remove widgets (called “complications” on the app), and decide whether you want to have all twelve faces available on your watch (we always like having options), or cut back. Some of the faces are more customizable than others: the “Solar” isn’t customizable, but shows the Sun’s progress through the sky, while the “Modular” lets you choose your five most important apps, data, or notifications to list.

The Apple Watch’s main limitation is that it is, well, Apple. This watch won’t work unless you have an iPhone. However, that said, this is the best smart watch for an iPhone. Other watches (including the Fossil Q Venture, but not the Samsung) will work with an iPhone, but won’t be able to answer calls or respond to texts, and if you want to customize the apps on your watch, you’ll need to navigate the Google Play store through the watch screen. It’s doable, but brings up some frustration to find and select the right app on the tiny screen.

While the Apple Watch 3 offers an LTE version (for $70 more) that adds cellular capacity independent of your smartphone, this technology is more novel than it is useful. It dramatically reduces the day-to-day practicality of this smart watch, sapping an already limited 18 hrs of battery life (the Samsung has up to 72 hrs) down to a meager 3 hrs. If you can see yourself needing a few hours here and there without your phone but with all your connectivity, consider the cellular version (you can always turn off the LTE function to conserve battery when not needed). But for most people we recommend saving the $70 by getting the GPS only version.

Best Android Smart Watch

Samsung Gear SportThis indiscreet watch emphasizes user-friendly features with easy navigational tools.

During our testing, none of our watches beat the Samsung’s almost instantaneous notification times. In fact, sometimes the call showed up on our Sport before our phone. The Sport averaged six seconds for response time — well under the overall average ten seconds, and leagues away from the Movado Connect’s 20-second average.

Samsung for Smartwatch

We also liked how the Samsung watches wireless charger comes as a little stand, so you can keep your smart watch charging on your night stand instead of your alarm clock.

Samsung Also Offers A Cellular Capable Version of the Gear S3 The LTE version for the Samsung Gear S3 has better success because of the incredible 72-hour battery life of the base version. LTE still drastically cuts this battery life to ten hours, but that’s enough to get us through the workday, not just our commute.

We loved Samsung’s characteristic bezel navigation. Instead of having to swipe repeatedly to get through a list of options, gently twisting the bezel helps us to quickly scroll through a list. The two side buttons lie almost flush with the side of the watch, making it difficult for them to catch on sleeves. The top one wakes up the watch, while the bottom one opens the home page for apps.

Additionally, we loved using the Samsung’s app page. While you can’t beat Apple’s app home page for how cool it looks (and the ability to zoom in and out is rather neat), we appreciated Samsung’s dial-like presentation of apps. While you can tap on the small icons forming a ring on the screen of your Samsung, you can also use the bezel to scroll to the one you want, and then tap on the large empty space in the center of the ring to open the app. This small convenience is the difference between what can feel like pixel hunting, and actually opening the app you want with the first tap.

Samsung-Gear-Sport-navigation-for-Smartwatch

The Samsung also offers custom watch faces (both native and third party), some of which have customizable widgets. In addition, you can also get immediate access to apps without cluttering up the watch face. From the homepage (which displays the time and date), you can twist the bezel to access fitness tracking data, like steps taken and calories burned, check the weather, change the song you’re listening to, or use any number of custom widgets.

Samsung Comparison for Smartwatch

We also tested the Gear S3, Samsung’s non-sporty predecessor. Both watches performed almost identically, but testers preferred the Sport over the S3 for its smaller watch face, slimmer casing, and skinnier band. Both bands are made from a comfortable silicone (replacements are also readily available), and have identical navigation techniques.

Best Fashion Smart Watch

Fossil Q VentureThe Q Venture series pairs technology with a variety of styles.

Out of the box, we were drawn to the Q Venture’s sophisticated appearance. In the world of smart watches, it’s one of the most watch-like, which we more or less expected, since it comes from a brand usually aimed at fashion rather than the latest technology. We tested the Luggage Leather version which has a narrow silver-tinted watch face casing and a light brown leather band, although Fossil has a whole Q Venture series with a variety of style options. Unlike Apple, which offers four band options (light gray, dark gray, black, and light pink) or Samsung’s two options (black or blue), the Q Venture series has nine designs. We liked how Fossil’s options seem to represent more thoughtful decisions on what someone likes in a watch, rather than dipping the same band into different paint buckets.

Fossil-Options-for-Smartwatch

The Fossil Q Venture series has nine different models, with a variety of band materials, from slim silicone, leather, and tinted or natural steel. Image: Fossil

With a streamlined profile, the Q Venture only has one button, which turns the watch on/off or enters the app selection page with a light press. Despite not having a dial or bezel to twist, or multiple buttons, testers found this smart watch easy to navigate. This is due in part to its responsive touchscreen. With gentle pressure, you can drag the screen down to open settings, and with light flicks, you can skim through the app list to quickly find the one you want.

Fossil for Smartwatch

Like Apple, the Q Venture uses a small wireless charge button that magnetically attaches to the back of the watch. It detaches a little too easily though, so you’ll want to keep the cord resting on a table than draping down to an outlet.

In tests, the Q Venture was solidly average, with a typical response time of 10 seconds to receive a notification. While we can immediately ignore a call if we choose, this quick response time gives us plenty of time to retrieve our phone from our pocket or fish it out of our purse.

The Q Venture does have a few limitations when compared to the Apple Watch 3 or the Samsung Gear Sport. It doesn’t have NFC connectivity, so you won’t be able to link credit cards to your smart watch and pay by holding the watch close to an NFC reader. While the Q Venture does have the fitness tracking software that comes standard with Android Wear watches, the device itself primarily counts steps and relies on your phone for distance. Unlike the Samsungs and the Apple Watch, it doesn’t have a heart rate monitor or GPS capabilities. But if you’re looking for a smart watch that looks more high fashion than high tech (while still being both), you won’t regret Fossil’s Q Venture.

Other Smart Watches to Consider

Our top picks are our favorites because they connect reliably and quickly, offer easy navigation, and are versatile enough to wear at the office or a backyard get-together. But two honorable mentions go to the LG Watch Style and the Casio Pro Trek Smart. Both did well in our response test — the LG Watch Style actually had a fast average response time (5 seconds), sometimes beating our phone to the punch on which device notified us first. While the Casio is the most expensive smart watch we recommend, it comes with some cool features. It’s perfect for the rugged adventurers among us, and we just couldn’t pass up the chance to talk about it.

LG Watch StyleThis smart watch impressed us with its speedy performance but needed help in the style department.

The LG Watch Style ($250) was almost a top pick. It has one of the fastest call notification times (within 6 seconds), sometimes beating out our smartphone in the race to notify us first. It’s easy to use, and only has a single button, which also works as a dial. With a click, you can open up your apps and then simply twist to scroll through.

However, the band is its weakest link. Each band piece connects stiffly to the casing, so instead of molding to your wrist, the watch is lifted slightly away your arm. The material feels like cheap fake leather, which testers struggled to bend in order to put on the watch -- it also showed signs of wear almost immediately. While it’s easy to find new bands for this watch, this quickly raises the overall cost of the LG Watch Style.

Casio Pro Trek SmartThis watch has unique features to keep you on track in the outdoors while hiking, skiing, or surfing.

The Casio Pro Trek Smart ($500) might just be the perfect smart watch for the adventurers among us. We loved how wholeheartedly Casio went in for customizing its smart watch for the outdoors. The watch has two buttons in addition to the main on/off/apps button. One takes you directly to a compass and altimeter, and the other to a real-time GPS map of your location. You can search around the map and annotate it with voice or star marks on interesting points. The Casio also has a good notification response time, right on average at 10 seconds. In addition to the standard Android Wear apps, the Casio also comes with the “Moment Setter” app, where you can customize your watch to track your activities or alert you about high or low tides, how far you’ve traveled, or what time the sun rises or sets.

This watch is also wholeheartedly large — even the largest wrists in our office found it a little overbearing. Another caveat is that it’s the only watch whose charging cable came with a warning. If the USB end of the cable is plugged in and the adapter touches any other metal object but the designated spot on the watch, it can cause a short circuit. Since the adapter is magnetic, we expect that even with great care, we’ll eventually have a short circuit happen to our computer or outlet.

Feature Comparison Chart

All of our top picks and runners-up meet our basic requirements: they have a touchscreen, have Bluetooth and WiFi connectivity, offer apps, and have a battery life long enough to get you through the day. While none of the following features are mission critical (your smart watch will work well without them), they are nice perks to make your smart watch more versatile.

Apple Watch 3 (GPS) Samsung Gear Sport Fossil Q Venture LG Watch Style Casio Pro Trek Smart
Price $329 $299 $255-275 $179 $500
Phone Compatibility Apple only Android, Samsung Android, Samsung, and Apple (limited) Android, Samsung, and Apple (limited) Android, Samsung, and Apply (limited)
Battery Life 18 hrs 72 hrs 24 hrs unknown 24 hrs
NFC Connectivity Apple Pay Samsung Pay No No No
Speaker Yes Yes No No No
Microphone Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Water Resistance Rating 5 ATM 5 ATM IP67 IP67 5 ATM
GPS Yes Yes No No Yes
Heart Rate Monitor Yes Yes No No No
Removable Band Yes Yes Yes (for leather versions) Yes No
Screen Shape Square Circular Circular Circular Circular
Navigation Tools Touch, dial button, button Touch, bezel, two buttons Touch, button Touch, dial button Touch, three buttons
Charging Style Wireless (flat button) Wireless stand Wireless (flat button) Wireless cradle Proprietary plug
Storage 16 GB 4 GB 4 GB 4 GB 4 GB
LTE Connectivity Versions Available Yes No (but the Samsung Gear S3 does) No No No

The Best Smart Watch: Summed Up

Smart Watch The Best
Apple Watch Series 3
Smart Watch for Apple
Samsung Gear Sport
User-Friendly Smart Watch for Android
Fossil Q Venture
Fashion Smart Watch for Android