The Best Smartwatches
How We Found the Best Smartwatches
40 hours of research
19 smartwatches tested
3 top picks
The Best Smartwatches
In order to find the best smartwatch, we looked at text and call features and, of course, design. We dug into tech reviews to separate must-haves from perks. Then, we brought in 19 smartwatches to test for call responsiveness, text-ability, app accessibility, and general ease of use. In the end, three watches stood out for their reliable connectivity, gorgeous interfaces, and easy navigation.
The 3 Best Smartwatches
- Apple Watch Series 4 GPS -
Best Apple Smartwatch
- Samsung Gear Sport -
Best Android Smartwatch
- Fossil Gen 4 Venture HR -
Best Fashion Smartwatch
The Best Smartwatches: Summed Up
|Heart rate monitor|
|Water resistance depth|
|# of available bands|
Apple Watch Series 4 GPS
Why we chose it
Of all the smartwatches we tested, the Apple Watch Series 4 is by far the easiest to use. The touchscreen, button, and dial help you zoom in and out and move between apps, and Apple dramatically expanded the screen size with its latest model. The Series 4 is available in 40 mm and 44 mm (compared to the Series 3’s 38 mm and 42 mm options), but it also gets rid of a sizeable border around the margins, so the screen is actually 30% bigger with only a 2 mm increase in total size. This made it easy to forget that we were typing on a screen roughly the size of an Oreo. We also 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.
Being able to customize the watch faces and layouts made the Series 4 a shoo-in for our list of best smartwatches. Much like you can customize the homescreen on your iPhone, you can change the layout of apps and even display the weather. While you can’t opt for third-party designs, you do have 12 different watch faces to play with. 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.
No surprise, Apple knows what they’re doing when they design a home product. The Series 4 has a crisp, beautiful, high-resolution screen that’s big enough so that you can easily tap the correct keyboard letters, but discreet enough that you don’t feel like you strapped a smart phone to your wrist. And much like the other additions to the Apple suite, the Series 4 is supremely sleek and stylish. Everything from the navigation to the screen layouts has been optimized to utilize the available space.
Best-in-class heart rate sensor
Most smartwatches use blood flow to measure heart rate, but the Apple Watch Series 4 is the first one with a built-in FDA approved electrocardiogram (EKG/ECG). This measures electrical signals in your heart and is typically done in a doctor’s office by attaching sensors to the chest. Simply put, it’s the gold standard for heart rate monitoring, and the Series 4 marks the first time it’s available in a direct-to-consumer product. The smartwatch uses electrodes on the crown and sensors on the back of the watch, allowing it to keep an eye on heart rhythms and send notifications for irregular heart rhythms like atrial fibrillation (AFib), and give you a full ECG in about 30 seconds.
Points to consider
Only for iPhone users
This watch won’t work unless you have an iPhone. However, it is hands-down the best smartwatch for an iPhone. Other watches (including the Fossil Venture HR) 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.
Short 18-hour battery life
One of the biggest drawbacks to the Apple Watch is its relatively short 18-hour battery life. While that might sound like plenty, it rules out one of the most used features on wearable devices: sleep tracking. If you want to collect data on your sleep health, you’re better off going with the Samsung Gear Sport or a dedicated fitness tracker, both of which measure battery life in days rather than hours.
Samsung Gear Sport
Why we chose it
We loved Samsung’s characteristic bezel navigation. Instead of having to swipe your finger across the touchscreen repeatedly, all you have to do is gently twist the bezel. It’s a much smoother way of scrolling through your list and it just feels more natural. The are other side buttons which lie almost flush with the side of the watch, making it difficult for them to catch on sleeves.
Unlike the Apple Series 4, you can get third-party watch faces along with the default options. Many of these third-party faces also come with customizable widgets so you can manage layout without cluttering up your watch. 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.
Long battery life
If you want a smartwatch that tracks your activity without using up the battery, the Gear Sport is one of the best we saw. It lasts for about three days on a single charge, so you can take advantage of the sleep tracking features built into the watch.
Points to consider
Right now, there are not as many apps for the Samsung Gear Sport as you might find with an iOS device like the Apple Series 4. If you prefer the expansive and ever-growing suite of apps like you’ll find on the App Store, then you should steer clear of this smartwatch.
When we compared the storage space of the Samsung Gear Sport with the other contenders, it didn’t have the most. With 4 GB — only a quarter of what you’ll get with the Apple Watch Series 4 GPS — you will have to manage your apps so you don’t run out of room. If you like to carry all of your music with you and you have an extensive library, you might run out of space with the Gear Sport.
Fossil Gen 4 Venture HR
Why we chose it
Despite not having a dial or bezel to twist, or multiple buttons, we found this smartwatch was still 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.
Solid response time
While testing the Venture HR, we found the response time to be pretty solid when it came to calls and notifications. The typical response time for a notification was somewhere around 10 seconds. We were, however, able to immediately ignore calls. This quick response time should give you plenty of time to retrieve your phone from your pocket or fish it out of your purse.
The Venture HR is easily one of the best looking smartwatches we’ve had the pleasure of reviewing. It’s also the most watch-like, since it comes from a brand usually aimed at fashion rather than the latest technology. While we were busy showing off the Luggage Leather version, there’s a plethora of other styles and models you can choose from.
Points to consider
The Venture HR’s biggest drawback is that it uses Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Wear 2100 processor instead of the newer Snapdragon Wear 3100. The new chip would nearly double the battery life (from the Venture HR’s current 24 hours) and introduce an ambient power-saving mode to smartwatches. Still, the Venture HR was smooth and responsive in our tests, and the battery life was still longer than the Apple Watch Series 4.
Only one band for fitness
Most of the smartwatches we got our hands on were clearly designed to do the job of fitness tracker and smartwatch. The Venture HR is an exception. While it does come with fitness features like GPS tracking and heart rate monitoring, it’s built more for fashion than fitness. For one, nine out of the ten available bands are made of leather or stainless steel, making it uncomfortable for extended workouts. And if you do opt for the one silicone band Fossil offers, you’re stuck with a gray color.
How We Chose the Best Smartwatches
Must-have and optional features
First, we looked at features — features we absolutely needed and the ones we could do without. For the must-haves, we looked at connectivity (WiFi and Bluetooth capabilities), apps suite, touchscreen, and battery life. Features like a microphone for speech-to-text and a removable band were a nice touch, but weren’t necessary to make the cut.
We pulled together a list of currently available smartwatches that met these criteria from Apple, Android Wear, and Samsung. Our list included watches from tech brands like Apple, Asus, and Samsung, as well as fashion labels like Fossil, Nixon, and Tag Heuer. Then, we cross-checked with respected review sites, such as Tech Radar and PCMag, as well as tech retailer Best Buy, to make sure we weren’t leaving out any hidden gems.
We actually got our hands on over a dozen of these smartwatches just to get a feel for what it was like to use them. While all of them came with at least one main button (or a home button if you’re an iPhone-user), the ones that stood out had scrolling down to a science. On such a small screen, swiping isn’t always the most ideal form of navigation. Some of the best smartwatches for navigation, we found, had twistable dials or bezels you could turn.
You’d be amazed how hard it is to text something as simple as “hi” on many smartwatch interfaces. Still, most designs take this into consideration. We tested all kinds of watches from auto-scrolling screens where you drew the letters with your finger to pre-smartphone layouts more akin to the alphanumeric layout of a payphone keypad. While the drawing features were nice, we felt that the texting was a little more manageable on keyboards.
Our 19 contenders all promised to give us some distance from our phones by notifying us of incoming calls and texts. But we found that some smartwatches were much slower than others at letting us know we had a call. It turns out the quality of the Bluetooth connection determines how quickly you’ll be notified, with our worst performers only registering the call with two seconds to spare before diverting to voicemail (yes you, Montblanc) while others simply failed to display any calls at all.
How to Find the Right Smartwatch for You
You won’t get much use out of an Apple Watch if you don’t have an iPhone nor any other kind of iOS-enabled mobile device. The same thing goes for the Samsung Gear Sport. And while the Fossil Venture HR does feature some compatibility with Android and iOS devices, it won’t mix well if you’re a Samsung customer. The smartphone you use will ultimately determine which smartwatch you get the most value from.
Think about how you use your smartphone
Many of these smartwatches work with your smartphone rather than just outright replacing it. Others, like the Samsung Gear Sport can work just as well solo. Do you stream music? Do you use your GPS for all your little excursions? While these are tasks easily handled by most modern smartphones, if you intend to use your smartwatch in a similar fashion, you’ll want to make sure you choose one that can keep up with your phone.
Test some out
Most stores that sell these smartwatches feature display models that you can pick up and touch. We recommend getting a feel for how these watches operate before you invest in one of your own. Specifically, you’ll want to know the form of navigation each of these use to go through the various screens, apps, and functionalities. We were partial to twistable bezels and dials, but you might be used to swiping your way through screens.
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