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.

Group-Pic-for-Smartwatch

The 3 Best Smartwatches

The Best Smartwatches: Summed Up

Apple Watch Series 4
Samsung Gear Sport
Fossil Gen 4 Venture HR
Approximate price
$415
$220
$275
Compatibility
iOS
Android, iOS
Android, iOS
Heart rate monitor
GPS
NFC connectivity
Altimeter
Water resistance depth
up to 164 ft.
up to 164 ft.
up to 98 ft.
Battery life
18 hrs
72 hrs
24 hrs
# of available bands
57
24
10
Storage
16 GB
4 GB
4 GB
LTE model
Apple Watch Series 4 GPS + Cellular
Samsung Gear S3 LTE

Apple Watch Series 4 GPS

Best Apple Smartwatch

Apple Watch Series 4 GPS
Apple Watch Series 4
The best smartwatch experience bar none — as long as you have an iPhone.
Pros
Easy-to-use interface
Customization
Sleek design
Best-in-class heart rate sensor
Cons
Only for iPhone users
Short 18-hour battery life

Why we chose it

Easy-to-use interface

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.

Customization

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.

Sleek design

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

Best Android Smartwatch

Samsung Gear Sport
Samsung Gear Sport
This discreet watch emphasizes user-friendly features with easy navigational tools.
Pros
Bezel navigation
Greater customization
Long battery life
Cons
Fewer apps
Less storage

Why we chose it

Bezel navigation

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.

Samsung for Smartwatch

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

Greater customization

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

Fewer apps

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.

Less storage

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

Best Fashion Smartwatch

Fossil Gen 4 Venture HR
Fossil Gen 4 Venture HR
The Venture HR series pairs technology with a variety of styles.
Pros
Ultra-responsive touchscreen
Solid response time
Sophisticated presentation
Cons
Older processor
Only one band for fitness

Why we chose it

Ultra-responsive touchscreen

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.

Sophisticated presentation

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.

Like the Apple Series 4, the Venture HR 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.

Fossil-Options-for-Smartwatch

The Fossil Gen 4 Venture HR series has eleven different models, with a variety of band materials, from slim silicone, leather, and tinted or natural steel. Image: Fossil

Points to consider

Older processor

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.

The 19 smartwatches we tested:
  • Apple’s Watch Series 4 (GPS + Cellular)
  • Asus’ Zenwatch 3
  • Casio’s Pro Trek Smart
  • Diesel’s On Full Guard
  • Emporio Armani’s Touchscreen Smartwatch Art5002
  • Fossil’s Gen 4 Venture HR
  • Huawei’s Watch 2
  • LG’s Watch Style
  • Michael Kors’ Access Dylan Smartwatch
  • Mobvoi’s TicWatch Active
  • Montblanc’s Summit
  • Moto’s 360
  • Movado’s Connect
  • New Balance’s RunIQ
  • Nixon’s The Mission
  • Polar’s M600
  • Samsung’s Gear Sport
  • Samsung’s Gear S3 Frontier
  • Tag Heuer’s Connected Modular 45

Navigation

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.

Scrolling-for-Smartwatch

Testers loved being able to scroll through options rather than constantly swiping but found the bezel mechanism of the Samsungs (left) more convenient than the dial mechanism (shown at right on the LG Watch Style).

Texting

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.

Keyboards-for-Smartwatch

While Samsung brought us back to our pre-smartphone days with an old-school numpad keyboard (left), Android Wear offers the full, if tiny, QWERTY keyboard (right).

Handwriting-for-Smartwatch

The Apple Watch’s took more practice to draw quickly enough to form whole letters, while the Samsung and Android Wear scrolling method sometimes moves more quickly than we can write.

Notifications

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

Consider compatibility

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.

Smartwatches FAQ

Are smartwatches worth it?

A smartwatch is nice to have and it can be a neat buffer when deciding if you want to answer an incoming call or let it go to voicemail. Smartwatches with apps for fitness and travel are also a lot more convenient in some cases than having your smartphone. However, if you prefer to use your iPhone for these and other activities, you probably won’t get much more out of a smartwatch.

Will any smartwatch work with an iPhone?

No. Some smartwatches will work better than others with certain smartphones. In the case of the iPhone, the best match would be Apple Watch. However, the Fossil Venture HR does have some compatibility with iOS devices. As a general rule of thumb, you should let your smartphone dictate the type of smartwatch you buy.

Are smartwatches waterproof?

Most smartwatches are water-resistant, if not technically waterproof. The Samsung Gear Sport and Apple Watch are good to go so long as you don’t go any deeper than 164 feet, and the Venture HR can withstand depths up to 98 feet. In other words, you’ll probably be fine as long as you don’t bring your smartwatch scuba diving.

Which smartwatch has the longest battery life?

The Samsung Gear Sport had the longest battery life out of all the smartwatches that we tested. It clocked in at 72 hours, but that is not always guaranteed. In fact, the battery life of a smartwatch will often fluctuate and vary depending on the apps you have running and any necessary activity (downloading firmware updates). You’ll also drain the battery much faster if you’re using active tracking features found in fitness apps.

Can smartwatches make calls?

Most new smartwatches — including the Apple Watch and Samsung Gear Sport — allow you to make and receive calls from your watch. This can be useful if your phone’s not nearby but you still want to answer an incoming call. In general, though, most users will find it more comfortable to use headphones or a smartphone for longer calls, as it can be awkward to speak into your wrist. Smartwatches can also feel a bit like talking on speaker phone, so they’re best reserved for private spaces.

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