Smartwatches are relatively new gadgets, and their features are continuously improving. Each smartwatch needs to synch to your smartphone to get enhanced features. Once linked, depending on the model of smartwatch, you can forward emails, text messages, GPS directions and more to your wrist. Some smartwatches even have built-in microphones and speakers, allowing you to make phone calls. Calls are routed through your smartphone, just like when using a Bluetooth Headset. The Samsung watch—dubbed the Galaxy Gear—also has an integrated camera, so you can snap spontaneous photos without ever picking up your smartphone. Of course, ever smartwatch also functions as a traditional digital watch when not linked to a smart device. As the technology matures, expect to see more advanced features and perhaps even complete phone functionality built in.
A smartwatch is a wearable computer in the form of a wristwatch; modern smartwatches provide a local touchscreen interface for daily use, while an associated smartphone app provides for management and telemetry (such as long-term biomonitoring). While early models could perform basic tasks, such as calculations, digital time telling, translations, and game-playing, 2010s smartwatches have more general functionality closer to smartphones, including mobile apps, a mobile operating system and Bluetooth connectivity. Some smartwatches function as portable media players, with FM radio and playback of digital audio and video files via a Bluetooth or USB headset. Some models, called 'watch phones' (or vice versa), have complete functionality of a typical smartphone using LTE technology.
The Fitbit Ionic works fine as a Fitbit tracker, but despite being more expensive than our picks or the Apple Watch Series 1, it lacks many smartwatch functions you’d hope to have. It passes notifications from your phone to the watch, but you can only respond to some of them (with only five quick reply lines); and dismissing them (either one by one or as a group) involves annoyingly hard presses and long scrolls. Syncing music files and offline Pandora playlists requires you to use a desktop app, which is laborious. Two Wirecutter writers who tested the Ionic also had trouble setting it up to work with their Android phones (a 2015 Moto X Pure and a 2016 Samsung Galaxy S7) and had to perform significant troubleshooting to get their data to sync. The Ionic’s battery life, even while using GPS for outdoor exercise tracking, is its most impressive feature, lasting at least five days in one test and nearly seven days in another. The Ionic is most useful to Fitbit enthusiasts who want to track outdoor exercise without bringing a phone; it’s not a good option if you’re looking to deal with incoming information.
These new smartwatches build on a pretty familiar package. Both are powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon Wear 2100 processor and run on Wear OS. Both also get GPS, NFC for Google Pay, and heart rate sensors as well. The Venture is the smaller of the two, measuring in at 40mm with an 18mm band. The Explorist, on the other hand, is a 45mm watch with a 22mm band.
Most stores that sell these smart watches 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.
The Passport is versatile in that it works with Android and iOS mobile devices. And it features the ability to make phone calls with its built-in microphone and speaker. You can use voice commands (the Passport leverages your phone's voice recognition system; such as Apple's Siri for iOS devices or Google Now for Android) to control the mobile device from the watch. And because of the analog watch face, you can easily see the time in bright sunlight.
Garmin has been putting out go-to smartwatches for sports lovers for a while now. Running, cycling, swimming, golf - Garmin has had us well and truly covered. Despite the Forerunner name, the 645 Music is more in the mould of the Vivoactive 3 Music. It's got a similar look and also brings the music this time. This helps make the Garmin more of a smartwatch rival to the Apple Watch, Samsung Gear or Fitbit Ionic than before.
That same attractive stainless steel design is here. The 240 x 240 pixel display at the heart of the body is by no means the brightest or most vibrant you'll find, but crucially delivers strong visibility in most workout conditions whether you're sweating it out indoors or outside. However, there is no touchscreen or touchpad here, you'll have to resort to pressing some buttons - that could be a deal-breaker for some, but we're sure it won't be a massive one for most.
The headline features are the new ECG monitor that unlocks the ability for serious heart health monitoring. It's been FDA cleared, so the feature can be used to detect heart rhythm irregularities - however, it's only in the US only for now. There's also a new fall detection mode that can let users access Siri to contact emergency services or a emergency contact. Apple's new smartwatch offers groundbreaking features and an improved design that makes it the standout option for iPhone owners right now.
As far as the number of sports available to track: while it's more of the same, there are some notable exclusions - like golf tracking and open water swimming (pool swimming is a there though). Heart rate monitoring is decent if not class-leading, and it won't keep you waiting around for a GPS signal. There's also all the stress tracking goodies from Garmin's fitness trackers, too. As multi-sport smartwatches go, this is the best in our eyes, and builds on all the good work Garmin did with its previous iterations.
While you're not getting Spotify or Apple Music here, you are getting enough storage for 500 songs with a process that's fairly easy. You just boot up Garmin Express, select the Music tab and choose which of your own music you want to port over. If you do want to sync over playlists from a streaming service, your only options are iHeartRadio and Deezer.
Finding and installing apps is another sore point. Android Wear 2.0 has two ways of installing apps: On the watch directly, which is woefully awkward, or through the Play Store on the Web, which is okay. Watch faces for Wear OS exist in the kind of state Android phone apps were in during their earliest days—all over the place, so good luck searching. Watch makers would do well to include some sensible, category-spanning offerings by default in their devices.
The first digital watch, which debuted in 1972, was the Pulsar manufactured by Hamilton Watch Company. "Pulsar" became a brand name which would later be acquired by Seiko in 1978. In 1982, a Pulsar watch (NL C01) was released which could store 24 digits, making it most likely the first watch with user-programmable memory, or "memorybank" watch. With the introduction of personal computers in the 1980s, Seiko began to develop computers in the form of watches. The Data 2000 watch (1983) came with an external keyboard for data-entry. Data was synced from the keyboard to the watch via electro-magnetic coupling (wireless docking). The name comes from its ability to store 2000 characters. The D409 was the first Seiko model with on-board data entry (via a miniature keyboard) and featured a dot matrix display. Its memory was tiny, at only 112 digits. It was released in 1984, in gold, silver and black. These models were followed by many others by Seiko during the 1980s, most notably the "RC Series": During the 1980s, Casio began to market a successful line of "computer watches", in addition to its calculator watches. Most notable was the Casio data bank series. Novelty "game watches", such as the Nelsonic game watches, were also produced by Casio and other companies.
Its only drawback is its use of Samsung’s own Tizen OS. Tizen is a custom OS that’s based on Linux. On paper it’s pretty good, letting you pair the Gear S2 with any Android smartphone, not just Samsung Galaxy phones. But it’s nowhere near as developed as Wear OS, which itself isn’t perfect. There aren’t nearly as many apps available as the Wear OS app store, but the core functionality is at least present from what is available.
Smartwatches are still a very new thing to a lot of people, and for good reason. You don’t absolutely need one to get through the day, and some of the best smartwatches are much too expensive for many folks out there. With that said, they are good for a lot of things. They can provide you with an easy way to get information, allow you to dismiss or reply to new messages without having to pull out your phone, and much more.
Fossil’s Q Explorist and its smaller-wrist counterpart the Q Venture are well-made, responsive, fashionable Wear OS smartwatches that offer a lot of color and band options, making them the best option around. They ably run Wear OS (more on the pros and cons of Wear OS itself in a bit) and convey your phone’s notifications to your wrist. Their buttons engage with clean clicks, the Explorist’s center crown moves through lists and notifications much more effectively than swiping, and both screens are responsive and clear.
Apple is back with the Apple Watch Series 4, the latest in the smartwatch game that's focused on helping wearers live a healthier lifestyle. Running on Apple’s S4 64-bit dual-core processor and the new WatchOS 5 operating system, it’s twice as fast as its predecessor. Available in two sizes — 40 mm and 44mm — it has a 30 percent larger display than the Series 3 and comes in six different aluminum and stainless steel finishes. New improvements include Walkie Talkie mode and a speaker that is 50% louder than in the Series 3. The microphone has been moved to the watch’s opposite side to reduce noise and create clearer phone calls. The bottom, now made from black ceramic and sapphire crystal for better radio wave transmission, is intended to help with cellular reception and call quality.
Basically, smartwatches are wearable-technology devices that maintain a relatively persistent wireless connection to your mobile device—usually a smart phone—and can receive notifications of incoming calls, texts, instant messages, social-network updates, and more, from that device. Some can also let you accept and conduct phone calls right on the watch. And even newer models (the Samsung Gear S, for one) can act as smart phones all on their own, without needing a paired phone nearby.
Speaking of music, that's what really sets this smartwatch apart (especially compared to Garmin's other wearables). The Vivoactive 3 Music has enough internal storage for 500 songs — and they're easy to download to your device using the Garmin Express software. Once your songs are downloaded, you can listen to music without a smartphone. Just connect some Bluetooth headphones to the watch and you're good to go. If streaming is more your game, then you can also download some popular media apps as well.
Why we like it: Apple Watches are the best smartwatches overall because they make it easier than any other wearable device to interact with the messages and notifications relayed from your iPhone. The Series 1, specifically, has all the features most people need at a reasonable price. It looks better than most smartwatches and fitness trackers, on wrists both large and small, thanks to two sizes and an array of finishes and bands (both official and third party). While not every major iPhone app has an Apple Watch partner app, many do, and most respond quickly and are optimized for the watch’s small screen, unlike many of the apps available for Android watches. And the Series 1 Apple Watch does a good job of independently tracking most kinds of workouts where accurate distance tracking isn’t vital,1 and encourages non-workout fitness (like standing and moving every hour). We also like that the Apple Watch lets you easily make contactless payments using Apple Pay, and if you own a Mac, you can unlock it by just getting close to it with your Apple Watch.
It has all the same core fitness and sports tracking as the Series 3, including built-in GPS and a swimproof design. You can also expect improvements in run tracking and new supported activities like yoga and hiking. It comes packing LTE once again so you can take it out sans iPhone and still make/receive calls, get texts and all other notifications you would on your phone. A new speaker should also make Siri chats and phone calls sound louder and clearer.
If you want the app, notification, and style advantages of an Apple Watch but need better fitness tracking, you can upgrade to the Apple Watch Series 3 and get built-in GPS, as well as waterproofing that allows swim tracking. But the Series 3 costs more than a fitness tracker or even many running watches, and it still has compromises compared with a dedicated fitness tracker, such as a lack of dedicated physical buttons. We think serious athletes are better served by a fitness-specific device.
Bottom line: If health and fitness tracking is your priority, opt for a dedicated fitness tracker that gives you basic time and date information but includes the essentials of health tracking - accelerometer and altimeter, heart rate monitor and GPS chip to track distance and location. Carefully consider your exercise habits to match them to the right fitness tracker.
Flaws but not dealbreakers: The Apple Watch requires an iPhone—if you have another kind of phone, you’re out of luck. While good Apple Watch apps are better than what you get for Android smartwatches, many are still very limited compared with their phone counterparts. And it can get annoying how aggressively the Apple Watch turns off its screen (to save energy) whenever it senses you’ve put your arm down.
While testing the Q Venture, 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.