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.
You can choose from five different watch faces for the Charge 3, making it less customizable than the Ionic or the Versa. Those smartwatches have the advantage of running Fitbit OS, which includes a library of many third-party-developed watch faces. The Charge 3 isn't a smartwatch, so its version of Fitbit's software isn't as robust as what we see on the Ionic and the Versa. It's not as critical for the Charge 3 since it isn't designed to run more than a few basic apps, but those looking for interesting watch faces will have to do with just a handful of options.
As mentioned, the rotating crown on the Q watches is a bit stiffer than it should be. This makes it somewhat more difficult to spin through notifications or scroll through a longer bit of text with the tip of one finger. The fix is to push the crown forward or backward from a lower angle, or roll more of your finger over it. It’s easier to turn with two fingers, but that’s definitely not a convenient gesture; you’ll likely just learn to get the rolling right.
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.
My personal favorite watch for Android on the market today actually isn’t an Android Wear device, rather coming from Samsung and running atop Tizen. The Samsung Gear S3 Frontier is all the smartwatch you’ll ever need, with a sporty, circular gray design with a 1.3-inch Super AMOLED display that is the best I’ve personally ever used and is protected by Corning Gorilla Glass SR+.
This watch won’t work unless you have an iPhone. However, it is hands-down the best smart watch for an iPhone. Other watches (including the Fossil Q Venture) 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.
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.
Garmin, known primarily for its GPS and fitness devices, has taken one step closer to full-featured smartwatches with their Vivoactive 3 Music. This model doesn't run on Wear OS (Google's increasingly-popular OS for wearables), but it does offer thousands of free apps, watch faces, and more via Garmin’s ConnectIQ store. The Vivoactive 3 Music also comes preloaded with 15 sports apps to monitor your progress whether you're running, swimming, lifting, or doing yoga — because, at its core, Garmin is still all about fitness tracking
I’ve had the Samsung Gear S3 classic for a few months now. There are lots of apps now available including a music app which allows you to save and play as many tracks as the sizeable built in memory will allow you to save to the watch. The in-built speaker is high quality for making and receiving calls and of course listening to music, but a Bluetooth headset makes all the difference.
Other reviewers also like the Q watches. Simon Hill at Digital Trends writes that the Q Explorist is “an attractive smartwatch to use with an Android phone that will blend in at work or play at an affordable price,” and that, aside from the Apple Watch and the Gear Sport (for Samsung phone owners), the Q Explorist “compares favorably with the rest of the field.” Gerald Lynch at TechRadar summarizes the Venture as “a sharp-looking, comfortable smartwatch with a great display and responsive processor,” but knocks it for lacking GPS and a heart-rate monitor. Matthew Miller at ZDNet believes the Explorist and Venture are “priced fairly for nice looking fashion watches that also serve as smartwatches.”
Wear OS comes with a focus on fitness features, but unfortunately Huawei managed to simultaneously move too far in this direction and also fall short of it. It doesn’t come with a rotating side button for navigation, which is a shame as we really love the button on the LG Watch Sport. It does, however, come with great battery life and a stellar feature set otherwise.
Finally, Wear OS has a problem that’s seemingly random and hard to understand: “Can’t reach Google at the moment.” Having tested at least a dozen Wear OS watches, we can say that an unexplained failure when using voice commands is the most common negative trait for all of them. It’s impossible for the layperson to understand which part of the watch-to-phone-to-Internet relay is falling down, but it can happen at any time, even right after you’ve used the watch to do something else successfully. When Google Assistant is made the center of Android watches, not being able to reach Google Assistant lowers the value of that watch considerably.
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.
To charge the watch, you have to clip on the charger and align it with contacts that you can't see when you're clipping. Why make it so complicated? There's no NFC for easy pairing, and you have to find the smartwatch app in the app market, download it, and install it on your mobile device. The Frame's display readability in bright sunlight was judged to be only good. It's relatively heavy, at 2.7 ounces (only the Toq is heavier).
Fitbit Versa: The Fitbit is the health tracker for the masses and they have a model for every need. But the best option for adults who do a moderate amount of exercise and just want to keep tabs on their general fitness (ie: most of us), the Fitbit Versa is a great choice. It's an entry-level smartwatch. For more on the Fitbit Versa’s various attributes, read my in-depth review. ($350)
Most smartwatches have a fitness component for the very good reason that a watch is moving with you throughout the day. For counting steps, encouraging activity, and tracking occasional long walks, runs, or bike rides, most smartwatches will do fine. If you want a device to track your everyday runs or cycling sessions, you want a GPS running watch. If you’re serious about tracking and improving your movement and sleep, a fitness tracker will do that for less money and look more discrete doing so (and if you have health insurance, you may get a discount or incentives to use one). There are smartwatches that lean heavily toward sports and fitness in their marketing, but there are drawbacks to each of them not found in a dedicated device. At the other extreme, if you all you really need is step counting, a hybrid smartwatch—with an analog face like a traditional watch, but with built-in motion sensors and months-long battery life—may be a better option.
Apple has announced the Apple Watch Series 4. It’s the first real redesign of the wearable since Apple introduced it in 2014, but the changes aren’t so drastic that you won’t recognize it as an Apple Watch. The Series 4 comes with an upgraded display, and you can choose either a 40mm or 44mm model. Even though the screens on the new models are bigger, the overall body of the Watch is roughly the same as previous models, so you shouldn’t notice much of a difference on your wrist.
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.
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.
Why we like it: Fossil’s Q Explorist and Venture watches are good-looking watches with a decent range of case and band options, and decent responsiveness and battery life—this is high praise given the current state of Android smartwatches. They can track steps, control music playback, give you turn-by-turn directions on your wrist, and allow you to respond to messages with your voice or quick-reply taps. But these two models are not unique: The Fossil Group offers an array of more than 300 smartwatches under different fashion brands—including Diesel, Skagen, Tag Heuer, Kate Spade, and Movado—that have essentially the same internal components and software, so you can pick the watch design you like best.
Wrist watches have been fashion accessories since they were first invented. The first generation of smartwatches were dull, chunky looking devices, more functional than fashionable. How things have changed. You can select from thousands of watch faces and even design your own. Wrist straps can be swapped out and designers have come up with clever quick-release clasps for them, knowing that the need to charge your watch regularly will see you needing to remove it quickly.
Of the scores of Wear OS by Google (also called Wear OS, and formerly Android Wear) smartwatches that function nearly the same, the Fossil Q Explorist and Fossil Q Venture are the ones we recommend for most people. Similar models that differ mainly in size and design, these two Fossil watches offer style and band options for the widest range of tastes while performing as well as (or better than) anything else out there. They handle notifications and your responses without delay, provide all-day battery life, swiftly handle voice transcription and Google Assistant questions, and provide casual fitness tracking. Their buttons and screens are responsive. They look and feel like good watches, too, which is something we think most people want from a smartwatch at this point.
What’s on display?: Most smartwatches have full-colour displays, though the underlying technology will determine how good the screen looks. There has been a move towards AMOLED (active matrix organic light emitting diode) displays, as used in the Apple Watch which present a bright screen, crisp text and accurate colours. Fitness trackers tend to have lower-quality screens and may not present in full-colour, partly to save battery life.
If you’re trying to decide which one is right for you, allow us to help. The Versa is smaller and looks good on most wrist sizes, while the Ionic is probably best for large wrists. The other main difference is GPS connectivity — the Ionic comes with built-in GPS, while the Versa does not. However, you can pair it with your smartphone if you don’t mind bringing it with you on a run.
Many of these smart watches work with your smartphone rather than just outright replacing it. Others, like the Samsung Gear Sports 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 smart watch in a similar fashion, you’ll want to make sure you choose one that can keep up with your phone.