Google announced in late August a substantial new version of Wear OS, which should roll out to nearly every smartwatch running Android Wear 2.0 as of September 2018. The biggest changes are to the navigation of Wear OS’s homescreen, which means it could make these watches significantly easier to use. The updated UI will give you four primary places to go from your watch face: Swiping left gets you to the new Google Fit and its Heart Points and Move Minutes; swiping right brings you to a hopefully fast-loading, better-responding Google Assistant interface for asking questions or issuing commands; swipe up and you’ll see a long stream of all of your notifications, which you can interact with and respond to; swipe down, as with Wear 2.0, to access quick settings. Google told Engadget that the update focuses on reducing loading times and improving Assistant responsiveness, which addresses some of our major our misgivings about Wear OS. We’ll test this latest Wear OS and update this guide after we have a better sense of the changes.
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).
The style offerings for smartwatches have improved dramatically, and your options are no longer limited to “large, nerdy and round” or “large, nerdy and square.” Still, even with more than 300 Fossil-branded watches planned across 14 major watch and fashion brands, smartwatches are generally much wider and chunkier than standard watches, as the size needed to accommodate the electronics and battery lends itself to bolder, more pronounced styles.
The three buttons on the Q Explorist are useful and responsive, although the middle crown’s button action may be a bit too responsive. The newest versions of Wear OS allow you to set each of the two clicky side buttons (at the 2 and 4 o’clock positions) as a shortcut to any function on the watch when on the home screen. Clicking the center button wakes up the watch and brings you back to your “home” watch-face display, and holding it down activates Google Assistant. The Q Explorist’s center button has a mushier action to it than the Digital Crown on the Apple Watch, and its rotation is stiffer (more on that below), but it works, and turning a crown is easier to do in more situations than continually flicking upward on a touchscreen. The Venture lacks the two side buttons, and its crown cannot turn through lists. While the turning crown is a helpful upgrade, the the Venture’s push-button response is firmer and better than on the Explorist, and its screen response is fast enough to make the lack of physical input tolerable.
For most people, the most useful thing a smartwatch can do is relay phone notifications to your wrist so you can check them without having to pull out and wake up your handset. You can still be distracted by whatever is buzzing you, but it’s easier to quickly see whether something is important or not. Often you can interact with that notification—by acknowledging it, dismissing it, or replying to a message with voice dictation, a pre-written response, or (awkward) finger typing or swiping—right on the watch.
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.
The Martian Passport wants to give you the best of both watch worlds, by offering a mechanical, analog watch face and a small LCD. If you prefer a traditional-looking watch and want the “smart” component to be unobtrusive, this model may work for you. It comes in three varieties, all with silver bezels: a white face with a black or white band or a black face with a black band.
The new Diesel Full Guard 2.5 has a 47mmx56mm casing which is bigger than most Wear OS watches, and there’s a 1.39-inch display at the center of that. This new refresh of the watch also includes NFC for Google Pay support, a heart rate sensor, and built-in GPS. Diesel also says this watch will last two days on a charge from the 300mAh battery. The watch also has 3ATM water resistance.
Some smartwatches have robust offerings of apps, either preinstalled on the watch or available for download in an app store. Apps can be as simple as a timer or stopwatch, or can control your smart-home devices, switch up your music, or provide turn-by-turn directions for walking or driving. In our testing and everyday use, however, these watch apps rarely offer a great experience. But there are some exceptions, including some fitness apps and apps that track things like water or food intake.
The Huawei Watch 2 comes into its own if you’re looking for a smartwatch that can double as a sports watch, thanks to built-in GPS and a heart rate monitor on its rear. Use the 4GB of built-in storage to save your Google Play Music playlists offline and you can pair Bluetooth headphones for a phone-free experience. The Huawei Watch 2 will work with Huawei’s own suite of fitness apps, Google Fit, or other third-party apps such as Strava, offering excellent choice.
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.
Like previous Gear watches, the Gear Sport uses a rotating bezel and two side buttons for most of its navigation. This works better than you’d think by looking at it, and it’s a boon to those who wear gloves for part of the year. In fact, we actually prefer this approach to Wear OS or the Apple Watch: Rotating through your home screens, notifications, lists of apps, or messages happens at remarkable speed for a tiny device. The screen is 1.2 inches and 360 pixels in diameter, but it’s brighter than our pick’s, and it looks decent enough while displaying most content, though text isn’t as sharp as on the Fossil screens. The watch itself is not small, at 43 and 44 millimeters wide and tall, respectively, and 11.6 mm thick, but it’s nowhere near as beefy as our prior pick, the Gear S3.
The base model is crafted from polished stainless steel with a premium calfskin leather band. Other models are available with a titanium casing and alligator leather straps, but they do up the cost quite a bit. All models have a 46mm casing that is 12.5mm thick. Battery life is rated at a day and the watch is IP68 water/dust resistant.Pricing for the Summit starts at a lofty $870 and goes well up from there. Currently, the only place to buy the watch online is via the outlet Mr. Porter, but it’s also available anywhere Montblanc smartwatches are sold in retail locations.
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.
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.
But smartwatches have the innovation advantage these days as most companies making such devices try to develop features that competitors don't have. As a result, fitness trackers have become a bit stale. And after wearing the new Charge 3 for nearly two weeks to see how well Fitbit's gentle marriage of smartwatch and tracker features turned out, it seems the form factor remains radically unchanged—but that's not a bad thing in practice.
Huawei’s Watch 2 looks like a logical follow-up to the original Huawei Watch, a former pick in this guide. It adds built-in GPS capability, plus NFC for mobile payments, and it ships with Android Wear 2.0. The problem is that the Huawei Watch 2’s bezel does not rotate, and it has no rotating crown to take advantage of Android Wear 2.0’s scrolling interfaces. That wouldn’t be so bad if the thick, notched bezel weren’t significantly raised around the screen, making it more difficult than it should be to swipe between screens, scroll through apps, or perform pinpoint taps near the edge of the screen. Beyond that, the watch is thick (12.6 millimeters, or 2.6 mm more than the ZenWatch 3, though that’s still slightly thinner than the original Huawei Watch), and it seems slower to respond to input and to launch apps than other modern Wear OS watches. It doesn’t seem worth its price for most people.
Samsung Gear S3 Frontier: Until we see what Google can pack into a smartwatch with its long-awaited Pixel Watch, the best smartwatch for Android users is the Samsung Gear S3 Frontier. It pretty much has everything a user with an Android phone needs in a smartwatch - GPS, heart rate monitor, water resistance, near field communications, an always-on digital display, messaging alerts and app support. I don’t see a real need to opt for the 3G version yet, which would untether you from your phone completely but adds around $100 to the price. ($549)
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 smart watches 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.