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.
Next is the big focus on health and fitness. The Apple Watch can monitor your heart rhythm and suggest you see a doctor if it detects something irregular, it can call the emergency services you've fallen over, and it will keep you healthy by tracking your run. These potentially life saving features are a major reason people are ditching their traditional watches for an Apple Watch.
Smartwatches, like smart phones, can also run apps, via your smart phone or right on the watch. These include health and fitness apps (thus the comparison with activity trackers), apps that control functions such as music and the camera on your phone, navigation apps, and more. Because most smartwatches have open software platforms (at least so far), developers are coming up with new and innovative apps that can increase the functionality of the devices.
Several of them also now support wireless charging which is hugely valuable as you avoid adding yet another cable and cradle to your dresser. Wireless charging pads are on the market that will charge your compatible iPhone and watch at the same time, and Apple is set to release its own official charging pad dubbed AirPower. Wireless charging is also available for Samsung smartphones and smartwatches.
Waterproof to 165 feet and tested to military standards for durability, it includes features like a digital compass, altimeter, and barometer that you won’t find in most other smartwatches, as well as more standard tools such as GPS. The WSD-F20 can also function as a flashlight — handy in an emergency — and lets you download maps for offline navigation when you’re far from the nearest cell signal.
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.
Battery life and charging options: Charging your smartwatch is a hassle and the biggest downside to trading in your manually-wound or button battery-powered watch. A Fitbit Versa might last 3 - 4 days between charges, but a smartwatch like the Samsung Gear Sport or Apple Watch will need recharging every couple of days and sometimes every night if you are tapping on the screen regularly and using its apps.
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. While the Q Venture 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 smart watch you get the most value from.
The Galaxy Watch comes in two sizes, 46mm and 42mm, both with an OLED display and an “optimized” chipset that extends battery life. For the larger model, you can squeeze 6 days out of a single charge while the smaller model still offers up to 4 days. As you’d expect, the Watch also includes features like GPS, water resistance, and there’s NFC for Samsung Pay.
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.
The watch faces themselves are classic Kate Spade designs. You get a sultry winking moon face with perfectly curled lashes, calling you a leading lady; cute bubbly balloons for a digital watch face with numbers; a speeding cab that reassures you that you'll be there in a New York minute; and a daisy that loses petals as the time ticks away in a classic game of "He loves me; he loves me not."
All but the Martian Notifier claim some degree of water resistance: the LG, Samsung, and Motorola models can survive underwater up to 1 meter for 30 minutes, the Cookoo2 up to 100 meters, and the MetaWatch up to 3ATM, which is equivalent to 30 meters. Only the Martian and Motorola models claim to have scratch-resistant screens (the Martian has an anti-scratch acrylic crystal and the Moto 3 uses Gorilla Glass 3).
Bottom line: Some fitness trackers work equally well with an iPhone or Android device, but some smartwatches are built to pair with Android phones so you won’t enjoy full functionality and pairing on an iPhone. The Apple Watch only pairs with the iPhone so is off limits to Android users. Your existing phone choice will play an important part in choosing a smartwatch. You can check your smartphone’s compatibility with a range of Google Wear-powered smartwatches at g.co/WearCheck
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.
While internal hardware varies, most have an electronic visual display, either backlit LCD or OLED or Hologram. Some use transflective or electronic paper, to consume less power. Most have a rechargeable battery. Peripheral devices may include digital cameras, thermometers, accelerometers, pedometers, heart rate monitors, altimeters, barometers, compasses, GPS receivers, tiny speakers, and SD cards, which are recognized as storage devices by many other kinds of computers.
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.
Samsung treads between smartwatch and fitness tracker, also packing in a heart rate sensor along with that GPS and its much-improved Samsung Health software. There's also the option of LTE (coming soon), if you wish for an untethered connection, with a standalone speaker for taking calls on the watch. It's now waterproof, too, adding swim tracking skills that are on par with the Watch Series 4.
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.
I’ve worn a smartwatch almost daily for nearly five years as of this writing. I often feel that it keeps me alert to what’s happening, especially for things like texts from my wife and close friends, alarms that a parking meter is nearly expired, or reminders that dinner needs to start marinating or roasting. It has also encouraged me to get moving and take a walk when I’d otherwise stay in place. Sometimes it has made me feel rude, distracted, or overly attached to whatever little blip comes next. It has come in handy on my bike, and it has distracted me when I’m driving my car. Some of this can be better handled through settings and filters, but some of it comes from human nature.
Dealing with notifications on a Wear OS watch has gotten better as the phone version of Android has improved its already impressive notification system and as phone app developers have taken advantage of new interactions. Many apps now send notifications with action options: For example, you can check a to-do as done, approve a payment, respond to a message, or, most often, just acknowledge something. The Q Explorist and Venture are no different than most Wear OS watches in relaying notifications, but in our testing they rarely showed lag in processing them, nor was either watch’s screen unresponsive to swiping or tapping options. Each watch’s vibration motor provides just enough buzz and movement to avoid missing things while not feeling like electric collar training for humans.
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.
Aside from its display, the Ticwatch Pro is a pretty standard offering in the Wear OS world. It’s powered by the same Snapdragon Wear 2100 chipset, has a 400×400 1.39-inch OLED display, and has a 45mm casing. There’s also a 415mAh battery inside which charges with a magnetic charger. There’s also IP68 water/dust protection, and NFC for use with Google Pay.
Plus, these smartwatches are made by Fitbit, so they’re incredible fitness and health trackers. They both offer 24/7 heart rate tracking, on-screen workouts with Fitbit Coach, over 15 exercise modes, GPS (Connected GPS in the Versa’s case), and swim tracking thanks to their 5ATM rating. There’s also room to store your music, as well as Fitbit Pay support (Ionic and Special Edition Versa only).
Wirecutter writers have been researching, testing, and writing about smartwatches since early 2013, just after the first Pebble watches were shipped to Kickstarter backers. I’ve personally worn nearly every notable smartwatch since that first Pebble and have written about them for a number of publications, including IT World and Fast Company. I also have extensive experience with Android phones, having written the (since outdated) Complete Android Guide and numerous articles about Android. I also contribute to and help edit the Wirecutter guide to the best smartwatch for iPhones.
Google confirmed to Tom's Guide that the company won't be releasing its own Wear OS smartwatch this year. The news comes after months of rumors that a Google-branded Pixel Watch running on Qualcomm's latest processor would be launched at Google's October hardware event. Instead, Google plans to focus on adding features to Wear OS on the software side and support the companies who are currently making Android smartwatches. Google's hardware event is Oct. 9.