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.
Having a miniature computer strapped around your wrist is no longer a pipe dream. The Apple Watch and other options from popular manufacturers, like Fitbit, Samsung, LG, and Fossil, have been gunning to craft the best smartwatch. Now a few years more mature, the smartwatch market offers more than ever, whether you’re after a particular style, iOS and Android phone compatibility, or just a bunch of features.
Out of a vast field of similar watches, we picked the Q Explorist and Q Venture because of their middle-of-the-road prices, wide availability, and variety of styles. These two models are flagships for the Fossil Group’s collection of 14 style brands producing more than 300 planned smartwatches. This means that if you find a smartwatch from Diesel, Skagen, Tag Heuer, Kate Spade, Movado, or another Fossil-connected brand that fits your style better, you should feel free to buy it, because it will have roughly the same internal hardware as our picks.
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.
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.
(What you think of the Q watches’ design depends on which model you buy, and in which configuration. We tested a Q Explorist in its smoked stainless steel look and a Q Venture in rose gold with leather. But if you don’t like size of these two models or the available styles, you can buy one of more than 300 planned smartwatches from 14 of Fossil’s fashion brands and get the same technology inside, just with different cases, straps, and buttons. There are Kate Spade smartwatches, $200,000 Tag Heuer smartwatches, and many more from Diesel, Skagen, Armani Exchange, and the like, all offered under Fossil Group’s umbrella. You can probably find a smartwatch with a case, band, and look that looks like something you want to wear on your wrist every day, rather than settling for close enough. Fossil’s Q watches, though, hit a good balance of sensible and stylish, with a reasonable price to match.)
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.
We’ve worn dozens of smartwatches and fitness trackers over the course of workdays, workouts, vacations, and the rest of everyday life to see which ones best track your activity, relay your phone notifications, give you access to apps, and do anything else that lets you keep your phone in your pocket. The Apple Watch Series 1 (which works only with iPhones) offers the best combination of style, message handling, apps, battery life, activity tracking, and value. But we also have picks if you use an Android phone, or if you value fitness or distance-sports tracking over style, notifications, and apps.
Samsung’s three second-generation smartwatches arrived with real improvements and refinements. At $300, the Gear 2 is the most sophisticated—and expensive—of the trio. The Gear 2 Neo is basically a less expensive version of the Gear 2: It has similar functionality, but it's housed in a plastic body instead of metal and has no built-in camera. And the slimmer Gear Fit is a hybrid smartwatch and activity tracker.
Flaws but not dealbreakers: Wear OS, Google’s name for Android for smartwatches, still feels like a work in progress, and in our testing, the Google Assistant voice feature frequently dropped responses—though that could improve via software updates. The Q line’s button at the 3 o’clock position is easy to accidentally trigger, bringing up Google Assistant and sometimes sending it nonsense questions. Wear OS also lacks a left-handed mode to allow you to switch the watch around. On the workout front, Fossil Q watches lack a heart rate monitor, so they’re not able to detect workouts or help with pacing; and the size of these models—and most Android smartwatches, really—and the touchscreen interface make workouts more difficult to monitor and pause than with a dedicated fitness tracker.
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.
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.
Our top pick for most people is the Apple Watch Series 4 with GPS (starting at $399), which has a huge display, ultra-fast processor, Raise to Speak Siri, fall detection and a built-in electrical heart rate sensor for taking on-the-go electrocardiograms. It also runs watchOS 5, which makes the watch even more useful with automatic workout-tracking, offline podcast playback and a Walkie-Talkie voice chat feature.