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+.
If you don’t need your smartwatch to look business-casual, you want more fitness and exercise features than our top pick, or you’re a Samsung loyalist, the Samsung Gear Sport is a better pick for you. (You can use the Gear Sport with non-Samsung phones, but doing so requires that you install at least four apps.) The Gear Sport handles all the casual notification and message-triage functions of a smartwatch about as well as our top pick—with the exception of voice transcription—but it adds heart-rate monitoring, GPS tracking, swim tracking, and built-in reminders to move throughout the day. It doesn’t do all of these things perfectly, but it does just enough to make for a generally useful smartwatch, with great battery life and a clever interface.
The Gear 2 also includes a gyroscope, an accelerometer, and a heart-rate sensor. It also can control a TV or set-top box remotely using a built-in IR blaster, and it has the ability to function as a stand-alone music player. And its built-in camera—handily built into the watch itself rather than on the band, like the original Galaxy Gear—takes 2-megapixel stills and 720p video.
Although rectangular is the most common design, there are smart watches that have a circular display similar to regular watches. The Apple Watch is only available in the rectangular design. The circular design is available in the Samsung Gear S2, Moto 360, and LG G Watch R models. Many models have changeable straps, so you can dress casual, sporty, and formal.
Fossil introduced its fourth generation of smartwatches, the Q Explorist HR and Q Venture HR, upgraded versions of our current picks at the same respective prices. These editions of the watches add untethered GPS, NFC for Google Pay purchases, and heart-rate monitoring. Fossil also claims that they’re waterproof enough for swimming. However, both use an aging Qualcomm Snapdragon Wear 2100 chip when a newer version is expected to arrive in September.
For a device that gives you more of the functionality you enjoy with your smartphone, you’ll want to opt for a dedicated smartwatch. The leading players at the moment are the Apple Watch for iPhone users and the Samsung Gear S3 for those with Android phones. Apple Watch has its own operating system, Samsung employs its Tizen OS, and a host of other smartwatches use the Google Wear operating system.
Aside from its jack-of-all-fitness-trades, master-of-none nature, the Gear Sport has other drawbacks. Chief among them is that voice dictation is significantly less reliable than on the Apple Watch or Wear OS and is best used for short phrases and quick replies. Then there’s S Voice, the digital assistant that can’t do much—and you probably don’t have time to learn how to make it do the few things it can do. And major apps still do not have a presence in Samsung’s marketplace—the Sport runs Samsung’s Tizen operating system instead of Wear OS—so any app or device you want to control directly on your phone is a gamble on an indie developer having the same need.
It's also very bulky. Sitting at 46mm wide might not sound like much, but then you have the depth, and there's a lot of it here. In fact, if we had to pick one criticism of the Watch Sport it's that it crams so much in, it does so to its detriment. The size will be too overbearing for many, but the pay-off in size means that most of the great features of the Watch Sport have been discarded.
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.
Wear OS’s chief problem, as we see it, is that it relies too much on input from swipes, taps, and other finger gestures. On a largish screen, such as on our top pick, this is less of a problem, but on smaller devices, trying to hit just the right button on the screen is like playing a very small version of Duck Hunt. The Apple Watch, by comparison, makes most of its buttons screen-wide rounded rectangles, which are easier to hit. On newer watches with three buttons, Wear OS also doesn’t utilize the physical controls beyond the home display (watch face), where they serve as shortcuts to apps or a list of apps.
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.
The Samsung Gear S3 was our prior pick for Samsung phone owners because of its smooth dial rotation and interface. But it was notably large, with a 46 mm face, and the Frontier model was half an inch thick, notably bulky even for a smartwatch. The Gear Sport, our runner-up pick, is less bulky, less expensive, less overtly masculine-styled, and provides most of the same features, minus the LTE option.
None of the newly tested models’ time displays time out when the watches are inactive, which we’ve seen happen on previously tested smartwatches. The time displays of the LG, Samsung, and Motorola models have a setting to keep them always on, though they dim after a little while. The Martian Notifier and Cookoo2 have traditional analog watch faces.
Apple has continued its focus on its health focus with the Series 4. In addition to being able to detect a fall, this new Apple Watch introduces three heart-rate tracking features that will be available later this year. It lets you know if your heart rate is too low, it can detect irregular rhythms (which may indicate atrial fibrillation), and most impressively, it serves as an FDA-cleared electrocardiogram.
The screen is great, and the pre-installed watch faces make it stand out from rivals. Android Wear feels very samey across all devices, but it's a well developed OS. It's reasonably intuitive and simple, but there's a little too much swiping and tapping on the small screen. It also works across both Android and iOS, although iPhone functionality is limited (no apps etc.)
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.
On-Screen Workouts/ Connected GPS/ Bluetooth/ Smartphone Notifications/ 4 Day Battery Life/ Heart Rate Tracking/ 15 Exercise Modes/ SmartTrack/ All-Day Activity/ Female Health/ Sleep Tracking And Stages/ Cardio Fitness Level/ 3-Axis Accelerometer And Gyroscope/ Optical Heart Rate Monitor/ Color LCD Touchscreen Display/ Water Resistant To 50 Meters/ Grey And Silver Aluminum Finish
When you do switch to the OLED display, you are in TicWatch Pro’s Smart Mode, and you can perform all of the features and functions that are available in the smartwatch. However, switching to the low-power FTSN LCD display puts the watch in its Essential Mode. The nice thing is that when you switch back to Smart Mode. all of the heart rate and steps info gathered by the watch’s Essential Mode are synced up and transferred to the onboard Wear OS. As you might expect, the battery life in Essential Mode can last up to 30 days, while using the smartwatch in Smart Mode cuts that battery life down to just two days.
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.”
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.