Fossil’s Q Explorist and its smaller-wrist counterpart the Q Venture are well-made, responsive, fashionable Wear OS smartwatches that offer a lot of color and band options, making them the best option around. They ably run Wear OS (more on the pros and cons of Wear OS itself in a bit) and convey your phone’s notifications to your wrist. Their buttons engage with clean clicks, the Explorist’s center crown moves through lists and notifications much more effectively than swiping, and both screens are responsive and clear.
The Amazfit Bip is thin and light, looks like an Apple Watch, has a lot of sensors inside—GPS, heart rate, accelerometers, barometer, and compass—and can run for about 30 days (which we confirmed) between charges, all for around $100. Those facts are compelling, but actually using the watch is frustrating, and it doesn’t do any one thing well. The GPS and heart-rate monitors can be slow to start, sometimes drop out, occasionally have wild inaccuracies, and produce results notably different from those of running watches and dedicated fitness bands. The screen is also dim and noticeably low-resolution, and the phone software for managing the watch is dense and unintuitive on Android. (We didn’t test iOS, but the reviews imply that it’s not much different.) The watch materials are plastic and rubber, and look and feel like it. Those are all trade-offs you could reasonably make if you just wanted a Pebble-like smartwatch that tracked steps and showed notifications, but even there, the Bip does not succeed: It often dropped connectivity with my phone (a Pixel 2), and it cannot show emoji—getting a dozen blank squares when someone sends you a thumbs-up sign is not helpful. If all you care about is battery life, the Bip has that, but it lacks useful functions while it’s charged up.
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
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.
They include a heart rate monitor, pedometer and altimeter to track steps taken and stairs climbed and often a GPS chip to record your distance covered. They will sync with your smartphone to give you a suite of tools to monitor your exercise progress. Many of them will offer notifications of incoming phone calls, text and email alerts as well. But they are designed with fitness tracking in mind. If you are happy using your smartphone for your day to day messaging, calendar, apps and music, a fitness tracker will suffice.
The TicWatch E uses outdated processors and arrives very late in the lifespan of this version of Wear OS—with a new Qualcomm chip arriving in early September, there’s not a compelling reason to invest in an Android smartwatch from a lesser-known vendor right now. Beyond that, although it packs in a lot of features for less than $150, including onboard GPS, a heart-rate monitor, and a light-adjusting display, the TicWatch E looks and feels toylike, with an all-plastic body, matte silicone strap, and undistinguished look. It also has a single, non-turning button, which makes it less usable with the latest Wear OS interface. It runs Wear OS fairly well on its budget-minded processor, but Wear OS running even at its intended responsiveness is still not that exciting. The TicWatch E is not a bad budget entry as far as Android Wear watches go, but a better budget smartwatch, probably from the TicWatch’s own maker, is likely in the making.
Apple Watch Series 3: If you are an iPhone user and generally exist in Apple’s ecosystem, it makes sense to get an Apple Watch. The design quality is exceptional and the Watch makes a nice pairing with your iPhone as materials and design elements are common to both. Apple’s Health app covers most of the bases when it comes to tracking your essential fitness and activity indicators - nutrition, sleep, physical exercise, but Apple has gone further with HealthKit, which allows health and fitness apps downloaded from the App Store to share data with each other. Apple has committed to Watch, and its attention to practical and eye-pleasing design as well as useful tracking features is commendable. ($529)
A smart watch is nice to have and it can be a neat buffer when deciding if you want to answer an incoming call or let it go to voicemail. Smart watches with apps for fitness and travel are also a lot more convenient in some cases than having your smartphone. However, if you prefer to use your iPhone for these and other activities, you probably won’t get much more out of a smart watch.
I visited the Fitbit app more than I usually do during the first day of wearing the Charge 3 so I could manage notifications. This device is the first tracker to go beyond the basic call, text, and calendar alerts that most Fitbit trackers can receive. The Charge 3 can alert you to any and all happenings on your smartphone if you want. In the notification panel in the Fitbit app, you can choose which apps you want to receive alerts from—turn on all of them so you never miss a beat, or only turn on the apps that are most important to you.
The operating system you choose depends solely on the type of smartphone you have because the smart watch is paired with your smartphone. If you own an Android smartphone, your smart watch should have Android Wear or Tizen. If you own an iPhone, choose an Apple Watch. For example, the Samsung Gear S3 runs Tizen and is compatible with both the Android and iPhone.
Then your typical exercise activity will determine which model is the best fit. You can expect to pay $1500 - $350 for a fitness tracker. If you are simply interested in hitting your 10,000 steps a day, an entry-level Fitbit will do the trick for around $150. Garmin has fitness trackers designed specifically with runners and cyclists in mind, giving you accurate tracking of biking and cycling distance covered using GPS. They’ll cost more as a result - $350 - $800.
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."
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.
As for the tech inside, the Q Venture won't let you down. It runs WearOS (previously known as Android Wear) and works with thousands of apps on the Google Play Store. You can answer texts, interact with notifications, and choose your own watch face — just like you would on any other smartwatch. Fossil has lots of nice watch faces in feminine colors, too.
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.
If you want a smart watch that uses cellular data without using up the battery, consider upgrading to the Samsung Gear S3. A close cousin to the Gear Sport, the S3 has all the perks of an LTE smart device (downloading apps, texting, checking email) and, unlike the Apple Series 3, it won’t quit after three hours. In fact, you could feasibly get 72 hours out of this LTE version of the Samsung Gear Sport.
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.
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.
Samsung's Galaxy Watch, a Tizen OS watch (starting at $329), is our favorite smartwatch for Android users. In addition to up to four days of battery life and a great design, the Galaxy Watch offers built-in GPS, heart rate sensor, water-resistance, Samsung Pay support, plus a nifty rotating bezel for navigating the interface. You can also download music from Spotify to the watch for offline listening. However, you get far fewer apps than you would with a Wear OS watch.