Since the early days of modern smartwatches, we’ve sought to test as many relevant models as we can and recommend the watches that do the best job of making a smartwatch convenient and useful. We test Wear OS watches by wearing them while they’re connected to Android phones. Whenever possible, we ask other people to try out our potential picks to get an idea of how others react to a watch’s size, style, interface, and other features.
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.
To round off the Gear Sport’s positives, it has very solid battery life (almost never less than 50 percent of the battery remaining after a full day), it can play offline Spotify playlists (even for free accounts), and if you have a Samsung phone, it integrates easily with most of the apps you have installed there. The Gear Sport is easier to set up with a non-Samsung Android phone than previous versions of the Gear watch, too. It still requires the installation of at least four apps and some regular updating, but it’s not the hour-long trial-and-error of other Gear watches we’ve tested, working reliably in our testing.
You’d be amazed how hard it is to text something as simple as “hi” on many smart watch interfaces. Still, most designs take this into consideration. We tested all kinds of watches from auto-scrolling screens where you drew the letters with your finger to pre-smartphone layouts more akin to the alphanumeric layout of a payphone keypad. While the drawing features were nice, we felt that the texting was a little more manageable on keyboards.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
Smart watches are here to change the way you live. Now you can power through your workouts while the latest technology keeps track of your every move, check your calendar and keep an eye on the weather forecast wherever you are. You can also sync your smartphone with your watch, so you can check your texts, see who’s calling and receive notifications while keeping your iPhone 6 Plus safely tucked away.