As a piece of hardware, the Gear Sport is probably the best smartwatch we’ve used. It’s not stylish, it has deep flaws in its voice software, and it’s only a beginner-level fitness tracker. But if you want a smartwatch that has a bit of fitness motivation—and if you also happen to have a Samsung phone, or might get a deal on a bundle of phone and watch—the Gear Sport is a good option.
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.
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+.
The Asus ZenWatch 3 was a previous top pick for a Wear OS smartwatch. As of now, it has reached the end of its Wear OS updates (after a very long delay getting to Android Wear 2.0). Its rotating crown does not actually work to turn or scroll anything on the screen. Its proprietary watch band connections mean that your options are limited to what is available from third parties on Amazon. And the watch is hard to find new.
When we compared the storage space of the Samsung Gear Sport with the other contenders, it didn’t have the most. With 4 GB — only a quarter of what you’ll get with the Apple Watch Series 3 GPS — you will have to manage your apps so you don’t run out of room. If you like to carry all of your music with you and you have an extensive library, you might run out of space with the Gear Sport.
Our 19 contenders all promised to give us some distance from our phones by notifying us of incoming calls and texts. But we found that some smart watches were much slower than others at letting us know we had a call. It turns out the quality of the bluetooth connection determines how quickly you’ll be notified, with our worst performers only registering the call with two seconds to spare before diverting to voicemail (yes you, Montblanc) while others simply failed to display any calls at all.
None of these smart watches are necessarily waterproof but they are water-resistant. The Samsung Gear Sport is good to go so long as you don’t go any deeper than 50 meters. Same for the Apple Watch. However, the Q Venture is a little more delicate and can only withstand some splashing and momentary submersion in a meter of water. In other words, the Q Venture will survive if you drop it in a sink full of water and you scoop it out almost instantly.
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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.
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.
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.
Most smartwatches are still more unisex than specifically made for women. Even though Fossil, Skagen, and Apple make very convincing unisex watches that women can actually wear, none of them are unapologetically feminine. If you, like me, have been waiting for the day when you can look at a smartwatch and say, "Oh my God! It's so cute!" your day has come.
The Sofie, on the other hand, is designed for women with jewelry inspired accents. It has a smaller 1.19 inch 390×390 AMOLED display, and a smaller casing at 42mm. As mentioned, pricing starts at $350 for either variant and goes up depending on options. Sales are available from MichaelKors.com (Grayson — Sofie) and also from outlets such as Amazon. (Grayson — Sofie)
Most smartwatches have a fitness component for the very good reason that a watch is moving with you throughout the day. For counting steps, encouraging activity, and tracking occasional long walks, runs, or bike rides, most smartwatches will do fine. If you want a device to track your everyday runs or cycling sessions, you want a GPS running watch. If you’re serious about tracking and improving your movement and sleep, a fitness tracker will do that for less money and look more discrete doing so (and if you have health insurance, you may get a discount or incentives to use one). There are smartwatches that lean heavily toward sports and fitness in their marketing, but there are drawbacks to each of them not found in a dedicated device. At the other extreme, if you all you really need is step counting, a hybrid smartwatch—with an analog face like a traditional watch, but with built-in motion sensors and months-long battery life—may be a better option.
We pulled together a list of currently available smart watches that met these criteria from Apple, Android Wear, and Samsung. Our list included watches from tech brands like Apple, Asus, and Samsung, as well as fashion labels like Fossil, Nixon, and Tag Heuer. Then, we cross-checked with respected review sites, such as Tech Radar and PCMag, as well as tech retailer Best Buy, to make sure we weren’t leaving out any hidden gems.