In order to find the best smart watch, we looked at text and call features and, of course, design. We dug into tech reviews to separate must-haves from perks. Then, we brought in 19 smart watches to test for call responsiveness, text-ability, app accessibility, and general ease of us. In the end, three watches stood out for their reliable connectivity, gorgeous interfaces, and easy navigation.
Why we like it: Fossil’s Q Explorist and Venture watches are good-looking watches with a decent range of case and band options, and decent responsiveness and battery life—this is high praise given the current state of Android smartwatches. They can track steps, control music playback, give you turn-by-turn directions on your wrist, and allow you to respond to messages with your voice or quick-reply taps. But these two models are not unique: The Fossil Group offers an array of more than 300 smartwatches under different fashion brands—including Diesel, Skagen, Tag Heuer, Kate Spade, and Movado—that have essentially the same internal components and software, so you can pick the watch design you like best.
The three buttons on the Q Explorist are useful and responsive, although the middle crown’s button action may be a bit too responsive. The newest versions of Wear OS allow you to set each of the two clicky side buttons (at the 2 and 4 o’clock positions) as a shortcut to any function on the watch when on the home screen. Clicking the center button wakes up the watch and brings you back to your “home” watch-face display, and holding it down activates Google Assistant. The Q Explorist’s center button has a mushier action to it than the Digital Crown on the Apple Watch, and its rotation is stiffer (more on that below), but it works, and turning a crown is easier to do in more situations than continually flicking upward on a touchscreen. The Venture lacks the two side buttons, and its crown cannot turn through lists. While the turning crown is a helpful upgrade, the the Venture’s push-button response is firmer and better than on the Explorist, and its screen response is fast enough to make the lack of physical input tolerable.
Why we like it: Garmin’s Vívosport fitness band gives you more (and more-accurate) fitness tracking features than a smartwatch, though you won’t be able to respond to messages and notifications or use apps on your wrist. The Vívosport lasts up to a week on a single battery charge, while an Apple Watch or Android Wear device requires overnight charging. Its screen always shows stats during a workout, while smartwatches like the Apple Watch typically turn off when you’re not looking at them. And you can wear a Vívosport while you sleep to get at least a rough view of how restful your night was without having to worry about charging it every morning. All these things give you a better overall picture of how active and healthy you are, and make it more convenient to wear one smaller device all the time: You won’t have to grab a phone to track a run, you won’t have to wear a large, utilitarian-looking GPS watch to work, and you’ll rarely have to worry about battery life during a long workout. The Vívosport also tracks heart rates and GPS location nearly as well as a GPS watch (with some exceptions), but in a smaller and less noticeable package.
Flaws but not dealbreakers: The Apple Watch requires an iPhone—if you have another kind of phone, you’re out of luck. While good Apple Watch apps are better than what you get for Android smartwatches, many are still very limited compared with their phone counterparts. And it can get annoying how aggressively the Apple Watch turns off its screen (to save energy) whenever it senses you’ve put your arm down.
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.
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.
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.