Flaws but not dealbreakers: The Vívosport’s screen is highly sensitive to incidental brushes and touches; we ended up activating the screen auto-lock feature, a small annoyance. Compared with a dedicated GPS running watch, the GPS tracking on any fitness band takes longer to connect to satellites; and it’s easier to see your pace and other statistics on a running watch’s larger LCD screen while moving than on a fitness band’s relatively miniscule display. Garmin doesn’t have the motivating social network of Fitbit, so it’s less likely that your friends or coworkers will connect and challenge you, or that a corporate fitness challenge will work with your Vívosport. A fitness band falls short of a full-featured smartwatch, because typically it won’t give you a voice assistant, let you install apps, or let you interact with phone notifications, and many of those notifications will be difficult to read on the Vívosport’s small screen.
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.
There's now a heart rate monitor, as the name suggests, for tracking beats throughout the day and during exercise, a GPS monitor to keep up with your workouts and an NFC chip to enable Google Pay. Add to that the ability to take this underwater up to 50 metres, all on the top of the refreshed Wear OS, and it all rounds out as a very complete smartwatch experience.
Even today, fitness trackers have a few advantages over smartwatches: they're easier to wear since they have slimmer, lighter profiles. They're less complicated because they're designed primarily to keep you fit (not necessarily for things like emailing on the go). And, perhaps the most important distinction of all, fitness trackers are generally less expensive than smartwatches.
The Fitbit Versa is nearly a full smartwatch, but the way it handles notifications prevents it from being a pick. Fitbit’s sleep, step, and workout tracking features beat our current picks’, and in our testing the Versa regularly lasted for four or more days between full charges. It lacks GPS, which the Ionic has, but it has a lower price as a result. You can choose from a decent variety of band types, although the bands are an odd 23 mm size (rather than a standard 22 mm), and slot in at an angle, making it hard to know if an unofficial band will fit. You can cache Deezer or Pandora radio stations to the Versa’s 2.5 GB of reserved space, control the music on your phone (after reconnecting your watch in “classic mode”), or transfer your own music to the watch, though it’s a tedious process involving a computer and cable. Where the Versa falls short is in working with notifications from your phone. The notifications pile up, and it can be a hassle to clear them; most notifications don’t expand to show more text; and though a software update has given you quick replies to select from, you’re limited to five of them. Like the Ionic, it’s more of a smartened-up fitness tracker than a fitness-savvy smartwatch.
The TicWatch Pro shares the TicWatch E model’s older processor and late arrival, and it would be just another big (45 mm case), thick (12.6 mm) Android smartwatch, if not for its trick of having an old-fashioned-looking LCD screen that the watch switches to when you’re not actively looking at it or using it. This feature extends battery life significantly, especially if you go for periods in Essential Mode, where you see only the LCD screen showing the time, date, and your step count. But the transition from the LCD screen back to a “smart” OLED screen is not smooth or quick, and if you switch the watch to Essential Mode, you have to reboot it to get back to regular smartwatch functions.
Wirecutter writers have been researching, testing, and writing about smartwatches since early 2013, just after the first Pebble watches were shipped to Kickstarter backers. I’ve personally worn nearly every notable smartwatch since that first Pebble and have written about them for a number of publications, including IT World and Fast Company. I also have extensive experience with Android phones, having written the (since outdated) Complete Android Guide and numerous articles about Android. I also contribute to and help edit the Wirecutter guide to the best smartwatch for iPhones.
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.
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.