The Sport’s built-in fitness features do a decent job of motivating you to move more, tracking a Fitbit-like set of metrics: Stairs climbed, steps taken, and minutes active. It reminds you to get up every hour or so and suggests stretches and movements you can do at your desk if you’re stuck there. While the Sport can track your movement and exercise, and start doing so automatically, it is not accurate enough for dedicated runners or cyclists (who should get a GPS running watch instead): Influential fitness gear tester Ray Maker (aka DC Rainmaker) clocked “the worst GPS track accuracy I’ve ever seen on a run” wearing the Gear Sport. We didn’t see quite the same entirely-different-street discrepancies in biking tests, but the Sport is nevertheless not a competitive training tool, providing only a rough guide to distance and speed.
Plus, these smartwatches are made by Fitbit, so they’re incredible fitness and health trackers. They both offer 24/7 heart rate tracking, on-screen workouts with Fitbit Coach, over 15 exercise modes, GPS (Connected GPS in the Versa’s case), and swim tracking thanks to their 5ATM rating. There’s also room to store your music, as well as Fitbit Pay support (Ionic and Special Edition Versa only).
The company claims that the SpO2 monitor will help its devices look for signs of sleep apnea and other breathing problems, potentially great features for devices that are meant to be worn 24/7. It'll be used primarily in Fitbit's forthcoming Sleep Score Beta, which further analyzes sleep quality using heart rate and breathing data. Starting sometime this November, users with devices that only have heart rate monitors can get a "sleep score" after each night's sleep. Those with an Ionic, Versa, or Charge 3 will presumably have better data thanks to the SpO2 monitor collecting breathing data.
The touchscreen, button, and dial (what Apple calls the “crown”) help you zoom in and out and move between apps fairly effortlessly. With this easy navigation it’s easy to forget we’re typing on a screen slightly smaller than an Oreo. In particular, we loved Apple’s app homepage, which displays all of the apps as icons in a honeycomb-like display. You can use the touchscreen to move around, and the dial to zoom in or pan out, to precisely tap on the one you want.
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.
Waterproof to 165 feet, the Versa handles swimming as well as any other exercise, with the screen surprisingly visible underwater. As is standard with many other non-smartwatch Fitbit models, heart rate tracking is built in, which allows for detailed sleep tracking. There’s no GPS, though — if you want to track your running route, you’ll need to carry your phone or pay the extra for the Ionic model.
Fossil introduced its fourth generation of smartwatches, the Q Explorist HR and Q Venture HR, upgraded versions of our current picks at the same respective prices. These editions of the watches add untethered GPS, NFC for Google Pay purchases, and heart-rate monitoring. Fossil also claims that they’re waterproof enough for swimming. However, both use an aging Qualcomm Snapdragon Wear 2100 chip when a newer version is expected to arrive in September.
I've been pleased to see swim-tracking trickle down into more affordable devices over the past few years. Fitbit's Flex 2 remains its most affordable device with swim-tracking features, priced at $60. But the $150 Charge 3, with its big display and smattering of smartwatch capabilities, is for a different audience than those who would gravitate to the tiny, quasi-cylindrical Flex 2. Even if you don't swim often, water-resistance up to 50 meters means users don't have to worry about showering with the Charge 3 or dropping it in the pool by accident.
The Explorist and Venture cases are an average thickness for a round smartwatch (at 12.5 and 11.5 millimeters, respectively), with widths of 45 mm and 42 mm, respectively. Neither watch feels too heavy or awkward on a larger wrist, though even the smaller Venture watch is still quite chunky on a smaller wrist. Each model’s battery regularly lasted a whole day in our testing, and the voice-dictation functions are on a par with those of most smartwatches; the same goes for Google Assistant’s accuracy. Both watches and their Google Fit system track day-to-day activity, and although Wear OS apps don’t have quite the buy-in from app makers that the Apple Watch does, you can likely find your favorite apps in Google’s Play Store, and most phone apps provide rich notifications that you can interact with through the watch. Both show signs of good build quality, with thoughtful attention to detail on all surfaces and no cheap connectors or pieces.
I’ve had the Samsung Gear S3 classic for a few months now. There are lots of apps now available including a music app which allows you to save and play as many tracks as the sizeable built in memory will allow you to save to the watch. The in-built speaker is high quality for making and receiving calls and of course listening to music, but a Bluetooth headset makes all the difference.
Finding and installing apps is another sore point. Android Wear 2.0 has two ways of installing apps: On the watch directly, which is woefully awkward, or through the Play Store on the Web, which is okay. Watch faces for Wear OS exist in the kind of state Android phone apps were in during their earliest days—all over the place, so good luck searching. Watch makers would do well to include some sensible, category-spanning offerings by default in their devices.
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.
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.