I go for a middle-of-the-road approach—I enable alerts for most of my installed apps, save for ones that are niche (mostly shopping apps that alert me to coupons) or ones I don't use regularly. All alerts make the Charge 3 vibrate and show the message on its screen, and all past alerts live in the notification drawer that you can access by swiping down from the top of the Charge 3's display.
Flaws but not dealbreakers: Wear OS, Google’s name for Android for smartwatches, still feels like a work in progress, and in our testing, the Google Assistant voice feature frequently dropped responses—though that could improve via software updates. The Q line’s button at the 3 o’clock position is easy to accidentally trigger, bringing up Google Assistant and sometimes sending it nonsense questions. Wear OS also lacks a left-handed mode to allow you to switch the watch around. On the workout front, Fossil Q watches lack a heart rate monitor, so they’re not able to detect workouts or help with pacing; and the size of these models—and most Android smartwatches, really—and the touchscreen interface make workouts more difficult to monitor and pause than with a dedicated fitness tracker.
Smartwatches are still a relatively new electronics category, but these devices are poised to hit the mainstream. This year we saw major players such as LG and Motorola throw their smartwatches in the ring, along with Samsung, Sony, and a host of smaller companies like Pebble and Martian. And Apple finally confirmed its entry, the innovative Apple Watch, expected to arrive early in 2015.
Samsung released its Galaxy Watch, a follow-up to the Gear S3, a prior pick. The Galaxy Watch is available in 42 mm and 46 mm configurations, with either a Bluetooth-only connection or Bluetooth plus LTE from T-Mobile (at launch). The biggest update seems to be the battery life, which the company claims will last for days between charges. The Bluetooth version of the Galaxy Watch is available for $330 for the smaller version and $350 for the larger (46 mm) model; the 42 mm LTE version is available for $380 and the 46 mm is $400.
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.
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.
If you wear the Q Explorist close to your hand, its case size and protruding center button can activate when you bend your wrist back, or if you’re wearing thicker gloves. The worst that happens is that Google Assistant is activated, and it either does nothing or tries to ask Google whatever nonsense the microphone picks up inadvertently. That can be annoying, and may cause you to size your watch band a bit larger, so the watch sits up your arm a bit more, clear of your wrist joint. Sadly, Wear OS lacks a “left-handed mode” to allow for turning the watch and its gestures the other direction.
"Sport watch" functionality often includes activity tracker features (also known as "fitness tracker") as seen in GPS watches made for training, diving, and outdoor sports. Functions may include training programs (such as intervals), lap times, speed display, GPS tracking unit, Route tracking, dive computer, heart rate monitor compatibility, Cadence sensor compatibility, and compatibility with sport transitions (as in triathlons). Other watches can cooperate with an app in a smartphone to carry out their functions. They are paired usually by Bluetooth with a smartphone. Some of these only work with a phone that runs the same mobile operating system; others use a unique watch OS, or otherwise are able to work with most smartphones. Paired, the watch may function as a remote to the phone. This allows the watch to display data such as calls, SMS messages, emails, calendar invites, and any data that may be made available by relevant phone apps. Some fitness tracker watches give users reports on the number of kilometers they walked, hours they slept, and so on.
Bottom line: Some fitness trackers work equally well with an iPhone or Android device, but some smartwatches are built to pair with Android phones so you won’t enjoy full functionality and pairing on an iPhone. The Apple Watch only pairs with the iPhone so is off limits to Android users. Your existing phone choice will play an important part in choosing a smartwatch. You can check your smartphone’s compatibility with a range of Google Wear-powered smartwatches at g.co/WearCheck
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.
Garmin has been putting out go-to smartwatches for sports lovers for a while now. Running, cycling, swimming, golf - Garmin has had us well and truly covered. Despite the Forerunner name, the 645 Music is more in the mould of the Vivoactive 3 Music. It's got a similar look and also brings the music this time. This helps make the Garmin more of a smartwatch rival to the Apple Watch, Samsung Gear or Fitbit Ionic than before.
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.
The Apple Watch Series 4 is now on sale, and it's the best smartwatch you can buy right now. The redesigned device, which starts at $399 for the GPS model and $499 for the cellular version, is the best smartwatch you can buy. It has a larger display and slightly bigger case size while retaining the same rounded square design the watch is known for. Even more importantly, Apple received FDA clearance for a new electrocardiogram feature that can take a 30-second EKG and diagnose atrial fibrillation.