Its only drawback is its use of Samsung’s own Tizen OS. Tizen is a custom OS that’s based on Linux. On paper it’s pretty good, letting you pair the Gear S2 with any Android smartphone, not just Samsung Galaxy phones. But it’s nowhere near as developed as Wear OS, which itself isn’t perfect. There aren’t nearly as many apps available as the Wear OS app store, but the core functionality is at least present from what is available.
If you’d prefer your smartwatch looked more like a piece of jewelry than a small computer on your wrist, you’ll like Skagen’s Falster range. The straps of these slimline watches come in a few different leather or stainless steel options but coupled with the included minimalist watch face designs, they all look sleek and stylish in a way few other smartwatches manage.
Garmin, known primarily for its GPS and fitness devices, has taken one step closer to full-featured smartwatches with their Vivoactive 3 Music. This model doesn't run on Wear OS (Google's increasingly-popular OS for wearables), but it does offer thousands of free apps, watch faces, and more via Garmin’s ConnectIQ store. The Vivoactive 3 Music also comes preloaded with 15 sports apps to monitor your progress whether you're running, swimming, lifting, or doing yoga — because, at its core, Garmin is still all about fitness tracking
The Apple Watch boasts cutting-edge smartwatch tech including mobile payments with Apple Pay, stand-alone GPS, full waterproofing up to 50 meters, and thousands of apps. The user interface is very simple and attractive. It's easy to use and it has advanced, easy-to-use fitness tracking features, thanks to a plethora of sensors and an excellent heart rate monitor.
Dropping the phone: Some models of smartwatches in the Samsung and Apple line-ups feature a mobile network chip, allowing you to plug in a micro SIM card to make and receive calls, texts and emails and access the internet without being paired to your phone. It sounds great, but remember that the smartwatch has a very small battery, so relying on it for communications will drain the power quickly.
None of the newly tested models’ time displays time out when the watches are inactive, which we’ve seen happen on previously tested smartwatches. The time displays of the LG, Samsung, and Motorola models have a setting to keep them always on, though they dim after a little while. The Martian Notifier and Cookoo2 have traditional analog watch faces.
A smart watch is nice to have and it can be a neat buffer when deciding if you want to answer an incoming call or let it go to voicemail. Smart watches with apps for fitness and travel are also a lot more convenient in some cases than having your smartphone. However, if you prefer to use your iPhone for these and other activities, you probably won’t get much more out of a smart watch.
All but the Martian Notifier claim some degree of water resistance: the LG, Samsung, and Motorola models can survive underwater up to 1 meter for 30 minutes, the Cookoo2 up to 100 meters, and the MetaWatch up to 3ATM, which is equivalent to 30 meters. Only the Martian and Motorola models claim to have scratch-resistant screens (the Martian has an anti-scratch acrylic crystal and the Moto 3 uses Gorilla Glass 3).
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.
Fitbit Versa: The Fitbit is the health tracker for the masses and they have a model for every need. But the best option for adults who do a moderate amount of exercise and just want to keep tabs on their general fitness (ie: most of us), the Fitbit Versa is a great choice. It's an entry-level smartwatch. For more on the Fitbit Versa’s various attributes, read my in-depth review. ($350)
Qualcomm is preparing to launch a new generation of wearable processors at an event in September. That’s likely going to mean new hardware and maybe even new capabilities within wearable operating systems. So at least for the next few weeks, it might be best to hold off on buying any new smartwatches, at least those still rocking a Snapdragon Wear 2100…
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.
Apple has continued its focus on its health focus with the Series 4. In addition to being able to detect a fall, this new Apple Watch introduces three heart-rate tracking features that will be available later this year. It lets you know if your heart rate is too low, it can detect irregular rhythms (which may indicate atrial fibrillation), and most impressively, it serves as an FDA-cleared electrocardiogram.
If you don’t need your smartwatch to look business-casual, you want more fitness and exercise features than our top pick, or you’re a Samsung loyalist, the Samsung Gear Sport is a better pick for you. (You can use the Gear Sport with non-Samsung phones, but doing so requires that you install at least four apps.) The Gear Sport handles all the casual notification and message-triage functions of a smartwatch about as well as our top pick—with the exception of voice transcription—but it adds heart-rate monitoring, GPS tracking, swim tracking, and built-in reminders to move throughout the day. It doesn’t do all of these things perfectly, but it does just enough to make for a generally useful smartwatch, with great battery life and a clever interface.
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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.
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.
Next is the big focus on health and fitness. The Apple Watch can monitor your heart rhythm and suggest you see a doctor if it detects something irregular, it can call the emergency services you've fallen over, and it will keep you healthy by tracking your run. These potentially life saving features are a major reason people are ditching their traditional watches for an Apple Watch.
You’d be amazed how hard it is to text something as simple as “hi” on many smart watch interfaces. Still, most designs take this into consideration. We tested all kinds of watches from auto-scrolling screens where you drew the letters with your finger to pre-smartphone layouts more akin to the alphanumeric layout of a payphone keypad. While the drawing features were nice, we felt that the texting was a little more manageable on keyboards.