These new smartwatches build on a pretty familiar package. Both are powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon Wear 2100 processor and run on Wear OS. Both also get GPS, NFC for Google Pay, and heart rate sensors as well. The Venture is the smaller of the two, measuring in at 40mm with an 18mm band. The Explorist, on the other hand, is a 45mm watch with a 22mm band.
I’ve worn a smartwatch almost daily for nearly five years as of this writing. I often feel that it keeps me alert to what’s happening, especially for things like texts from my wife and close friends, alarms that a parking meter is nearly expired, or reminders that dinner needs to start marinating or roasting. It has also encouraged me to get moving and take a walk when I’d otherwise stay in place. Sometimes it has made me feel rude, distracted, or overly attached to whatever little blip comes next. It has come in handy on my bike, and it has distracted me when I’m driving my car. Some of this can be better handled through settings and filters, but some of it comes from human nature.
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.
In the same year, Microsoft announced the SPOT smartwatch and it began hitting stores in early 2004. SPOT stands for Smart Personal Objects Technology, an initiative by Microsoft to personalize household electronics and other everyday gadgets. For instance, the company demonstrated coffee makers, weather stations, and alarm clocks featuring built-in SPOT technology. The device was a standalone smartwatch that offered information at a glance where other devices would have required more immersion and interaction. The information included weather, news, stock prices, and sports scores and was transmitted through FM waves. It was accessible through a yearly subscription that cost from $39 to $59.
The Q watches do not have built-in GPS or heart-rate sensors, and aside from one model (the black silicone strap Explorist), they are not made for heavy exercise tracking. The watches’ IP67 rating means that they’re dustproof and ready for rain, and that they can survive a short dunk in water less than 3 feet deep. For tracking your walking, movement, light bike rides or occasional runs or hikes, though, the watch does fine.
The Fitbit Ionic works fine as a Fitbit tracker, but despite being more expensive than our picks or the Apple Watch Series 1, it lacks many smartwatch functions you’d hope to have. It passes notifications from your phone to the watch, but you can only respond to some of them (with only five quick reply lines); and dismissing them (either one by one or as a group) involves annoyingly hard presses and long scrolls. Syncing music files and offline Pandora playlists requires you to use a desktop app, which is laborious. Two Wirecutter writers who tested the Ionic also had trouble setting it up to work with their Android phones (a 2015 Moto X Pure and a 2016 Samsung Galaxy S7) and had to perform significant troubleshooting to get their data to sync. The Ionic’s battery life, even while using GPS for outdoor exercise tracking, is its most impressive feature, lasting at least five days in one test and nearly seven days in another. The Ionic is most useful to Fitbit enthusiasts who want to track outdoor exercise without bringing a phone; it’s not a good option if you’re looking to deal with incoming information.
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.
To round off the Gear Sport’s positives, it has very solid battery life (almost never less than 50 percent of the battery remaining after a full day), it can play offline Spotify playlists (even for free accounts), and if you have a Samsung phone, it integrates easily with most of the apps you have installed there. The Gear Sport is easier to set up with a non-Samsung Android phone than previous versions of the Gear watch, too. It still requires the installation of at least four apps and some regular updating, but it’s not the hour-long trial-and-error of other Gear watches we’ve tested, working reliably in our testing.
Wear OS comes with a focus on fitness features, but unfortunately Huawei managed to simultaneously move too far in this direction and also fall short of it. It doesn’t come with a rotating side button for navigation, which is a shame as we really love the button on the LG Watch Sport. It does, however, come with great battery life and a stellar feature set otherwise.
We loved Samsung’s characteristic bezel navigation. Instead of having to swipe your finger across the touchscreen repeatedly, all you have to do is gently twist the bezel. It’s a much smoother way of scrolling through your list and it just feels more natural. The are other side buttons which lie almost flush with the side of the watch, making it difficult for them to catch on sleeves.
Why we like it: Compared with a smartwatch or fitness tracker, a dedicated GPS running watch is focused on one category of exercise: outdoor movement. GPS watches offer the fastest GPS signal lock-on and more-precise maps, while also showing up to the second details on your pace, heart rate, mile split times, and a host of other stats on an always-on display. The physical buttons on a GPS watch are easier to use while moving (and without looking), rather than having to swipe or tap on a tiny glass screen. A GPS watch’s longer battery life can better handle endurance events than a smartwatch. And the software and apps behind a good GPS watch provide more statistics and training programs to improve your efficiency. While GPS watches can show notifications, the weather, and a few other smartwatch-like conveniences, they’re much more limited in what can be done from a wrist than a smartwatch—or even a fitness tracker like the Vívosmart.
The Nixon Mission is a rugged 'action' smartwatch, and we really like it. The durable casing can take a bashing, while the Qualcomm Snapdragon Wear 2100 keeps things ticking inside. It runs Android Wear, but also comes with some useful pre-installed apps which track real-time surfing and snowboarding conditions. It's water resistant to 10ATM (roughly 100m), and best of all, it comes in Orange.
Fitbit OS 2.0 brings a new-look UI that offers more insights into your daily data and quick reply support for messages for Android phone users (iOS support coming at a later date). You can still download apps and a whole lot of watch faces, pay from your wrist using Fitbit Pay and tap into Fitbit Coach, while new women's health tracking has also been introduced for the first time, which is also available for the Ionic, too.
(What you think of the Q watches’ design depends on which model you buy, and in which configuration. We tested a Q Explorist in its smoked stainless steel look and a Q Venture in rose gold with leather. But if you don’t like size of these two models or the available styles, you can buy one of more than 300 planned smartwatches from 14 of Fossil’s fashion brands and get the same technology inside, just with different cases, straps, and buttons. There are Kate Spade smartwatches, $200,000 Tag Heuer smartwatches, and many more from Diesel, Skagen, Armani Exchange, and the like, all offered under Fossil Group’s umbrella. You can probably find a smartwatch with a case, band, and look that looks like something you want to wear on your wrist every day, rather than settling for close enough. Fossil’s Q watches, though, hit a good balance of sensible and stylish, with a reasonable price to match.)
It's also very bulky. Sitting at 46mm wide might not sound like much, but then you have the depth, and there's a lot of it here. In fact, if we had to pick one criticism of the Watch Sport it's that it crams so much in, it does so to its detriment. The size will be too overbearing for many, but the pay-off in size means that most of the great features of the Watch Sport have been discarded.
The Sofie, on the other hand, is designed for women with jewelry inspired accents. It has a smaller 1.19 inch 390×390 AMOLED display, and a smaller casing at 42mm. As mentioned, pricing starts at $350 for either variant and goes up depending on options. Sales are available from MichaelKors.com (Grayson — Sofie) and also from outlets such as Amazon. (Grayson — Sofie)
Out of a vast field of similar watches, we picked the Q Explorist and Q Venture because of their middle-of-the-road prices, wide availability, and variety of styles. These two models are flagships for the Fossil Group’s collection of 14 style brands producing more than 300 planned smartwatches. This means that if you find a smartwatch from Diesel, Skagen, Tag Heuer, Kate Spade, Movado, or another Fossil-connected brand that fits your style better, you should feel free to buy it, because it will have roughly the same internal hardware as our picks.
Samsung treads between smartwatch and fitness tracker, also packing in a heart rate sensor along with that GPS and its much-improved Samsung Health software. There's also the option of LTE (coming soon), if you wish for an untethered connection, with a standalone speaker for taking calls on the watch. It's now waterproof, too, adding swim tracking skills that are on par with the Watch Series 4.
Our top pick for most people is the Apple Watch Series 4 with GPS (starting at $399), which has a huge display, ultra-fast processor, Raise to Speak Siri, fall detection and a built-in electrical heart rate sensor for taking on-the-go electrocardiograms. It also runs watchOS 5, which makes the watch even more useful with automatic workout-tracking, offline podcast playback and a Walkie-Talkie voice chat feature.