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.
The Charge 3 works continuously throughout the day to track steps, distance, calories, floors climbed, and heart rate—the standard array of activity data. Fitbit has been tracking these metrics for so long, without making many significant updates as of late, that they are business as usual on the Charge 3. I appreciated that most of the watch faces available for the Charge 3 show your real-time heart rate, either in a corner or at the bottom of the rectangular display. I like being able to glance down and know my pulse.
But your phone will play an important part if you do get a Fitbit or Garmin device with the aim of tracking your activity. It will be the place where your health data is synced to, you can tinker with your tracking settings and review your progress. There’s also a whole ecosystem of health apps that plug into tracking devices, combining them with exercise and diet advice - MyFitnessPal, Runtastic and Strava are three of the most popular ones worth checking out.
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 I also have extensive experience with Android phones, having written the (since outdated) Complete Android Guide and numerous articles about Android.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.
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.
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.
Unlike the Apple Series 3, you can get third-party watch faces along with the default options. Many of these third-party faces also come with customizable widgets so you can manage layout without cluttering up your watch. From the homepage (which displays the time and date), you can twist the bezel to access fitness tracking data, like steps taken and calories burned, check the weather, change the song you’re listening to, or use any number of custom widgets.
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’s three second-generation smartwatches arrived with real improvements and refinements. At $300, the Gear 2 is the most sophisticated—and expensive—of the trio. The Gear 2 Neo is basically a less expensive version of the Gear 2: It has similar functionality, but it's housed in a plastic body instead of metal and has no built-in camera. And the slimmer Gear Fit is a hybrid smartwatch and activity tracker.
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.
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.
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.
As far as the number of sports available to track: while it's more of the same, there are some notable exclusions - like golf tracking and open water swimming (pool swimming is a there though). Heart rate monitoring is decent if not class-leading, and it won't keep you waiting around for a GPS signal. There's also all the stress tracking goodies from Garmin's fitness trackers, too. As multi-sport smartwatches go, this is the best in our eyes, and builds on all the good work Garmin did with its previous iterations.
Apple Watch (1st generation and Series 1) Apple watchOS No 8.2+ (1st generation) 10.0+ (Series 1) Apple S1 (1st generation) Apple S1P 4.0 LE ] From paired iPhone No Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No Yes Yes IPX7 Digital 1.7 / 1.5 319x390 / 272x340 AMOLED 1.5 250 / 205 Lithium-ion 42 mm / 38 mm 12.46 / 12.3 36.2 / 32.9 Varies Yes Yes No
Fitbit's Versa is a sleek, stylish smartwatch that works with both iOS and Android and costs less than $200, which makes it the best value smartwatch you can buy. The watch lasts four days on a charge, offers female health-tracking, advanced sleep-tracking and an app store with popular apps such as Starbucks and Pandora. You can even store music offline to listen to while you work out.