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.
In 2003, Fossil released the Wrist PDA, a watch which ran the Palm OS and contained 8 MB of RAM and 4 MB of flash memory. It contained a built in stylus to help use the tiny monochrome display, which had a resolution of 160×160 pixels. Although many reviewers declared the watch revolutionary, it was criticized for its weight (108 grams) and was ultimately discontinued in 2005.
For most people, the most useful thing a smartwatch can do is relay phone notifications to your wrist so you can check them without having to pull out and wake up your handset. You can still be distracted by whatever is buzzing you, but it’s easier to quickly see whether something is important or not. Often you can interact with that notification—by acknowledging it, dismissing it, or replying to a message with voice dictation, a pre-written response, or (awkward) finger typing or swiping—right on the watch.
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.
It doesn't get better than the Apple Watch Series 4. The new slimmer body and bigger screen make it sleeker and more stylish than ever before. The unique modern design works for both men and women. The smartwatch comes in 40mm and 44mm styles to fit wrists big and small. You can buy it in several finishes to match your style and there are dozens of Apple-made and third-party watch bands to make the Watch your own.
Two watches from LG, the Watch Sport and Watch Style, were designed in collaboration with Google to launch Android Wear 2.0. The Sport is loaded with features, offering integrated GPS, LTE calls and texting (sharing a phone number with an Android phone), a speaker, a heart-rate monitor, two buttons, a rotating crown, and NFC support for using Android Pay directly from the watch. Reviews, however, suggest that the Sport suffers for those add-ons in thickness, comfort, and appearance. The Style, for $100 less than the Sport, is thinner and more comfortable; it offers Bluetooth and Wi-Fi but has a look that The Verge’s Dan Seifert describes as “kind of cheap” with a “homely design.” Neither model is easy to find at online vendors, especially in all colors.
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.
In order to find the best smart watch, we looked at text and call features and, of course, design. We dug into tech reviews to separate must-haves from perks. Then, we brought in 19 smart watches to test for call responsiveness, text-ability, app accessibility, and general ease of us. In the end, three watches stood out for their reliable connectivity, gorgeous interfaces, and easy navigation.