If you want the app, notification, and style advantages of an Apple Watch but need better fitness tracking, you can upgrade to the Apple Watch Series 3 and get built-in GPS, as well as waterproofing that allows swim tracking. But the Series 3 costs more than a fitness tracker or even many running watches, and it still has compromises compared with a dedicated fitness tracker, such as a lack of dedicated physical buttons. We think serious athletes are better served by a fitness-specific device.

The LG G Watch was the first one we tried that uses Google’s Android Wear OS (the Moto 360 and Samsung Gear Live do as well). It includes Google Now, the company's Siri-like "intelligent personal assistant." Say “OK Google,” and you can do Google searches, compose texts, and make requests of your watch (“Show me my steps” or “Set an alarm”). Google Now also offers up a stream of "cards" on the watch's face, with information it determines is relevant to you. If, for example, the card tells you how many minutes it would take you to get home from your current location, you can click on the card and get specific traffic and navigation information.

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The watch faces themselves are classic Kate Spade designs. You get a sultry winking moon face with perfectly curled lashes, calling you a leading lady; cute bubbly balloons for a digital watch face with numbers; a speeding cab that reassures you that you'll be there in a New York minute; and a daisy that loses petals as the time ticks away in a classic game of "He loves me; he loves me not."
The Samsung Gear Live is the first of the company’s smartwatches to be compatible with any Android phone running Android 4.3 or higher; other Gear models can be paired only with specific Samsung phones. Like the LG G Watch and Moto 360, it runs the Android Wear OS, allowing voice commands and pushing relevant information to the wearer. Compared with the LG G Watch, we prefer the style and fit of the Gear Live. The watch body is slightly curved, which made it more comfortable. The Gear Live also has a heart-rate monitor, which the G Watch lacks.
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.
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.
The Amazfit Bip is thin and light, looks like an Apple Watch, has a lot of sensors inside—GPS, heart rate, accelerometers, barometer, and compass—and can run for about 30 days (which we confirmed) between charges, all for around $100. Those facts are compelling, but actually using the watch is frustrating, and it doesn’t do any one thing well. The GPS and heart-rate monitors can be slow to start, sometimes drop out, occasionally have wild inaccuracies, and produce results notably different from those of running watches and dedicated fitness bands. The screen is also dim and noticeably low-resolution, and the phone software for managing the watch is dense and unintuitive on Android. (We didn’t test iOS, but the reviews imply that it’s not much different.) The watch materials are plastic and rubber, and look and feel like it. Those are all trade-offs you could reasonably make if you just wanted a Pebble-like smartwatch that tracked steps and showed notifications, but even there, the Bip does not succeed: It often dropped connectivity with my phone (a Pixel 2), and it cannot show emoji—getting a dozen blank squares when someone sends you a thumbs-up sign is not helpful. If all you care about is battery life, the Bip has that, but it lacks useful functions while it’s charged up.
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.
Like other Fitbit devices, the Charge 3 takes little effort to set up. It works with Android and iOS devices, and all you need is the Fitbit mobile app to use it. Choose the Charge 3 from the list of devices you can pair via Bluetooth to your smartphone or tablet, and follow the on-screen instructions. After setup, you may want to also edit basic information that the Charge 3 uses when tracking activity, such as your age, height, weight, and the activity metric you care most about (steps, active minutes, etc).
Of the three second-generation Samsung smartwatches, the Gear Fit is the most creative and stylish departure from the original Samsung Galaxy Gear. It's just as much an activity monitor as it is a smartwatch, and it has a markedly new look—slim, sleek, and light. It also has an unconventional sideways display that’s unlike any of the other tested watches; it takes a bit of wrist-twisting to view it. (You can opt to view your display vertically, but you'll be reading a lot of truncated words that way.)
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.
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
For deeper integration with your Android phone, you can give Google's Wear OS platform a try with Fossil's $275 Q Control touchscreen smartwatch. It lacks GPS and support for NFC payments, which is why the Gear Sport is a better fitness-focused smartwatch for Android users, but Fossil's Google Assistant integration and stylish design make it a solid contender. However, smartwatches with Qualcomm's new Snapdragon Wear 3100 processor start shipping in October, so you may want to hold off until we put them to the test.
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