The first digital watch, which debuted in 1972, was the Pulsar manufactured by Hamilton Watch Company. "Pulsar" became a brand name which would later be acquired by Seiko in 1978. In 1982, a Pulsar watch (NL C01) was released which could store 24 digits, making it most likely the first watch with user-programmable memory, or "memorybank" watch. With the introduction of personal computers in the 1980s, Seiko began to develop computers in the form of watches. The Data 2000 watch (1983) came with an external keyboard for data-entry. Data was synced from the keyboard to the watch via electro-magnetic coupling (wireless docking). The name comes from its ability to store 2000 characters. The D409 was the first Seiko model with on-board data entry (via a miniature keyboard) and featured a dot matrix display. Its memory was tiny, at only 112 digits. It was released in 1984, in gold, silver and black. These models were followed by many others by Seiko during the 1980s, most notably the "RC Series": During the 1980s, Casio began to market a successful line of "computer watches", in addition to its calculator watches. Most notable was the Casio data bank series. Novelty "game watches", such as the Nelsonic game watches, were also produced by Casio and other companies.
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 I also have extensive experience with Android phones, having written the (since outdated) Complete Android Guide and numerous articles about Android.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.
Basically, smartwatches are wearable-technology devices that maintain a relatively persistent wireless connection to your mobile device—usually a smart phone—and can receive notifications of incoming calls, texts, instant messages, social-network updates, and more, from that device. Some can also let you accept and conduct phone calls right on the watch. And even newer models (the Samsung Gear S, for one) can act as smart phones all on their own, without needing a paired phone nearby.
Our 19 contenders all promised to give us some distance from our phones by notifying us of incoming calls and texts. But we found that some smart watches were much slower than others at letting us know we had a call. It turns out the quality of the bluetooth connection determines how quickly you’ll be notified, with our worst performers only registering the call with two seconds to spare before diverting to voicemail (yes you, Montblanc) while others simply failed to display any calls at all.
We test every new smartwatch to gauge its design and comfort. If it’s not stylish and comfortable enough to get you from an early morning workout to the office to a night out, you probably won’t wear it every day. Most smartwatches are also fitness trackers, so we put all of its sensors to the test, from step counts to heart rate to GPS (when applicable).
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.
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.
The newest member of the TicWatch family from Mobvoi is the TicWatch Pro. The biggest feature about this smartwatch is that it actually has two displays. The first is a transparent and low-power FTSN LCD display, and that is placed on top of its OLED display. While the top FTSN display shows you basic info like the time, the date, your heart rate and step count, you can switch over to the OLED display, which shows off all of the features of Google’s Wear OS.
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's screen has 40-percent more active space than the Charge 2 has, and it makes for a better touchscreen overall. From the watch face, swipe from top to bottom to reveal the notification drawer; from bottom to top to see the daily dashboard; and side to side to see available apps. Transitions between screen pages are smooth, and stick-figure animations in apps like the Exercise app move with ease.
Most smartwatches are still more unisex than specifically made for women. Even though Fossil, Skagen, and Apple make very convincing unisex watches that women can actually wear, none of them are unapologetically feminine. If you, like me, have been waiting for the day when you can look at a smartwatch and say, "Oh my God! It's so cute!" your day has come.
The MetaWatch M1, like the Cookoo 2 and Martian Notifier, is a basic smartwatch. It shows alerts for texts, e-mails, social media updates, calendar appointments, weather, and Caller ID, and can control your phone's music app. The notifications are configurable in terms of what you are alerted to and how: whether via a vibration or on the watch’s display. Also built in are a timer, a stopwatch, and an alarm
Smartwatches, like smart phones, can also run apps, via your smart phone or right on the watch. These include health and fitness apps (thus the comparison with activity trackers), apps that control functions such as music and the camera on your phone, navigation apps, and more. Because most smartwatches have open software platforms (at least so far), developers are coming up with new and innovative apps that can increase the functionality of the devices.
Like previous Gear watches, the Gear Sport uses a rotating bezel and two side buttons for most of its navigation. This works better than you’d think by looking at it, and it’s a boon to those who wear gloves for part of the year. In fact, we actually prefer this approach to Wear OS or the Apple Watch: Rotating through your home screens, notifications, lists of apps, or messages happens at remarkable speed for a tiny device. The screen is 1.2 inches and 360 pixels in diameter, but it’s brighter than our pick’s, and it looks decent enough while displaying most content, though text isn’t as sharp as on the Fossil screens. The watch itself is not small, at 43 and 44 millimeters wide and tall, respectively, and 11.6 mm thick, but it’s nowhere near as beefy as our prior pick, the Gear S3.
First and foremost, the Movado Connect runs on top of the standard Android Wear specs package — a Snapdragon Wear 2100 processor, 512mb of RAM, and 4GB of storage. It also includes a 1.39-inch 400×400 AMOLED display, 300mAh battery, and a typical array of sensors including an accelerometer and gyroscope. There’s also an ambient light sensor here and support for NFC, meaning you’ll be able to use Google Pay with this watch.
Why we like it: Apple Watches are the best smartwatches overall because they make it easier than any other wearable device to interact with the messages and notifications relayed from your iPhone. The Series 1, specifically, has all the features most people need at a reasonable price. It looks better than most smartwatches and fitness trackers, on wrists both large and small, thanks to two sizes and an array of finishes and bands (both official and third party). While not every major iPhone app has an Apple Watch partner app, many do, and most respond quickly and are optimized for the watch’s small screen, unlike many of the apps available for Android watches. And the Series 1 Apple Watch does a good job of independently tracking most kinds of workouts where accurate distance tracking isn’t vital,1 and encourages non-workout fitness (like standing and moving every hour). We also like that the Apple Watch lets you easily make contactless payments using Apple Pay, and if you own a Mac, you can unlock it by just getting close to it with your Apple Watch.
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.
I go for a middle-of-the-road approach—I enable alerts for most of my installed apps, save for ones that are niche (mostly shopping apps that alert me to coupons) or ones I don't use regularly. All alerts make the Charge 3 vibrate and show the message on its screen, and all past alerts live in the notification drawer that you can access by swiping down from the top of the Charge 3's display.
The TicWatch Pro shares the TicWatch E model’s older processor and late arrival, and it would be just another big (45 mm case), thick (12.6 mm) Android smartwatch, if not for its trick of having an old-fashioned-looking LCD screen that the watch switches to when you’re not actively looking at it or using it. This feature extends battery life significantly, especially if you go for periods in Essential Mode, where you see only the LCD screen showing the time, date, and your step count. But the transition from the LCD screen back to a “smart” OLED screen is not smooth or quick, and if you switch the watch to Essential Mode, you have to reboot it to get back to regular smartwatch functions.
The Charge 2 was one of Fitbit's most popular trackers, so the company stuck with the winning formula with the Charge 3. If you're at all familiar with the Charge 2, you'll notice that not much has changed in the updated device—it's still a rectangular tracker hugged on its short edges by two parts of a band. Fitbit updated the connecting mechanism that lets you switch out the bands on the Charge 3, making it easier to press the black sliver of a button on either end to release the device's current band. The new band snaps right into place without any extra effort.
The watch also has a new 1.2-inch 390×390 display which is a full circle and OLED this time around, providing punchier colors compared to the previous WSD-F20. It also still packs the dual-display technology with a special mode that turns off Wear OS and can provide up to 4 weeks of battery life. Standard usage will last around 1-1.5 days of use on a charge while a new “Extend” mode provides up to 3 days while using offline maps and GPS. Pricing lands at $549 and the watch will be available in January.
Smartwatches are still a very new thing to a lot of people, and for good reason. You don’t absolutely need one to get through the day, and some of the best smartwatches are much too expensive for many folks out there. With that said, they are good for a lot of things. They can provide you with an easy way to get information, allow you to dismiss or reply to new messages without having to pull out your phone, and much more.
If you want a smart watch that uses cellular data without using up the battery, consider upgrading to the Samsung Gear S3. A close cousin to the Gear Sport, the S3 has all the perks of an LTE smart device (downloading apps, texting, checking email) and, unlike the Apple Series 3, it won’t quit after three hours. In fact, you could feasibly get 72 hours out of this LTE version of the Samsung Gear Sport.