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.
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 I also have extensive experience with Android phones, having written the (since outdated) Complete Android Guide and numerous articles about Android.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.
The Misfit Vapor was originally launched with a proprietary operating system, but that was ditched for Android Wear 2.0. The Vapor has a 1.39-inch AMOLED display, Snapdragon Wear 2100 processor, 4GB of storage, 512mb of RAM, and a heart rate sensor. Those specs are fairly standard for Android Wear, but the Vapor also includes 5ATM water resistance which is a huge plus, and an assortment of software features added by Misfit.
The Samsung Gear S3 was our prior pick for Samsung phone owners because of its smooth dial rotation and interface. But it was notably large, with a 46 mm face, and the Frontier model was half an inch thick, notably bulky even for a smartwatch. The Gear Sport, our runner-up pick, is less bulky, less expensive, less overtly masculine-styled, and provides most of the same features, minus the LTE option.
If you’re trying to decide which one is right for you, allow us to help. The Versa is smaller and looks good on most wrist sizes, while the Ionic is probably best for large wrists. The other main difference is GPS connectivity — the Ionic comes with built-in GPS, while the Versa does not. However, you can pair it with your smartphone if you don’t mind bringing it with you on a run.
If you wear the Q Explorist close to your hand, its case size and protruding center button can activate when you bend your wrist back, or if you’re wearing thicker gloves. The worst that happens is that Google Assistant is activated, and it either does nothing or tries to ask Google whatever nonsense the microphone picks up inadvertently. That can be annoying, and may cause you to size your watch band a bit larger, so the watch sits up your arm a bit more, clear of your wrist joint. Sadly, Wear OS lacks a “left-handed mode” to allow for turning the watch and its gestures the other direction.
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.
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.
Apple Watch Series 3: If you are an iPhone user and generally exist in Apple’s ecosystem, it makes sense to get an Apple Watch. The design quality is exceptional and the Watch makes a nice pairing with your iPhone as materials and design elements are common to both. Apple’s Health app covers most of the bases when it comes to tracking your essential fitness and activity indicators - nutrition, sleep, physical exercise, but Apple has gone further with HealthKit, which allows health and fitness apps downloaded from the App Store to share data with each other. Apple has committed to Watch, and its attention to practical and eye-pleasing design as well as useful tracking features is commendable. ($529)
Most stores that sell these smart watches feature display models that you can pick up and touch. We recommend getting a feel for how these watches operate before you invest in one of your own. Specifically, you’ll want to know the form of navigation each of these use to go through the various screens, apps, and functionalities. We were partial to twistable bezels and dials, but you might be used to swiping your way through screens.
For all of you outdoorsmen, Casio returned to IFA this year with its latest Pro Trek watch. The Casio WSD-F30 takes the same great features of previous generations and slaps them inside of a slightly slimmer body. The 60.5mm × 53.8mm × 14.9mm body is still pretty huge, but it’s considerably smaller than what came before it and still maintains 5ATM water resistance, MIL-STD-810, and even low-temperature resistance.
Some smartwatches have robust offerings of apps, either preinstalled on the watch or available for download in an app store. Apps can be as simple as a timer or stopwatch, or can control your smart-home devices, switch up your music, or provide turn-by-turn directions for walking or driving. In our testing and everyday use, however, these watch apps rarely offer a great experience. But there are some exceptions, including some fitness apps and apps that track things like water or food intake.
(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.)
This watch won’t work unless you have an iPhone. However, it is hands-down the best smart watch for an iPhone. Other watches (including the Fossil Q Venture) will work with an iPhone, but won’t be able to answer calls or respond to texts, and if you want to customize the apps on your watch, you’ll need to navigate the Google Play store through the watch screen.
At the 2016 Consumer Electronics Show, Razer released the Nabu Watch, a dual-screen smartwatch: integrates an always-on illuminated backlit display, that takes care of some pretty standard features as date and time, and a second OLED screen, which is activated by raising your wrist, allows access to extra smart features. Luxury watchmaker TAG Heuer released TAG Heuer Connected, a smartwatch powered by Android Wear.
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.
Of the scores of Wear OS by Google (also called Wear OS, and formerly Android Wear) smartwatches that function nearly the same, the Fossil Q Explorist and Fossil Q Venture are the ones we recommend for most people. Similar models that differ mainly in size and design, these two Fossil watches offer style and band options for the widest range of tastes while performing as well as (or better than) anything else out there. They handle notifications and your responses without delay, provide all-day battery life, swiftly handle voice transcription and Google Assistant questions, and provide casual fitness tracking. Their buttons and screens are responsive. They look and feel like good watches, too, which is something we think most people want from a smartwatch at this point.
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.