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.
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.
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.
A smartwatch is a wearable computer in the form of a wristwatch; modern smartwatches provide a local touchscreen interface for daily use, while an associated smartphone app provides for management and telemetry (such as long-term biomonitoring). While early models could perform basic tasks, such as calculations, digital time telling, translations, and game-playing, 2010s smartwatches have more general functionality closer to smartphones, including mobile apps, a mobile operating system and Bluetooth connectivity. Some smartwatches function as portable media players, with FM radio and playback of digital audio and video files via a Bluetooth or USB headset. Some models, called 'watch phones' (or vice versa), have complete functionality of a typical smartphone using LTE technology.
As you’d expect, it has GPS and GLONASS alongside a heart rate monitor to bolster its fitness credentials. Other features include offline Spotify support, which is great for anyone who wants music without having to carry along their phone. Tizen is currently the only watch operating system to offer offline Spotify, too. Unfortunately, Tizen app support is otherwise lacking compared to rivals.
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.
Samsung’s Gear Sport is not as stylish as Fossil’s Q watches, and because it runs Samsung’s Tizen operating system instead of Wear OS, it has nowhere near the app support of Wear OS. But as a smartwatch that shows your phone notifications and lets you respond to them, lasts all day, and tracks your recreational workouts, it is a great device. It’s not meant for competitive speed training, but it has built-in GPS and heart-rate sensing, offline Spotify storage, and a rotating bezel that’s much easier to use while exercising than a touchscreen. It does suffer from weak voice transcription and a barely-there S Voice “assistant,” but it fits a lot of core smartwatch functions into a relatively smart-looking package that’s better for fitness-minded wearers than our top picks.
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Why we like it: Garmin’s Vívosport fitness band gives you more (and more-accurate) fitness tracking features than a smartwatch, though you won’t be able to respond to messages and notifications or use apps on your wrist. The Vívosport lasts up to a week on a single battery charge, while an Apple Watch or Android Wear device requires overnight charging. Its screen always shows stats during a workout, while smartwatches like the Apple Watch typically turn off when you’re not looking at them. And you can wear a Vívosport while you sleep to get at least a rough view of how restful your night was without having to worry about charging it every morning. All these things give you a better overall picture of how active and healthy you are, and make it more convenient to wear one smaller device all the time: You won’t have to grab a phone to track a run, you won’t have to wear a large, utilitarian-looking GPS watch to work, and you’ll rarely have to worry about battery life during a long workout. The Vívosport also tracks heart rates and GPS location nearly as well as a GPS watch (with some exceptions), but in a smaller and less noticeable package.
The Series 4 now has several new health-focused features, which are very intriguing, including the ability to detect when you fall and even alert emergency contacts if need be, as well as an electrical heart rate sensor that works with an app to alert you to heart health issues. The electrocardiogram (ECG) app has been certified by the Food & Drug Administration, but it's not out yet.
The Huawei Watch 2 was one of the first smartwatches to launch with Android Wear 2.0 (now known as Wear OS), so delivers the handy Google Assistant straight to your wrist. Other improvements include more ways to respond to messages from your wrist, including a new on-screen keyboard. Wear OS doesn’t quite rival Apple’s watchOS for app support, but it has a decent stable of apps you’d expect.
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.
Flaws but not dealbreakers: Wear OS, Google’s name for Android for smartwatches, still feels like a work in progress, and in our testing, the Google Assistant voice feature frequently dropped responses—though that could improve via software updates. The Q line’s button at the 3 o’clock position is easy to accidentally trigger, bringing up Google Assistant and sometimes sending it nonsense questions. Wear OS also lacks a left-handed mode to allow you to switch the watch around. On the workout front, Fossil Q watches lack a heart rate monitor, so they’re not able to detect workouts or help with pacing; and the size of these models—and most Android smartwatches, really—and the touchscreen interface make workouts more difficult to monitor and pause than with a dedicated fitness tracker.
Wear OS comes with a focus on fitness features, but unfortunately Huawei managed to simultaneously move too far in this direction and also fall short of it. It doesn’t come with a rotating side button for navigation, which is a shame as we really love the button on the LG Watch Sport. It does, however, come with great battery life and a stellar feature set otherwise.
Battery life and charging options: Charging your smartwatch is a hassle and the biggest downside to trading in your manually-wound or button battery-powered watch. A Fitbit Versa might last 3 - 4 days between charges, but a smartwatch like the Samsung Gear Sport or Apple Watch will need recharging every couple of days and sometimes every night if you are tapping on the screen regularly and using its apps.
Although rectangular is the most common design, there are smart watches that have a circular display similar to regular watches. The Apple Watch is only available in the rectangular design. The circular design is available in the Samsung Gear S2, Moto 360, and LG G Watch R models. Many models have changeable straps, so you can dress casual, sporty, and formal.
It has all the sensors you might want if you’re an avid runner, but it goes so much further. If you’re a hiker, you’ll love the altimeter, air pressure read-outs, the clock showing the sunrise and sunset times, compass and the indicator of the day’s tide levels. You can also download map data for use offline, meaning if you’re the Bear Grylls type then you’ll be well prepared.
While testing the Q Venture, we found the response time to be pretty solid when it came to calls and notifications. The typical response time for a notification was somewhere around 10 seconds. We were, however, able to immediately ignore calls. This quick response time should give you plenty of time to retrieve your phone from your pocket or fish it out of your purse.