First, there’s now an option of an LTE-capable model allowing for always-on connectivity. This is through the use of an eSIM inside and an antenna cleverly hidden behind the display. The great news is that your Apple Watch 3 will share the same phone number as your iPhone, whereas other LTE-capable smartwatches have required you to juggle two phone numbers. You’ll need to pay for an additional smartwatch plan for the functionality, however.
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.
If you’re into premium smartwatches, the Montblanc Summit is the latest option hitting watch shops around the world. Out of the box, it runs atop Android Wear 2.0 with the standard specifications — Snapdragon Wear 2100, 512mb of RAM, and 4GB of storage. There’s no NFC or LTE on board, but the watch does feature a heart rate sensor and premium materials.
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The three buttons on the Q Explorist are useful and responsive, although the middle crown’s button action may be a bit too responsive. The newest versions of Wear OS allow you to set each of the two clicky side buttons (at the 2 and 4 o’clock positions) as a shortcut to any function on the watch when on the home screen. Clicking the center button wakes up the watch and brings you back to your “home” watch-face display, and holding it down activates Google Assistant. The Q Explorist’s center button has a mushier action to it than the Digital Crown on the Apple Watch, and its rotation is stiffer (more on that below), but it works, and turning a crown is easier to do in more situations than continually flicking upward on a touchscreen. The Venture lacks the two side buttons, and its crown cannot turn through lists. While the turning crown is a helpful upgrade, the the Venture’s push-button response is firmer and better than on the Explorist, and its screen response is fast enough to make the lack of physical input tolerable.
Qualcomm is preparing to launch a new generation of wearable processors at an event in September. That’s likely going to mean new hardware and maybe even new capabilities within wearable operating systems. So at least for the next few weeks, it might be best to hold off on buying any new smartwatches, at least those still rocking a Snapdragon Wear 2100…
That’s the big downside of relying on your phone as a tracker, unless it is somewhere on your body, whenever you are moving about or exercising, all that effort won’t be counted. For some people - say joggers who wear their smartphone on an arm band, that’s not a big issue, but you really aren’t getting the full picture of your activity, including the things you do in your sleep, without having a gadget mounted on your wrist.
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.
Samsung released its Galaxy Watch, a follow-up to the Gear S3, a prior pick. The Galaxy Watch is available in 42 mm and 46 mm configurations, with either a Bluetooth-only connection or Bluetooth plus LTE from T-Mobile (at launch). The biggest update seems to be the battery life, which the company claims will last for days between charges. The Bluetooth version of the Galaxy Watch is available for $330 for the smaller version and $350 for the larger (46 mm) model; the 42 mm LTE version is available for $380 and the 46 mm is $400.
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.
The Apple Watch Series 4 is now on sale, and it's the best smartwatch you can buy right now. The redesigned device, which starts at $399 for the GPS model and $499 for the cellular version, is the best smartwatch you can buy. It has a larger display and slightly bigger case size while retaining the same rounded square design the watch is known for. Even more importantly, Apple received FDA clearance for a new electrocardiogram feature that can take a 30-second EKG and diagnose atrial fibrillation.