Wrist watches have been fashion accessories since they were first invented. The first generation of smartwatches were dull, chunky looking devices, more functional than fashionable. How things have changed. You can select from thousands of watch faces and even design your own. Wrist straps can be swapped out and designers have come up with clever quick-release clasps for them, knowing that the need to charge your watch regularly will see you needing to remove it quickly.
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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.
You’d be amazed how hard it is to text something as simple as “hi” on many smart watch interfaces. Still, most designs take this into consideration. We tested all kinds of watches from auto-scrolling screens where you drew the letters with your finger to pre-smartphone layouts more akin to the alphanumeric layout of a payphone keypad. While the drawing features were nice, we felt that the texting was a little more manageable on keyboards.
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.
On-Screen Workouts/ Connected GPS/ Bluetooth/ Smartphone Notifications/ 4 Day Battery Life/ Heart Rate Tracking/ 15 Exercise Modes/ SmartTrack/ All-Day Activity/ Female Health/ Sleep Tracking And Stages/ Cardio Fitness Level/ 3-Axis Accelerometer And Gyroscope/ Optical Heart Rate Monitor/ Color LCD Touchscreen Display/ Water Resistant To 50 Meters/ Charcoal Woven Strap & Graphite Aluminum Finish
The touchscreen, button, and dial (what Apple calls the “crown”) help you zoom in and out and move between apps fairly effortlessly. With this easy navigation it’s easy to forget we’re typing on a screen slightly smaller than an Oreo. In particular, we loved Apple’s app homepage, which displays all of the apps as icons in a honeycomb-like display. You can use the touchscreen to move around, and the dial to zoom in or pan out, to precisely tap on the one you want.
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.
Battery life for the Q watches is unremarkably reliable, and that’s the best thing you can say about a touchscreen smartwatch. The Q Explorist never ran out of juice entirely while wearing it, even after having it be the primary turn-by-turn direction notifier on two 1-hour drives, followed by 30 minutes of actively tracked cycling and the usual all-day text/app notifications. While we didn’t wear the Venture for full days of testing, most reviews find no fault with the battery. The USB charger is a basic magnetic disc that slides onto the rounded back of the watch (though it could stand to stick onto the watch more strongly, like the Apple Watch’s similar disc).
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.
Wear OS’s chief problem, as we see it, is that it relies too much on input from swipes, taps, and other finger gestures. On a largish screen, such as on our top pick, this is less of a problem, but on smaller devices, trying to hit just the right button on the screen is like playing a very small version of Duck Hunt. The Apple Watch, by comparison, makes most of its buttons screen-wide rounded rectangles, which are easier to hit. On newer watches with three buttons, Wear OS also doesn’t utilize the physical controls beyond the home display (watch face), where they serve as shortcuts to apps or a list of apps.
To charge the watch, you have to clip on the charger and align it with contacts that you can't see when you're clipping. Why make it so complicated? There's no NFC for easy pairing, and you have to find the smartwatch app in the app market, download it, and install it on your mobile device. The Frame's display readability in bright sunlight was judged to be only good. It's relatively heavy, at 2.7 ounces (only the Toq is heavier).
Fitbit's Versa is a sleek, stylish smartwatch that works with both iOS and Android and costs less than $200, which makes it the best value smartwatch you can buy. The watch lasts four days on a charge, offers female health-tracking, advanced sleep-tracking and an app store with popular apps such as Starbucks and Pandora. You can even store music offline to listen to while you work out.