We’ve worn dozens of smartwatches and fitness trackers over the course of workdays, workouts, vacations, and the rest of everyday life to see which ones best track your activity, relay your phone notifications, give you access to apps, and do anything else that lets you keep your phone in your pocket. The Apple Watch Series 1 (which works only with iPhones) offers the best combination of style, message handling, apps, battery life, activity tracking, and value. But we also have picks if you use an Android phone, or if you value fitness or distance-sports tracking over style, notifications, and apps.
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.
Its only drawback is its use of Samsung’s own Tizen OS. Tizen is a custom OS that’s based on Linux. On paper it’s pretty good, letting you pair the Gear S2 with any Android smartphone, not just Samsung Galaxy phones. But it’s nowhere near as developed as Wear OS, which itself isn’t perfect. There aren’t nearly as many apps available as the Wear OS app store, but the core functionality is at least present from what is available.
Smartwatches are relatively new gadgets, and their features are continuously improving. Each smartwatch needs to synch to your smartphone to get enhanced features. Once linked, depending on the model of smartwatch, you can forward emails, text messages, GPS directions and more to your wrist. Some smartwatches even have built-in microphones and speakers, allowing you to make phone calls. Calls are routed through your smartphone, just like when using a Bluetooth Headset. The Samsung watch—dubbed the Galaxy Gear—also has an integrated camera, so you can snap spontaneous photos without ever picking up your smartphone. Of course, ever smartwatch also functions as a traditional digital watch when not linked to a smart device. As the technology matures, expect to see more advanced features and perhaps even complete phone functionality built in.
Why we like it: Compared with a smartwatch or fitness tracker, a dedicated GPS running watch is focused on one category of exercise: outdoor movement. GPS watches offer the fastest GPS signal lock-on and more-precise maps, while also showing up to the second details on your pace, heart rate, mile split times, and a host of other stats on an always-on display. The physical buttons on a GPS watch are easier to use while moving (and without looking), rather than having to swipe or tap on a tiny glass screen. A GPS watch’s longer battery life can better handle endurance events than a smartwatch. And the software and apps behind a good GPS watch provide more statistics and training programs to improve your efficiency. While GPS watches can show notifications, the weather, and a few other smartwatch-like conveniences, they’re much more limited in what can be done from a wrist than a smartwatch—or even a fitness tracker like the Vívosmart.
The problem is that to monitor your sleeping patterns, a valuable feature most of these new smartwatches support, the watch needs to be on your wrist. So leaving your watch charging overnight while you slumber isn’t going to work. But smartwatches have small batteries compared to smartphones, so should only take 2 - 4 hours to fully charge, depending on the model.
Being able to customize the watch faces and layouts, made the Series 3 a shoo-in for our list of best smart watches. Much like you can customize the homescreen on your iPhone, you can change the layout of apps and even display the weather. While you can’t opt for third-party designs, you do have 12 different watch faces to play with. Tinker with color schemes, add or remove widgets (called “complications” on the app), and decide whether you want to have all twelve faces available on your watch (we always like having options), or cut back.
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.
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.
As mentioned, the rotating crown on the Q watches is a bit stiffer than it should be. This makes it somewhat more difficult to spin through notifications or scroll through a longer bit of text with the tip of one finger. The fix is to push the crown forward or backward from a lower angle, or roll more of your finger over it. It’s easier to turn with two fingers, but that’s definitely not a convenient gesture; you’ll likely just learn to get the rolling right.
Our top pick for most people is the Apple Watch Series 4 with GPS (starting at $399), which has a huge display, ultra-fast processor, Raise to Speak Siri, fall detection and a built-in electrical heart rate sensor for taking on-the-go electrocardiograms. It also runs watchOS 5, which makes the watch even more useful with automatic workout-tracking, offline podcast playback and a Walkie-Talkie voice chat feature.