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.
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.
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.
Inside the Charge 3 are an accelerometer, gyroscope, optical heart rate monitor, and an SpO2 sensor for tracking blood oxygen levels. The Charge 3 is the third Fitbit device to include an SpO2 sensor, following in the footsteps of both the Fitbit Ionic and the Versa smartwatches. However, currently the SpO2 monitor lies dormant inside all of these devices as Fitbit hasn't made use of it yet.
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.
We actually got our hands on over a dozen of these smart watches just to get a feel for what it was like to use them. While all of them came with at least one main button (or a home button if you’re an iPhone-user), the ones that stood out had scrolling down to a science. On such a small screen, swiping isn’t always the most ideal form of navigation. Some of the best smart watches for navigation, we found, had twistable dials or bezels you could turn.
If you like traditional analog watches and want just a few smart features, the Cookoo 2 might be more appealing than its more full-featured rectangular competitors. Behind its hands is a monochrome display that delivers basic notifications: incoming calls (with Caller ID), missed calls, texts, e-mail, social media alerts (for WhatsApp, Line, QQ, WeChat, Skype, Facebook, Twitter), and calendar alerts. Just bear in mind that it's a very basic smartwatch, with little configurability.
The LG G Watch, Samsung Gear Live, and Motorola Moto 360—the Android Wear models—have intuitive color touchscreen interfaces and were judged easiest to interact with. The Martian Notifier, Cookoo 2, and MetaWatch M1, which have push-button navigation, were determined to be the most difficult to use. In particular, the Cookoo 2's buttons were very hard to press.
Bottom line: Some fitness trackers work equally well with an iPhone or Android device, but some smartwatches are built to pair with Android phones so you won’t enjoy full functionality and pairing on an iPhone. The Apple Watch only pairs with the iPhone so is off limits to Android users. Your existing phone choice will play an important part in choosing a smartwatch. You can check your smartphone’s compatibility with a range of Google Wear-powered smartwatches at g.co/WearCheck
Bottom line: If health and fitness tracking is your priority, opt for a dedicated fitness tracker that gives you basic time and date information but includes the essentials of health tracking - accelerometer and altimeter, heart rate monitor and GPS chip to track distance and location. Carefully consider your exercise habits to match them to the right fitness tracker.
Aside from its display, the Ticwatch Pro is a pretty standard offering in the Wear OS world. It’s powered by the same Snapdragon Wear 2100 chipset, has a 400×400 1.39-inch OLED display, and has a 45mm casing. There’s also a 415mAh battery inside which charges with a magnetic charger. There’s also IP68 water/dust protection, and NFC for use with Google Pay.
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.