Why we like it: Apple Watches are the best smartwatches overall because they make it easier than any other wearable device to interact with the messages and notifications relayed from your iPhone. The Series 1, specifically, has all the features most people need at a reasonable price. It looks better than most smartwatches and fitness trackers, on wrists both large and small, thanks to two sizes and an array of finishes and bands (both official and third party). While not every major iPhone app has an Apple Watch partner app, many do, and most respond quickly and are optimized for the watch’s small screen, unlike many of the apps available for Android watches. And the Series 1 Apple Watch does a good job of independently tracking most kinds of workouts where accurate distance tracking isn’t vital,1 and encourages non-workout fitness (like standing and moving every hour). We also like that the Apple Watch lets you easily make contactless payments using Apple Pay, and if you own a Mac, you can unlock it by just getting close to it with your Apple Watch.
All but the Martian Notifier claim some degree of water resistance: the LG, Samsung, and Motorola models can survive underwater up to 1 meter for 30 minutes, the Cookoo2 up to 100 meters, and the MetaWatch up to 3ATM, which is equivalent to 30 meters. Only the Martian and Motorola models claim to have scratch-resistant screens (the Martian has an anti-scratch acrylic crystal and the Moto 3 uses Gorilla Glass 3).
Google announced in late August a substantial new version of Wear OS, which should roll out to nearly every smartwatch running Android Wear 2.0 as of September 2018. The biggest changes are to the navigation of Wear OS’s homescreen, which means it could make these watches significantly easier to use. The updated UI will give you four primary places to go from your watch face: Swiping left gets you to the new Google Fit and its Heart Points and Move Minutes; swiping right brings you to a hopefully fast-loading, better-responding Google Assistant interface for asking questions or issuing commands; swipe up and you’ll see a long stream of all of your notifications, which you can interact with and respond to; swipe down, as with Wear 2.0, to access quick settings. Google told Engadget that the update focuses on reducing loading times and improving Assistant responsiveness, which addresses some of our major our misgivings about Wear OS. We’ll test this latest Wear OS and update this guide after we have a better sense of the changes.
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 can choose from five different watch faces for the Charge 3, making it less customizable than the Ionic or the Versa. Those smartwatches have the advantage of running Fitbit OS, which includes a library of many third-party-developed watch faces. The Charge 3 isn't a smartwatch, so its version of Fitbit's software isn't as robust as what we see on the Ionic and the Versa. It's not as critical for the Charge 3 since it isn't designed to run more than a few basic apps, but those looking for interesting watch faces will have to do with just a handful of options.
In 2003, Fossil released the Wrist PDA, a watch which ran the Palm OS and contained 8 MB of RAM and 4 MB of flash memory. It contained a built in stylus to help use the tiny monochrome display, which had a resolution of 160×160 pixels. Although many reviewers declared the watch revolutionary, it was criticized for its weight (108 grams) and was ultimately discontinued in 2005.
If you’re trying to decide which one is right for you, allow us to help. The Versa is smaller and looks good on most wrist sizes, while the Ionic is probably best for large wrists. The other main difference is GPS connectivity — the Ionic comes with built-in GPS, while the Versa does not. However, you can pair it with your smartphone if you don’t mind bringing it with you on a run.
The Asus ZenWatch 3 was a previous top pick for a Wear OS smartwatch. As of now, it has reached the end of its Wear OS updates (after a very long delay getting to Android Wear 2.0). Its rotating crown does not actually work to turn or scroll anything on the screen. Its proprietary watch band connections mean that your options are limited to what is available from third parties on Amazon. And the watch is hard to find new.
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.
I've been pleased to see swim-tracking trickle down into more affordable devices over the past few years. Fitbit's Flex 2 remains its most affordable device with swim-tracking features, priced at $60. But the $150 Charge 3, with its big display and smattering of smartwatch capabilities, is for a different audience than those who would gravitate to the tiny, quasi-cylindrical Flex 2. Even if you don't swim often, water-resistance up to 50 meters means users don't have to worry about showering with the Charge 3 or dropping it in the pool by accident.
The LTE connection will cost you about $10 a month at most carriers, and the LTE model does cost more. There's a non-LTE version, too, if you're not interested in the new feature. Most people probably don't need LTE, frankly, unless you regularly go on hikes or long runs and you don't want to be weighed down with your phone. Still, it's a nice option to have.
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.
Many major phone apps have Wear OS counterparts, or at least most apps that make sense to have a dedicated watch app. You’ll likely find yourself using most watch apps less than you might think, but they are sometimes convenient for avoiding a phone retrieval. I use regularly use the Nest app for my home thermostat, Keep to take down a quick voice note, PocketCasts to control podcast episodes and playlists, and Stronglifts to time and track workouts. But I use these on my watch mostly when my phone is not at hand; none is easier to use than its phone version. As noted, most apps on your phone will provide notifications that can be acted upon through your watch. For the apps that you do use, the Q watches’ screen (identical to most of the Fossil group watches’ screens) is responsive enough to work with tiny buttons pressed by big fingers.
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.
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.
We test every new smartwatch to gauge its design and comfort. If it’s not stylish and comfortable enough to get you from an early morning workout to the office to a night out, you probably won’t wear it every day. Most smartwatches are also fitness trackers, so we put all of its sensors to the test, from step counts to heart rate to GPS (when applicable).