Smartwatches are becoming more than just a way to get smartphone notifications on your wrist. The devices have to be everything in one: a fitness tracker, a wallet and even a phone, with Apple adding cellular connectivity to the new Apple Watch Series 3.
We’re in the process of testing Apple’s new watch, but it looks like it should take the top spot on our list. The Series 3 (starting at $329) has a faster processor, barometric altimeter for measuring elevation, built-in GPS, water-resistance for swim-tracking, Siri and a suite of health and fitness features, thanks to watchOS 4.
However, only choose the pricier $399 LTE version if you want to be able to use your watch without your phone -- and you’re willing to pay $10 per month for the convenience.
Other smartwatch makers have embraced LTE, but paying for a separate data plan for the device on your wrist can be a tough sell. The cellular smartwatches that are on the market now from companies like Samsung and LG are all so large that they look ridiculous on those with smaller wrists. That could all change now that Apple is rolling out the Series 3 in two sizes, 38mm and 42mm.
Apple’s health and fitness features really shine compared to other smartwatches, and we expect the non-cellular Series 3 to be the best smartwatch for fitness enthusiasts. Fitbit’s new Ionic smartwatch rivals the Apple Watch when it comes to exercise-tracking (and handily beats Apple on battery life and sleep analysis), but lacks the style, variety in size and price, and the full-fledged App Store that make the Apple Watch our top pick.
iPhone users don’t have to pick the Apple Watch for their smartwatch experience — certain Tizen-powered Samsung watches and new Android Wear 2.0 watches work with iOS, too. This year’s crop of Android Wear devices look good with their bright, round displays, but none have wowed us as a complete package.
Samsung’s Gear S3, a Tizen OS watch, is our favorite smartwatch for Android users. In addition to a very sleek design, the Gear S3 offers built-in GPS, water-resistance, a speaker, Samsung Pay support, plus a nifty rotating dial for navigating the interface.
The 4G LTE version, the S3 Frontier, even lets you make and receive calls and texts. However, this watch suffers from a lack of apps. Samsung is adding a smaller, sportier smartwatch, the Gear Sport, later this year.
If you're looking to get a smartwatch on the cheap, the Keoker smartwatch is our top pick among budget smartwatches under $100. Those are just a few of the dozens of smartwatches we've tested.
How We Test and Rate Smartwatches
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).
We install apps and use them to see if the device’s app store is robust enough to elevate it to smartwatch status. If the watch has built-in LTE, we test cellular connectivity and call quality to make sure the device can actually stand on its own without a smartphone nearby.
And we measure battery life using everyday scenarios — including workouts, using apps, and getting notifications — to make sure you can get through an entire day without needing to charge up.
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