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.
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.
If you're looking to get a smartwatch on the cheap, the Amazfit Bip is our favorite among budget smartwatches under $100.
Fitbit’s Versa 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.
Samsung's Galaxy Watch, a Tizen OS watch (starting at $329), is our favorite smartwatch for Android users. In addition to up to four days of battery life and a great design, the Galaxy Watch offers built-in GPS, heart rate sensor, water-resistance, Samsung Pay support, plus a nifty rotating bezel for navigating the interface. You can also download music from Spotify to the watch for offline listening. However, you get far fewer apps than you would with a Wear OS watch.
For deeper integration with your Android phone, you can give Google's Wear OS platform a try with Fossil's $275 Q Control touchscreen smartwatch. It lacks GPS and support for NFC payments, which is why the Gear Sport is a better fitness-focused smartwatch for Android users, but Fossil's Google Assistant integration and stylish design make it a solid contender. Newer Wear OS watches running on Qualcomm's latest smartwatch chip, the Snapdragon Wear 3100, are now rolling out. Unfortunately, the new chip hasn't made Wear OS much better, as we found when testing the new Fossil Sport.
Smartwatch News and Updates (January 2019)
- The new Matrix PowerWatch 2, unveiled at CES, uses solar power and body heat to run for years without needing a charge. The new watch also sports built-in GPS, a heart rate sensor and full-color LCD display, giving the Apple Watch and Wear OS a run for their money. The $200 PowerWatch 2 is available to preorder on Indiegogo. Afterward, it will retail for $499.
- Withings is taking on Apple with a watch that can take on-the-go electrocardiograms for just $130. The Withings Move ECG looks like an analog watch, but can diagnose atrial fibrillation just like an Apple Watch Series 4. Withings is seeking FDA clearance for the watch, which will go on sale in the first half of this year.
- The newest Wear OS watch is also the most fashionable. Kate Spade's $295 Scallop 2 smartwatch debuted at CES with heart rate sensor, GPS and NFC for mobile payments. But it's the stylish touches, like adorable watch faces and heart rate animation, that set this watch apart from the Wear OS pack. The Scallop 2 is available to preorder now.
- Mobvoi, a Chinese AI company that makes affordable Wear OS watches, just announced an ultra-rugged model: the TicWatch S2. The shockproof, waterproof watch offers two-day battery life and a new swimming workout. Mobvoi hasn't revealed price or availability for the S2 or another new watch, the E2, yet.
- Under Armour developed a version of its popular MapMyRun app for Samsung's Galaxy Watch that will track workouts even without a phone nearby. The watch app also syncs with Under Armour's connected shoes, which come in five styles and track everything from pace and mileage to cadence and stride.
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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