If you live in the U.S. and are in the market for a smartwatch with the latest health monitoring tech, you may want to skip the Apple Watch Series 9 and Ultra 2.
Apple has stripped both devices of their blood oxygen monitoring feature due to an ongoing legal kerfuffle with rival Masimo. Worse, the forthcoming Apple Watch Series 10 and Ultra 3 may also be impacted by the spat.
Fortunately, Apple is far from the only brand to include this crucial piece of wellness monitoring tech in a wrist wearable. Fitbit, Casio, Garmin, Polar, Samsung and even Amazfit all offer smartwatches with pulse oximeters (SpO2) built in.
But first, what's so important about blood oxygen monitoring?
The importance of monitoring blood oxygen saturation levels using a SpO2 sensor became apparent during the global COVID-19 pandemic, as low saturation levels proved to be a good indicator of a possible serious infection.
When the lungs are unable to provide enough oxygen to the body, it risks damage to other organs, which, obviously, no one wants. Sudden drops in blood oxygen levels can also indicate other serious medical conditions or episodes. So, yeah, pulse oximeters are pretty darn useful, especially given how easy and non-invasive they are to use — simply sit still for a few minutes while the device does its thing.
Apple Watch alternative #1: Samsung Galaxy Watch 6
Our first alternative to the Apple Watch is the Samsung Galaxy Watch 6, which also happens to be one of the best smartwatches available right now. From a functionality and features standpoint, Samsung's latest smartwatch is the closest match to the Series 9 and Ultra 2.
Of course, it works best paired with a Samsung Galaxy device — or at least an Android smartphone — something to consider if you're a hardcore iOS user. That said, Google Play's watch app store rivals Apple's in terms of selection, including an enormous variety of free applications.
On the health side, the Galaxy Watch 6 lacks FDA approval in the U.S. for its blood pressure monitoring tech, but it does offer skin temperature, ECG, heart rate, and SpO2 monitoring. It's also a competent workout, sleep, and menstrual-tracking device.
In 2024, few wrist wearables can match the smarts and health-monitoring chops of the latest Samsung and Apple smartwatches. The Google Pixel Watch 2 comes close. However, SpO2 monitoring is not on the spot; instead, it's measured passively while a user sleeps.
Apple Watch alternative #2: Fitbit Sense 2
Our next alternative to the Apple Watch 9 and Ultra 2 is the Fitbit Sense 2. This premium smartwatch from Google — I mean Fitbit — is one of the best fitness tracking smartwatches on the market today.
It tends to sell for $100 cheaper than the Apple Watch 9 and comes in a similar, rectangular form factor with a bright, responsive touchscreen. The Fitbit also boasts better battery life.
Health monitoring tech is essentially a match between the Sense 2 and Apple's latest-gen smartwatches, which is to say, these devices are packed to the gills with fitness features.
Both models record physical activities, monitor stress levels and sleep quality, measure heart rate, keep tabs on heart rhythm, check skin temperature and more. Of course, only the Fitbit performs SpO2 readings.
Smart features are far less plentiful on the Sense 2, though. Aside from Google Maps, Google Wallet, and Alexa Voice control, third-party apps are, well, non-existent.
That said, the Sense 2 does support on-wrist calls and texts. But if you want to browse Facebook or load up Spotify from your wrist, there are smarter options available, like the Galaxy Watch 6 above.
Apple Watch alternative #3: Garmin Venu 3
The Garmin Venu 3 is another top-tier smartwatch with a built-in SpO2 sensor. Not only does it boast excellent wellness monitoring tech but also impressive workout, training and recovery metrics.
Like the Fitbit Sense 2 and the latest Apple Watch models, the Venu 3 has a bright and vibrant AMOLED touchscreen. It also beats Apple in the battery life department, so it'll last longer between charges.
The Venu 3 is a great choice for hardcore athletes looking to gain serious insights into their performance and progress. Still, it's not short on useful features for the average Joe or Jane, including a built-in virtual sleep coach and even nap-tracking.
Like the Fitbit, smart features are somewhat light. But those that come preloaded are genuinely useful. You can take calls from your wrist, and there's also voice support for Siri and Google Assistant.
Plus, the watch supports mobile payments and can store music offline, so you can leave your phone at home. The Garmin Connect IQ store doesn't offer anywhere near the number of apps, but the selection is far greater than what Fitbit offers (or Polar, below).
Apple Watch alternative #4: Polar Vantage V3
Like the Garmin, the Polar Vantage V3 is a high-tech fitness-focused watch with plenty of workout and wellness features. It also sports a rich and crisp AMOLED touchscreen, excellent battery life and a plethora of physical buttons around the bezel.
The Vantage V3 is capable of heart rate, ECG, SpO2 and skin temperature monitoring. It also keeps tabs on sleep quality, workout recovery, daily movement and more.
With 150+ profiles for physical activities — from snowboarding to disc golf — you don't need to be an Olympic athlete to appreciate the V3's detailed post-workout maps, metrics and insights. Dual-band GPS and an altimeter provide extremely accurate location and elevation data. And offline maps add to its versatility.
However, outside of on-wrist music control and phone notifications, advanced smartwatch features are absent.
Apple Watch alternative #5: G-Shock Move DW-H5600
The Casio G-Shock Move DW-H5600 may not look like a serious smart device. But rest assured, it is. Modeled off the brand's legendary DW5600 "dumb" watch that debuted in the 1980s, this model boasts an arsenal of wellness tech, including, you guessed it, a SpO2 sensor.
There's no touchscreen — just a monochrome LCD panel — and no third-party apps. But Casio did partner with Polar on the fitness and health stuff. So, the G-Shock Move is perfectly capable of tracking workouts.
It also monitors heart rate, sleep quality, workout recovery, stress levels, and, of course, blood oxygen saturation. Did we mention better battery life and water resistance than the Apple Watch 9 and Ultra 2?
Sure, this one may not scratch that smartwatch itch, but if it's legit fitness features you're after, the G-Shock Move DW-H5600 is easily one of the greatest looking smartwatches on the market today.
Other Apple Watch 9 and Ultra 2 alternatives
The Amazfit Bip 5 and Withings ScanWatch 2 are also great choices if you're after SpO2 measurements. And while you still may be able to find Apple Watch Series 9 and Ultra 2 devices with the untouched SpO2 tech for sale from third-party retailers, the window of opportunity is rapidly closing.
Ultimately, no one knows for sure how or when Apple and Masimo will work things out regarding ownership of the blood saturation tech in question. But recent developments don't paint a rosy picture of the showdown.
This is to say, don't expect the feature to return to existing Apple Watches — or show up in new ones — any time soon. Grab a smartwatch for a different brand instead.
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Dan Bracaglia covers fitness and consumer technology with an emphasis on wearables for Tom's Guide. Based in the US Pacific Northwest, Dan is an avid outdoor adventurer who dabbles in everything from kayaking to snowboarding, but he most enjoys exploring the cities and mountains with his small pup, Belvedere. Dan is currently training to climb some of Washington State's tallest peaks. He's also a big photography nerd.
I'm definitely in the minority here, but for me the #1 feature of the Fitbit Sense 2 is the battery life. I basically charge it while I'm brushing my teeth in the morning and the evening and that's it. If I miss it, it's fine, it holds a charge for 2-3 days. I couldn't stand a watch that drains every day and charging overnight completely negates the sleep tracking which is awesome on the Fitbit.Reply