It's 2019, and smartwatches are no longer a cutting-edge technology reserved for the earliest of early adopters. Apple continues to perfect its watch. Google often pushes out updates to its Wear OS, and traditional watchmakers like Fossil, Michael Kors and Armani have gotten on board. Oh, yes, Samsung is in the game, with the Galaxy Watch that runs the Tizen operating system. And FitBit's Versa is a hybrid fitness-tracking smartwatch device.
With so many to choose from, we're creating this handy guide to showcase the best smartwatches. While there might be one that stands above the rest, there are a number of categories to consider, like design, health and fitness tools, the ability to take calls and, of course, cellular capabilities.
Before we dive into our categorical recommendations of which smartwatch to buy, let's walk through the basics. However, if you want a TLDR version, here's a quick sneak peak:
Size matters when it comes to a watch face
Given that these faces will be electronics screens, you'll want to carefully choose the watch face. The Apple Watch, from the beginning, has featured square faces, with the most recent models offering more rounded edges. Wear OS wearables have opted for round faces, which look a bit more like a classic watch, but you'll have to scroll to read most texts, because the face is wider in the middle than at the top and bottom.
For the most part, smartwatches are offered in sizes ranging from 39 millimeters up to 51 mm. Some of the more fashion-centric brands that offer smartwatches might go bigger or smaller, especially for limited runs in unusual colors. The main players generally stick to 42 mm, 44 mm and 46 mm. That range includes Apple's and Samsung's offerings.
Which OS works best for your life?
If you have an iPhone and want a full-featured smartwatch that can integrate with FaceTime, iMessage and the many apps you might have downloaded, then the Apple Watch is your best bet. It's the only smartwatch that allows you to send and receive messages of all kinds (SMS and iMessage included). No other smartwatch can send back iMessages from your wrist. It also works seamlessly with all of the core iOS features, and many iOS apps in the App Store offer watchOS counterparts.
Google's Wear OS app for iOS will let you see messages and respond to SMS. However, Apple locks down many of the iPhone's abilities. On the other hand, Wear OS performs like a dream on Android, as you'd expect. For a Pixel, Samsung Galaxy, LG G7, or even HTC user, Wear OS is a strong starting place. It integrates well with the Messages apps and with the overall Play Store ecosystem.
For the fashion brand watches, rather than create a whole new user interface, the makers use Wear OS with custom watch faces.
While no flagship devices from Samsung run Tizen in the US, it is the optimal flavor of the Galaxy Watch — or at least Samsung thinks it should be. It's deeply integrated with any Galaxy device, and they pair quite nicely. You can use the physical ring around the face to control aspects of the user interface as well. Moreover, since the Galaxy Watch is custom built by Samsung, you can expect a healthy series of updates in the future.
FitBit and Garmin, on the other hand, use their proprietary software that plays with both iOS and Android. Mileage will vary with different messaging apps across operating systems, but at the least, you'll be able to read all incoming pings.
Does health tracking matter to you?
Fitness monitoring or tracking is a core part of watchOS, Wear OS, Tizen and yep, you guessed it, FitBit and Garmin custom software. Most smartwatches will be able to handle counting steps, tracking distances and calories burned. The quality of the tracking accuracy depends on the hardware. Things like accelerometers, gyroscopes and other specific widgets are crucial for tracking.
Additionally, if you want to measure your heart rate or do an electrocardiogram while on the go, you'll need a heart rate sensor built into the back of the watch. For instance, all models of the Apple Watch can take a heart rate and tell your beats per minute. If you want an ECG, you'll need to get an Apple Watch Series 4.
Samsung's Galaxy Watch can do basic fitness tracking, but you'll need the Galaxy Watch Active for heart rate measurements. The Wear OS side of the smartwatch industry is a bit more fragmented, with some models specifically geared toward fitness junkies, while others lack those features but focus more on design.
So with all of this in mind, and a solid idea of what you're looking for, take a look at our favorite smartwatches.
The best option for iPhone users is the Apple Watch.
No shocker here. The Apple Watch is the best companion for an iPhone. The question then becomes which model Apple Watch is the right fit for you, a tough question that we've managed to answer quite simply.
The core differences between 2017's Series 3 and 2018's Series 4 mainly focus on health and performance features. Beyond that, both have the same watchOS, albeit with a few features specific to hardware constraints, and access to the same main affordances. Both the Series 3 and Series 4 feature GPS, LTE (for an extra $100), a heart rate sensor, swim-proof water resistance and roughly the same battery life.
Apple upgraded the screen size on the Series 4 to 40 mm and 44 mm (as opposed to 38 mm and 42 mm). This is a bit of an illusion, as the watch itself stays the same size, but Apple decreased the bezels around the display. Internal storage is doubled to 16GB, the processor is faster, you have more colors to choose from and it has improved health features. It's also the only Apple Watch that can do an ECG on the go, give you low heart-rate alerts and provide fall detection.
However, if you're not looking for those, the Series 3 is more affordable, with a starting price of $279 for GPS or $379 for GPS and cellular. Series 4 starts at $399 for GPS and $499 for GPS and cellular. Whatever you decide, the Apple Watch is the perfect companion for an iPhone (albeit a pricey one).
Samsung's Galaxy Watch is the perfect option for Galaxy smartphones.
- Galaxy Watch 46-mm Silver ($299.99; samsung.com)
- Galaxy Watch 46-mm Silver Cellular ($369.99; samsung.com)
- Galaxy Watch 42-mm Midnight Black ($279.99; samsung.com)
- Galaxy Watch 42-mm Midnight Black Cellular ($349.99; samsung.com)
- Galaxy Watch 42-mm Rose Gold ($279.99; samsung.com)
- Galaxy Watch 42-mm Rose Gold Cellular ($349.99; samsung.com)
Samsung has an interesting track record when it comes to smartwatches. The early days of the Gear line envisioned smartwatches with a camera and features that seemed out of a Dick Tracy movie. While the Gear branding has been dropped for smartwatches, it's still around for fitness trackers.
The smartest move yet was to pivot to the Galaxy Watch. It's the most refined wearable from Samsung yet, works harmoniously with its ecosystem, and looks like a traditional circular watch. It's big, at either 46 mm or 42 mm, and attracts looks. You can get it in silver (46 mm only), midnight black (42 mm) or rose gold (42 mm).
No matter the watch face, it will be running Samsung's custom Tizen software, which plays very well with Galaxy phones. It's limited, as you'd expect, on iOS, especially with iMessage, and third-party apps will vary. With Android, it plays a little better, but that's the nature of the OS. It has excellent battery life that should last multiple days and comes in LTE or cellular variants that work on the big four carriers in the US. It will also connect to your smartphone over Bluetooth.
In terms of design, Samsung wanted to make it durable and water-resistant. It succeeds in both of these areas, but not to the degree where it ruins the design. Overall, the Galaxy Watch looks good, and while it might be big for some, it makes great use of the space it occupies. For instance, on the 46-mm variant, the physical ring around the screen is movable and controls aspects of the OS.
The Galaxy Watch Active is an affordable fitness-focused watch.
- Galaxy Watch Active ($199.99; samsung.com)
At just $199.99, the Galaxy Watch Active is a lot more affordable than the regular Galaxy Watch and screams simplicity. It has a smaller screen and drops the rotating bezel and the LTE connectivity. Samsung still opted for Tizen OS and it a fully finger-controlled experience. Plus the Watch Active can auto detect exercise, take your heart rate and can even help you meditate.
From LG to Fossil, two Wear OS smartwatches left an impression.
- Fossil Sport Smartwatch ($255.00; fossil.com)
Wear OS will work on Android and iOS, and yes, it's a bit limited on the latter, but not to a shocking degree. If you're looking for a more affordable option that's stylish and feature filled, take a look at Fossil Sport. At $255, it undercuts both the Apple Watch and Galaxy Watch. It comes in a variety of colors, including red, and is super lightweight.
Out of the box, it comes paired with a silicone strap (Fossil sells plenty of colors) and straps around the 43 mm or 41 mm screen size. There is no cellular variant, but it uses Bluetooth LE to connect to your phone. It can handle heart rate and activity tracking out of the box, and there are plenty of apps to choose from, since it runs on Wear OS.
- LG Watch W7 ($449.99; amazon.com)
If you want a smartwatch that is a true hybrid with a physical gearbox and an OLED screen, the LG Watch W7 is expensive, but meets the requirements. There are physical hour and minute hands and a working gearbox. It doesn't pack many tracking features or a heart rate sensor, but it's meant to be more of a timepiece.
LG opted for Wear OS, and it uniquely deals with the physical hands. You can hit a physical button to have them go flat at 9 and 3, or both up to 12 to minimize the amount of the display they block.
Note: The prices above reflect the retailers' listed prices at the time of publication.