TL;DR – These are the Best Smart Watches:
1. Apple Watch Series 6
Best Smart Watch
Apple remains at the front of the pack with the new Apple Watch Series 6. The new watch comes in the same sizes as its predecessor, including the same screen size, but now it offers an always-on display that’s substantially brighter and the case has actually managed to get a little thinner.
At the heart of the watch sits Apple’s new S6 processor for even more performance than its predecessors. The watch also ups its sensing capabilities with a new blood oxygen sensor and an always-on barometric altimeter. The former can help keep track of how much oxygen your blood is carrying while the latter can add more detail into your tracked activities, so you won’t just be seeing how far you’ve walked but also the amount of elevation change. The new watch also comes in some colorful new styles and coincides with the launch of many new watchbands.
2. Ticwatch E2
Best Budget Smart Watch
If you’re looking for a smartwatch that doesn’t break the bank, allow us to recommend the Ticwatch E2. At $160 it’s less than half the price of an Apple Watch, while still delivering features such as GPS and a waterproof design. In fact, swimming is one of the big selling points of the E2, which can track both your pool workouts and surfing sessions.
At 47mm wide and 13mm thick it’s quite a large watch, one that won’t be earning plaudits among the fashionistas. But it has plenty of functionality, and a battery life that can run to two days.
3. Amazfit Bip U Pro
Best Ultra Cheap Smart Watch
If you think you can’t get much of a smartwatch for $60, Amazfit has some news for you. The Amazfit Bip U Pro offers a staggering number of capabilities for a watch at this price point. For one, you’re getting plenty of fitness tracking potential. The Bip U Pro can monitor your heart rate 24/7, check your blood oxygen levels, and track your movement. These sensors can also help you gauge your sleep quality. The watch is also loaded with sports modes for over 60 activities from running and cycling to Tai Chi and curling. You can also track your swimming, as this watch is ready to go for a dip thanks to water resistance down to fifty meters.
Amazfit packs all this capability into a compact watch that’s just 11.4mm thick and 31 grams. And yet there’s still a 1.43-inch display. That display is of the transflective variety that lets you see it in broad daylight without needing to use a power-draining backlight, which helps the Bip U Pro offer up to 9 days of battery life. Really driving the smarts of this watch home, Amazfit has integrated Amazon’s Alexa, so your $60 gets you all that tracking capability plus a smart assistant on your wrist.
4. Samsung Galaxy Watch 3
Best Smart Watch for Android
Samsung’s Galaxy Watch 3 continues the company’s success at making Android-compatible smartwatches that don’t rely on Google’s Wear OS platform. The new watch is smaller, slimmer, and lighter than Samsung’s earlier model but packs in a bigger display. It comes in multiple colors, including Samsung’s new Mystic Bronze, and supports standard watch band sizes to let you customize it to your liking. You can even take a picture of your outfit, and make the watch face intelligently match it.
The watch runs on a Samsung-made processor and uses Samsung’s own software. That pairing has let Samsung offer a capable device that runs for up to 43 hours, which is considerably more than most Wear OS smartwatches can manage. The watch supports plenty of useful apps and can track your steps and heart rate as well as more advanced metrics like your blood pressure and blood oxygen level. It can even take an ECG reading.
5. Garmin Forerunner 945
Best Smart Watch for Runners
Garmin is the undisputed trophy-holder for sheer number of wearables to its name. And as far as running and multisport watches go, the Forerunner 945 is top dog. GPS is built in, as is an optical heart rate sensor, onboard maps, a barometric altimeter, gyroscope, accelerometer, thermometer, and a pulse oximeter, which can be helpful when climbing to high altitudes. Phew.
In our testing the 945 performed admirably in GPS tracking and monitoring our heart rate. But so focused on fitness is the Forerunner 945 that it falls down on the design. The 945 case is 47mm wide, 13.7mm thick and made from fiber-reinforced polymer; it’s lightweight and comfortable enough, but it doesn’t look very good. It’s also quite big.
If you want something more “smartwatch-like” then the Garmin Venu is a more stylish option with a richer display.
6. Fitbit Versa 3
Best Fitness Smart Watch
Fitbit has continued to push forward with its Versa line-up of smartwatches, and the latest model can compete with the Apple Watch. The Fitbit Versa 3 offers up a renewed smartwatch-meets-fitness-tracker with even further improved battery life. Now, you can keep track of your exercises, enjoying automatic activity tracking, for almost a full week without needing to recharge. Heart rate, blood oxygen, and sleep tracking can further help you monitor your health. And, while a week-long battery life with that kind of tracking might not be too impressive for a fitness tracker, the Fitbit Versa 3 also functions as a smartwatch.
You can get app notifications on the watch and respond to them with quick replies or through dictation using the built-in microphone. You can stream audio on Pandora or Deezer or control audio playback for your phone. You’ve also got a virtual assistant on your wrist with support for Alexa and Google Assistant. Now that’s smart.
7. Skagen Falster 3
Best Looking Smart Watch
Fossil and its licensed brands have been churning out gorgeous smartwatches for quite some time, and it offers the most variety of any brand. But for our money, the Skagen Falster is the best of the bunch.
You get the full-blown display, but the design of the watch is quite minimal. It’s a unisex 42mm case size with a choice of leather, silicone or metal mesh strap.
There are features like a heart rate monitor and NFC for Google Pay, but sadly Google’s health tracking isn’t as good as Apple’s or Fitbit’s. Thankfully, the Play Store gives you access to third-party apps like Strava that go some way to scratching that itch.
If you want a Wear OS smartwatch that looks the part, the Falster 3 delivers.
8. Casio G-Shock GBD-H1000
Best Rugged Smartwatch
The Casio G-Shock GBD-H1000 is designed to run and run and run wherever you go. It may be one of the chunkiest smartwatches on this list, but it’s packed full of features. It has a suite of sensors to track your fitness activities, including your steps, heart rate, location, VO2Max, and even the altitude and temperature. With a water resistance rating for up to 200 meters underwater, or 20 ATM of pressure, you can get truly adventurous with this smartwatch.
It may have a simple display, but the Casio G-Shock GBD-H1000 offers easy button navigation so you won’t be fussing around with a tiny touchscreen. You also can still get plenty of information on that display, including notifications from your phone while connected over Bluetooth. The story just gets more exciting with the battery life. When the watch is just tracking the time, your steps, and delivering notifications, it can run for up to a year. What’s more, you can actually keep it topped up in that mode because it’s capable of drawing some solar power to recharge the battery. Of course, if you want to use more of the sensors and tracking, you’ll want to use the USB charging, which can give you 14 hours of continuous tracking power in just 2.5 hours of charging.
9. Polar Ignite
Best Smart Sports Watch
Maybe you want a smartwatch that’s ready for all of your fitness activities without looking like it was made for them. That’s where the Polar Ignite can come in. This smartwatch isn’t so overt about its sportiness compared to some of the other fitness smartwatches that have massive frames with all sorts of chamfered edges. It’s not just low-key but also low-profile in comparison. At just 8.5mm thick, the Polar Ignite is thinner than all the other smartwatches on this list, making it a great partner for exercise since it won’t bulk up your wrist.
And, when it comes to sports, the Polar Ignite is ready for serious tracking with an advanced heart rate sensor and built-in GPS that can keep track of many activities, including swimming, and give you detailed summaries of your exercises. The watch can even give you training tips and track your sleep. Despite its compact size, the Polar Ignite offers up to five days of battery life with continuous heart-rate tracking or up to 17 hours with GPS enabled in Training Mode.
What to look for in a smartwatch
This is the big one. Your choice of smartphone will determine your list of possible smartwatch options. The good news is that that list has grown massively for both iOS and Android camps, but there are still some notable absentees, the biggest of which is the Apple Watch still being an iPhone-exclusive.
Google has made big headway in equalizing the Wear OS for Android and iPhone users, but it’s not a totally level playing field. And among all the smartwatches that work with both platforms, there tend to be a few differences, often in the messaging experience. So pay special attention to those.
We’re all accustomed to plugging in our smartphones at night, but watches? Are you serious? Sadly in most cases, it’s something you need to think about. But battery life is almost always a trade-off.
The Apple Watch and many of the Wear OS smartwatches have rich screens and deep features but require daily (or nightly) charging in return. Fitbit’s watches will run for several days and unlocks sleep tracking, but the watches have a less premium design.
Also think not just about the features you want, but how much you’ll be using them. Weekend warriors will need to be much more conscientious about running the GPS in an Apple Watch than a Garmin Forerunner 945, for example.
To LTE or not to LTE
For a long time all smartwatches required a Bluetooth connection with your phone in order to receive texts, make calls and play music, but slowly we’re seeing more watches cut the tether and offer a standalone data connection.
This can be handy if you want to workout without a phone in your pocket. On the other hand, it will hammer that battery life a little more, particularly under intense use.
A data connection will also come with a monthly cost, usually around $10 a month tied to your phone contract, assuming you want to use the same number.
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Hugh Langley is a tech journalist who’s fascinated by wearables, health tech, the smart home, and more. You can find him tweeting (often nonsense) over at @hughlangley.
Mark Knapp is a regular contributor to IGN and an irregular Tweeter on Twitter @Techn0Mark