TL;DR – These are the Best Smart Watches:
1. Apple Watch Series 5
Best Smart Watch
Not only the most famous smartwatch, Apple’s wearable is also the best. Just one problem: it only works with iPhones. Still with us? Great.
The Apple Watch Series 5 gets two things right. First, it’s incredibly easy to use, with a nice smooth interface. It’s not perfect, but good enough that your grandparents will be able to use it. Second, it’s absolutely jam-packed with health and fitness features, from workout tracking to an electrocardiogram monitor that will alert you if it detects signs of atrial fibrillation – an irregular heartbeat that can lead to other serious conditions.
The Series 5 model also has an (optional) always-on display so you can always see the time. Granted, not something that your dumb wristwatch struggles with, but Apple has managed to pull it off without it hammering the battery life. It’s a big deal, trust us.
Speaking of which, the Series 5 nets a little over a day of battery life, which should get you from breakfast to bedtime. Apple doesn’t offer sleep tracking for this reason, though there are third-party apps you can try out if that’s a must-have.
2. Ticwatch E2
Best budget smartwatch
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 function, and a battery life that can run to two days.
3. Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2
Best Smart Watch for Android
Most Android-compatible smartwatches run Google’s Wear OS platform, but the best one doesn’t. Samsung’s Galaxy Watch Active 2 is the company’s latest and greatest Tizen-powered wearable, and we thoroughly recommended it. It comes in 40mm and 44mm options and in several colours.
Samsung’s health features now run as deep as Apple’s too, giving you insight into general trends as well as tracking specific workouts. There’s also the option of LTE if you want it.
Battery life goes a little further than the Apple Watch at two days, but heavier usage will bring this down. If you want the Samsung experience but with better battery life, check out the company’s flagship Galaxy Watch, which can stretch up to six days.
4. 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.
5. Fitbit Versa 2
Best Fitness Smart Watch
Probably the second-most famous wearable company after Apple, Fitbit has been in this business for well over a decade. Yet it was only a couple of years ago that it started churning out smartwatches. The latest of those is the Fitbit Versa 2, a wearable trying its best to go toe-to-toe with Apple – and it succeeds for the most part.
Like Apple, the Versa 2 has a rounded-square shape. Unlike Apple,however, it only comes in one 40mm size. That still makes it small enough to fit most wrists, and there’s a wide range of colors and straps to choose from.
Where Fitbit really stands out is with its range of fitness features which are accessible both on the watch and in Fitbit’s ever-expanding app. That app delivers a comprehensive overview of your activity over time, from heart rate to step count and calories. And of course, all those workouts you went hard on.
Better still, Fitbit has the best sleep tracking in the business, both from an accuracy and data perspective. And if Fitbit’s health toolkit isn’t enough for you, there’s a Premium subscription service that offers up even more insights and guidance. The company is in the process of being acquired by Google, but both companies promise that user data will not be sold for Google’s advertising purposes.
6. Skagen Falster 3
Best Looking Smart Watch
Fossil and its licenced 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.
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.
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.