This past year we’ve seen an influx of new smartwatches, each boasting the latest technology and in-demand styles. With so many options to choose from, it can be difficult to determine which one will fit your needs best — and if you really have to invest in the big name brands, or if a less expensive option will suffice.
We’ve compiled this guide to take a look at the hottest and smartest in smartwatches.
What is a Smartwatch?
We focus a lot on fitness trackers, so let’s first talk about what a smartwatch is, and how it differs from a fitness or activity tracker.
A smartwatch is a wearable technology that connects to your smartphone. It usually has a touchscreen, has different apps that it supports, and tracks your steps and sometimes your heart rate. Most of today’s options have NFC contactless payments (at least the big name brands do), fitness tracking, and add-on apps.
How to Shop for a Smartwatch
There are several different key features that you can look for in order to find the smartwatch that will best suit your needs.
- Fitness tracking: If activity or fitness tracking is important to you, you might consider an activity tracker or a smartwatch that places a high value on fitness (such as Fitbit). Otherwise, check out what the watch tracks and how accurate it is before you buy.
- Compatibility: Make sure the watch you’re interested in works with your smartphone. For example, Apple watches only work with iPhones.
- Apps: Check out the available apps for the watch and also do some investigating about the customer ratings. A lot of the appeal of a smartwatch comes down to what apps it can support and what it can do with them, so make sure the one you get matches your expectations.
- Notifications and communications: All smart watches will notify you, but some will let you respond to texts or answer calls. There are plenty of options when it comes to capabilities, so determine what’s important to you to help you narrow the selection.
- Battery life: The battery life of a smartwatch can be anywhere from a few days to several months. A lot of it depends on the features – GPS and heart rate monitoring will use up the battery faster. Do some checking into both the advertised battery life and what real customers are saying about how long it lasts.
- Design: For many consumers, the design and style of the smartwatch is the key factor in their selection. There’s no shortage of options, either. Many smartwatches look just like a regular watch. Some are sporty; some are sleek. Take into account the design and interface of the display when you decide – not just the overall look of it. Good looks won’t make up for a wonky interface or buttons you can’t push very well.
Newest Smart Watches
Since last year, we’ve seen several exciting new products launch. Here’s a peek at some of the most popular and newest watches.
Fitbit’s fitness smartwatch came out in fall of 2017. It generated plenty of buzz by being the wearable giant’s first true smartwatch, but it does feature a bulky design that isn’t loved by everyone. Its functionality puts it into direct competition with Apple watches, but it maintains Fitbit’s mission to focus on fitness. A few of the key features of the Ionic include:
- Water resistance to 50 meters
- Integrated GPS
- Smart notifications
- App store (coming soon)
- Music control and storage
- Activity and fitness tracking
Fitbit’s smartwatch ios is still relatively new, so there continual additions and updates that customers see now and will see in the future. This includes more options the app store and health tracking options such as sleep apnea data and diabetes management.
The Ionic’s unique style and simplified smartwatch capabilities (such as, you get notifications but can’t respond to them) make it unappealing to some. However, because it is Fitbit and because it can be used with any smartphone, it’s a great alternative to the Apple Watch. It also shines on its own if you like the fitness tracking and data options. Plus, it boasts a 4 day battery life (way better than the Apple Watch’s 18 hours).
Related: See our full review of the Ionic
With a much more universally appealing design than the Ionic and an even nicer price tag, the Versa is the most recent product from Fitbit. It does a few things for the brand — it replaces the Blaze, offers a slim design, water resistance (something all Fitbits lacked until the past two devices) and some of the best features of the Ionic.
- Water resistance to 50 meters
- Smartphone notifications
- 4+ day battery life
- Phone-free music
- NFC payments (on the special edition version)
- App store
It lacks the built-in GPS of the Ionic, but it’s also offered at a starting price of under $200, so we can’t complain much. It does connect with your smartphone’s GPS, however, and it has phone-free music like the Ionic. Want to read our full review of the Versa? Click here!
Samsung Gear Sport and Gear S
Samsung’s devices have received much more positive feedback than older models, so the Gear Sport and the Gear S3 are worth checking out. The difference between these two is in design and style – the Gear S3 has a classic watch look while the Sport looks like a sporty smartwatch.
Related: Best Samsung Smartwatches
The Gear Sport (above) is water resistant, offers all day fitness and activity tracking, gives you smart notifications and the ability to reply to texts, and is compatible with Android and iOS.
The Gear S3 offers similar functionality with a more traditional look.
Garmin Vivoactive 3 and Vivomove HR
Garmin seems to be constantly dropping new wearables, and 2017 saw them shift focus slightly to more traditional smartwatches (rather than thee sports watches they are best known for). We’re always pretty excited by new Garmin products, and this time there are two to cheer about: the flagship smartwatch-esque Vivoactive 3 and the hybrid smartwatch-fitness tracker Vivomove HR.
The more expensive Vivoactive 3 (above) will give you more in terms of apps, plus it has a more sophisticated interface and built in GPS. It definitely feels more like a smartwatch with great fitness tracking options. See how they all stack up alongside Garmin products in our full Garmin fitness tracker guide here.
The Vivomove HR (above) has heart rate monitoring and great fitness options, but lacks the app compatibility and GPS functions of the Vivoactive. However, it will save you $100.
Related: Garmin Vivoactive 2 vs. Vivomove HR
Apple Watch 3
The Apple Watch 3 is a solid version of the popular smartwatch, with a few new features to sweeten the deal.
You can expect solid Apple construction, great smartwatch features, decent fitness features, and a sleek design. There’s also an LTE version that lets you go phone free for everything.
Related: Full Review of the Apple Watch 3
As we mentioned above, the Ionic and the Versa are the two smartwatches available from Fitbit. The Blaze has been discontinued, but you might be able to find it at a discount if you are interested in picking one up before they are gone forever!
The Apple Watch Series 2 is known for style, functionality, and that familiar apple symbol. The bestselling smartwatch is water resistant, has GPS and a heart rate monitor, and works seamlessly with the iPhone. But that last feature is what makes it so exclusive – it only works with iPhone, so Android users have to look elsewhere (which they’re usually happy to do, and don’t have any shortage of options). The Series 2 isn’t perfect, but plenty of owners are perfectly happy. The upcoming announcement of a new Apple Watch might change things considerably, but for now we’re happy to recommend the Series 2 to anyone who wants an excellent smartwatch experience with one of the best names in the biz.
**For a more fitness-focused smartwatch experience, check out the Apple Watch Nike+
One of the bestselling smartwatches out there almost seems too good to be true. It’s under $100 and has features like a 30-day battery life, GPS, and optical heart rate monitoring. While it’s not going to give you the exact same experience as a more expensive smartwatch, there are enough basic features and a decent enough design that it should keep anyone happy. Its price tag is obviously the primary selling point, but many customers and reviewers have been pleasantly surprised. Read our full review here!
Huawei has quietly become a trusted and highly rated smartwatch brand. The Huawei Watch 2 launched earlier this year, bringing some welcome updates to the popular first-gen Huawei Watch. Both are available and are currently discounted, so let’s take a look at these two watches.
The first Huawei watch was highly rated, with the Watch 2 receiving some less stellar reviews from tech experts. In terms of design, the second version is much sportier, with the original watch boasting a more classic design. The biggest differences you’ll see are what the Watch 2 offers that the original doesn’t: GPS, LTE, NFC, and slightly more water resistance.
Basically any watch that isn’t Apple, Fitbit, or Garmin will be an Android smartwatch, but it’s worth talking about the sheer number of really excellent choices you have in smartwatches. Apple tends to get all the glory, but there are some really incredible brands making great products right now.
As we mentioned earlier, the soon-to-be-released Samsung lineup sounds pretty great. But the current model, the Gear S3, definitely deserves your attention. Plus, with the new Gear Sport on its way, chances are you can get the S3 at a nice price – keep an eye out for sales! You can find our full review of the Samsung Gear S3 here.
We’ll cover a few of the other popular brands next, but first here are some other recommendations for smart watches to investigate:
- Polar M600: Another fitness-focused smart watch. The M600 boasts GPS and heart rate monitoring, plus plenty of fitness features to help you stay on track. It’s also waterproof.
- ASUS ZenWatch 3: For something different yet stylish, check out ASUS’s venture into the land of smartwatches.
- Motorola Moto 360: Like the ZenWatch, the Moto 360 is an attractive smartwatch that doesn’t look like a smartwatch. It works great with iOS, so it’s also a good alternative to the Apple Watch.
LG has a few options for smartwatches that run Android Wear 2.0. The LG Watch Urbane is our favorite of the bunch. We like the style and the display in addition to the water and dust resistance. The rather disappointing LG Style and the AT&T only Watch Sport round out the lineup.
With LG’s most recently announced wearable canceled earlier this year and no indication that new products are in the works, your best bet if you want to go LG is the Urbane. Otherwise, we think there are way better options available that have a better battery life, more features, and a more comparable price.
Garmin has a pretty substantial selection of wearable tech, from fitness trackers to advanced running watches, but the only device that falls under the category of “smartwatch” is the Vivoactive HR. Since Garmin recently announced the newest version (the Vivoactive 3), you might be wondering why both with the Vivoactive HR. For starters, you can save yourself quite a bit of cash by picking up the HR. the primary differences between the two will be style (the newest version features a round face), mobile payment capability, and some interface upgrades. We think it’s worth checking out, especially if you’re on a budget. We did a full review of the Vivoactive HR, available here.