The 10 Best Smartwatches

Sep 3, 2020

Category: Tech

Although it’s difficult to determine exactly when the first “smart” watch came onto the scene, one thing is certain: smartwatches will soon be as indispensable to our daily routine as their smartphone siblings. Once little more than novelty-item movie props, these wearable devices are becoming exponentially more powerful and also increasingly specialized. As such, choosing the best smartwatch for your needs can be a daunting task — especially when there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to navigating the wearable market.

Ultimately, finding the best smartwatch is something of a balancing act. There are some smartwatches that will do most everything well, and there are others that will excel at a few specific tasks. Regardless of where your priorities lie, there are plenty of capable watches coming in at a range of price points. As the wearable market has continued to grow, brands have sought to increase their stake as much as possible. Such a competitive space demands perpetual development, meaning that smartwatches are seeing ever-briefer shelf lives. So, if there’s one important takeaway here, it’s that you should buy a smartwatch expecting its obsolescence, be it aesthetic or technological. But that’s not to say that every model year brings with it an improvement — some are little more than a visual update, muddying the waters even further. To help weed through the noise of this ever-changing market, we’ve put together a guide featuring the 10 best smartwatches.

Photo: Garmin Fenix 6

What’s In A Name?

Differences In Wearable Tech

When it comes to choosing a smartwatch best-suited for your needs, it’s important to understand the semantics of wearable tech, and what exactly it is that you’re looking for: a smartwatch, an activity tracker, or a hybrid. Oft-used interchangeably, these are actually very different beasts offering varying levels of functionality. In order to make sense of the division, we’ve defined them for the purposes of this guide as follows.

Smartwatches: These are wearable devices that act as an extension of your phone. As squares are to rectangles, smartwatches are to fitness trackers. Thus, while most smartwatches can handle the functionality of a fitness tracker, the opposite is not true. The key difference between these two types of wearable tech lies in their processing power — smartwatches include a slew of advanced features that enables them to be used for much more than calorie counting or sleep tracking.

Activity Trackers: Once little more than stylish digital pedometers, over the years, activity trackers have rapidly improved in functionality. In many ways, the current crop of activity trackers resembles pared-down smartwatches. What they lack in features — like Bluetooth connectivity or voice assistant — they make up for in size and battery life. Activity trackers are made with the express purpose of recording fitness metrics like heart rate and daily steps.

Hybrid Smartwatches: These offer a fusion of old and new, pairing the timeless aesthetics of their analog forbears with the technological capabilities of their digital peers. Hybrid smartwatches don’t usually feature the touchscreen of fully-fledged smart options, meaning they’re typically a bit more limited when it comes to their features. Depending on their capabilities, they can lean towards either smartwatches or activity trackers.

Photo: Garmin Fenix 6

Have It Your Way

Built-in Features To Consider

Connectivity: One of the key features that sets smartwatches apart from activity trackers is their range of connectivity. Much like their cellular counterparts, smartwatches possess varying degrees of connectivity — from short-range Bluetooth and ANT+ applications to far-reaching 3G and 4G cellular networks. Although the former deals mostly with pairing to smartphones and wireless sensors, the development of near field communication (NFC) technology has allowed for smartwatches to hold contactless forms of payment. Similarly, while 3G networks were once the gold standard for cellular data transfer, they’ve been nearly eclipsed by their faster 4G successor, and we’re already well on our way to widespread 5G adoption.

Operating Systems: Just like computers and smartphones, smartwatches depend on their operating system for their functionality. Apple’s watchOS and Google’s Wear OS are the most widely-used operating systems in the wearable market, but there are plenty of other brands with proprietary software specifically suited to their products. It’s important to note that while some smartwatches offer cross-compatibility, it doesn’t always work both ways. For instance, Android’s Wear OS and Garmin’s Watch OS play nice with Apple smartphones, however, the Apple watchOS software is not compatible with Android smartphones. While there are some workarounds (getting a 4G Apple Watch, for instance), they don’t provide anything nearly the same interconnectivity of a properly paired setup.

Battery: Battery life varies widely in the wearable world and is largely dependent upon active use. Though some smartwatches on this list require a daily recharge, others offer an incredible battery life and rarely need to leave your wrist. For example, the Apple Watch Series 5 is rated for only 18 hours of use, whereas Coro’s Apex multisport watch boasts an impressive 30 day battery life. Some watches like the Solar Edition of Garmin’s Fenix 6 feature a solar-charging display for extended battery performance between charges.

Storage: With an increase in smartwatch processing power comes an increase in storage requirements. Though some smartwatches are limited in the number of applications (apps) and activity recordings that they can hold, others such as the 32GB Apple Watch Series 5 pack plenty of storage potential. Ultimately, smartwatch storage capacity determines how much data can be saved locally on the device. To put it another way, smartwatches with more storage are more capable as standalone devices, because they are inherently less dependent on smartphone pairing for functionality.

HR Monitoring/Sleep Tracking: Although heart rate monitors were once limited to activity trackers, their continued refinement has meant that they come standard on most smartwatches. Optical heart rate monitoring (OHRM) is the most widely used form of heart rate tracking, a technology utilizing LEDs to measure the amount of light scattered by one’s blood flow and, in turn, estimate pulse rate in beats per minute. With heart rate monitoring, so too comes sleep tracking, a metric designed to assess both the quantity and the quality of your sleep based on resting heart rate. Sleep tracking is an important factor to consider when looking at fitness-focused smartwatches.

Music: Whereas some smartwatches offer onboard music storage, others are reliant on streaming services like Spotify for their music capabilities. Still others neglect music connectivity entirely. When choosing a smartwatch for its ability to play music, consider how likely you are to keep your smartphone (or other music playing device) on you. For instance, if you’re a runner looking to pare down the equipment you bring with you, it’d be advisable to look into a smartwatch with onboard music storage or streaming.

Navigation: GPS navigation features are still mostly limited to fitness-focused smartwatches, however, models like the Apple Watch Series 5 and the Samsung Galaxy Watch3 now include built-in GPS. GPS is primarily used in conjunction with an accelerometer for tracking training metrics such as speed and distance, but some smartwatches offer capable wrist-based mapping and navigation. Bear in mind that GPS applications are heavily taxing on a smartwatch’s battery life.

Sport Profiles: With the rise of fitness-focused models like the Fitbit Versa 2 and the Coros Apex, smartwatch multisport capability is becoming increasingly common. Once limited to simple step counts and calorie estimates, you can now have on-the-fly access to your training metrics in real-time. Specialized sport profiles like running or cycling cater the experience to the individual even further, allowing for customized displays and relevant data recording.

Withings Steel HR

Despite sitting at the lowest price point on this list, the Withings Steel HR is no slouch in the smartwatch world. Featuring a unique hybrid design, the Steel HR is great for those looking for an analog unit with a little extra oomph under the hood. On the surface, it looks much like a traditional timepiece, sporting a classy stainless-steel case and a pair of analog hands. But there’s more to it than meets the eye: It also comes packed with infrared heart rate monitoring, support for 30 different sport profiles, connected GPS recording, and fitness level assessment.

OS Compatibility: iOS/Android
Battery Life: 25 Days
Connectivity: Bluetooth
Navigation: Smartphone

Purchase: $180

Fitbit Versa 2

Fitbit’s had a stake in the wearable tech market for a while now, first releasing a range of immensely popular finess trackers, and more recently expanding into the smartwatch segment. As such, they’re seasoned pros when it comes to building capable, user-friendly products. The Versa 2 is one of their latest smartwatch offerings, gaining tons of built-in functionality like Amazon Alexa, music storage, and wireless payment support. But what sets Fitbit apart from the competition is its commitment to wellness — amongst a long list of health-focused features, the Versa 2 includes on-screen workouts, automatic exercise recognition, and detailed sleep analysis.

OS Compatibility: iOS/Android
Battery Life: 6+ Days
Connectivity: Bluetooth/Wi-Fi
Navigation: Smartphone

Purchase: $200

Skagen Falster 3

In addition to being one of the slimmer, more stylish offerings in our guide, Skagen’s Falster 3 is also one of the cheaper fully-fledged smartwatches available. Unlike the above options, it includes a built-in GPS, meaning you can accurately record your workouts without having to stay tethered to your smartphone. The Falster 3 also sports a rapid charge mode, topping out at 80% charge in only 50 minutes. Finally, with the addition of a speedy Snapdragon Wear 3100 processor and WearOS software, Skagen’s Falster 3 gains an always-on display along with the best of Google support, including useful functions like Google Assistant and Google Pay.

OS Compatibility: iOS/Android
Battery Life: 25 Days
Connectivity: Bluetooth
Navigation: Built-in GPS

Purchase: $295

Coros Apex

Although Coros is a newer company, they’re quickly becoming one of the leading players in the fitness wearables market because of their quality construction and capable software. With its titanium alloy case, barometric altimeter, and impressive GPS navigation, the reasonably-priced Apex features a lot of tech typically exclusive to much higher-end options. But that’s not all — in addition to its impressive 30-day standard battery life, the Apex does well under work. In regular GPS mode it’ll track activity data for up to 33 hours with notifications on; should you need to boost its performance even further, it’ll go for a mind-boggling 100 hours in UltraMax mode. The Apex is a capable multisport smartwatch in its own right, but it’s an incredible offering for distance athletes demanding unrivaled performance.

OS Compatibility: iOS/Android
Battery Life: 30 Days
Connectivity: ANT+/Bluetooth
Navigation: Built-in GPS/GLONASS/BDS

Purchase: $299+

Apple Watch Series 5

Although Apple was slow on the draw when launching its smartwatch line, it’s quickly become the gold standard for wrist-based functionality and smartphone interconnectivity. Now in its fifth iteration, the Apple Watch includes everything you’ve come to expect from previous generations, but it also gains an always-on display, a built-in compass, and a high-end titanium case option. With 32GB of built-in storage, the Apple Watch Series 5 boasts some of the most storage in the wearable market today. When specced with the optional LTE connectivity, the Series 5 skews heavily towards slimmed-down smartphone.

OS Compatibility: iOS
Battery Life: 18 Hours
Connectivity: Bluetooth/Wi-Fi/LTE
Navigation: Built-in GPS/GNSS

Purchase: $399+

Samsung Galaxy Watch3

Where there’s an Apple smartwatch, Samsung is soon to follow. Android users have to get their fix too, especially if they want to take full advantage of OS compatibility. In addition to its responsive touchscreen interface, the Samsung Galaxy Watch3 features a rotating bezel that allows the user to rapidly scroll through menu pages at a glance. Like many other smartwatches on this list, the Galaxy Watch3 displays a variety of training metrics during activity recording. However, it also acts as a coach, cueing the wearer with on-screen guides and audible prompts through its speaker and vibrations. Like the Apple Watch Series 5, the Galaxy Watch3 comes preloaded with a variety of apps to get you started, and there’s a Galaxy Store to customize the experience to your heart’s delight.

OS Compatibility: iOS/Android
Battery Life: 2+ Days
Connectivity: Bluetooth/Wi-Fi/LTE
Navigation: Built-in GPS/GLONASS/Beidou/Galileo

Purchase: $399+

Casio Pro Trek WSD-F30

Casio’s Pro Trek smartwatches offer an exceptionally rugged alternative to some of the others on this list. The WSD-F30 comes standard with full-color map GPS navigation that can be used both on and offline — once the map is downloaded, no connection is necessary. But there are several other details that make WSD-F30 a capable performer in adventure settings. For instance, with other smartwatches, you’re typically forced to choose between an always-on display and improved battery performance. With Casio’s Pro Trek WSD-F30, the monochrome display shows the time and sensor info while turning off the full-color display in order to save power. Last but not least, the WSD-F30 is compliant to Military Standard MIL-STD-810G testing, meaning that it can handle pretty much anything you throw its way.

OS Compatibility: iOS/Android
Battery Life: 1.5 Days
Connectivity: Bluetooth/Wi-Fi
Navigation: Built-in GPS/GLONASS/Michibiki

Purchase: $549

Garmin Fenix 6

The Fenix series is one of the most popular smartwatches bar none. A flagship multisport watch model from Garmin, it includes provisions for tons of customization, great mapping, and a wide variety of sport modes. As the latest iteration in the Fenix line, the Fenix 6 takes the best of popular offerings like the Fitbit Versa 2 and the Apple Watch Series 5 and manages to squeeze in even more functionality. With advanced metrics like running dynamics, real-time stride length, and functional threshold power (FTP), the Fenix 6 is ready to revolutionize the way you train. As an added bonus, Garmin’s Fenix 6 is compatible with its VARIA cycling lights and VIRB action camera for easy on-the-fly control.

OS Compatibility: iOS/Android
Battery Life: 14 Days
Connectivity: ANT+/Bluetooth/Wi-Fi
Navigation: Built-in GPS/GLONASS/GALILEO

Purchase: $600+

Suunto D5

While Suunto’s multisport watch lineup is experiencing a bit of a reorganization, their D5 dive watch remains a capable option. In addition to its 100m water resistance rating, the D5 comes with a number of other features that make it an ideal companion for underwater exploits. For instance, it includes an impressive 200 hours of logbook time, a detailed decompression planner, and a real-time gas consumption monitor. It’s also compatible with Suunto’s Tank POD, a wireless sensor that delivers a readout of your available air supply.

OS Compatibility: iOS/Android
Battery Life: 6 Days
Connectivity: Bluetooth
Navigation: N/A

Purchase: $929

Tag Heuer Connected

As the only smartwatch on this list backed by more than 160 years of brand history, the TAG Heuer Connected offers something perfect for those looking for a luxury timepiece with the added benefit of smart connectivity. At first glance, the Connected smartwatch sports many of the details characteristic of a classic TAG, such as a handsome steel case and a ceramic bezel. And although you won’t find a swiss-made movement hidden in this smartwatch, TAG Heuer have preloaded the Connected with a series of faces paying homage to some of their classic pieces. But the TAG Heuer connected doesn’t skimp on connectivity — when paired with the TAG Heuer Sports app, it unlocks an array of training data in order to take control of your workouts.

OS Compatibility: iOS/Android
Battery Life: 24 Hours
Connectivity: Bluetooth/Wi-Fi
Navigation: Built-in GPS/GLONASS/BeiDou/QZSS

Purchase: $1,800+

The 8 Best Outdoor Smartwatches For Hiking & Camping

Still looking for a smartwatch but need some more rugged options? Check out our guide to the best outdoor smartwatches for hiking & camping for some capable go-anywhere wearables.

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