Smartwatches are coming into their own, with top products from global brands offering enormous levels of value for the average consumer. The newest models are wildly more capable than those of just a few years past, with advanced fitness tracking features combined with options to improve the convenience of your day to day life.
We created our list of the ten we think best embody what a smartwatch should be.
1. Apple Watch Series 5 (Top iPhone Smartwatch)
The Apple Watch Series 5 is the current generation of the company’s line of iPhone-exclusive smartwatches. It makes incremental improvements on what were already the best smartwatches. It’s not groundbreaking, but it keeps all the things the Series 3 & 4 watches got right while adding a few features all its own.
Why we like it: First, there’s that iconic Apple style perfectly captured in the design of the Series 5. It’s slim, has just the right lines, and fits with any outfit. It added an always-on display and a ECG that helps you keep track of cardiovascular health. Then there’s the App Store. Apple may no longer have the most apps in its iPhone App Store, but the Watch OS store still reigns supreme in the breadth and quality of the apps available.
Flaws: The Series 6 watches should ship very soon. The Series 5 is an excellent smartwatch, and Apple has confirmed it’ll get the latest Watch OS updates, but you may consider waiting for the Series 6 if you want the latest and greatest.
1. Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 (Top Android Smartwatch)
The Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 was one of the most anticipated wearable releases of 2020, and as far as we’re concerned, it lived up to the hype. It’s packed to the brim with in-demand features and has one of the most classically stylish designs we’ve seen in a smartwatch. It’s available in both a GPS only or a fully-fledged GPS+Cellular LTE version.
Why we like it: It’s hot hyperbole to say that the Galaxy Watch 3 is the most advanced smartwatch. Besides the essentials of NFC, GPS, and fitness tracking that all top-quality smartwatches offer, it includes a blood oxygen level sensor and (eventually) built-in ECG plus blood pressure monitoring. Then there’s the physical watch itself. We’ll say it: It’s gorgeous. It has classic style with a rotating bezel and a host of interchangeable watch bands. It’s pricey, sure, but it’s also possibly the best smartwatch for Android users.
Flaws: Battery life is nothing to write home about, though competitive with most other smartwatches. The real shortcoming of the Galaxy Watch 3 is the lack of high-quality apps in Samsung’s Tizen app store. It just doesn’t have the developer support found on the Apple App Store or Wear OS store. Also, at the time of writing the Galaxy Watch 3 isn’t technically a finished product. Samsung has yet to receive FDA approval to turn on its much-touted ECG or blood pressure monitor.
3. Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2
Combining all the essential functions of a top-of-the-line fitness tracker with one of the sleekest and most stylish smartwatch bodies out there, the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 is a versatile wearable that very nearly achieved the top spot on our list. It runs on Samsung’s in-house Tizen operating system and is compatible with both Android and Apple smartphones.
Why we like it: It’s hard to pick individual features that really stand out on the Active 2. Everything works seamlessly, to the point that it’s better to say that the whole package is a joy to use. As expected of an Active branded product, the fitness features are excellent. It can track your morning run’s duration and intensity or provide active coaching to encourage you to go that much harder. We also love that you have the option of an always-on display or the ability to switch to wrist-flick activation.
Flaws: While the Galaxy line of watches is nipping at the Apple Watch’s heels in quality and value, they haven’t quite caught up. App support is limited to a selection of big-name fitness and messaging apps and lags well behind those available from the App Store.
4. Fitbit Versa 2
The Fitbit Versa 2 is the latest smartwatch from the company that put the modern fitness tracker on the map. It packs a ton of incredible features into a sleek and stylish body comfortable enough for all-day wear.
Why we like it: One thing a lot of smartwatch makers try to do is start from the position of a smartphone and cut features until it fits in a watch body. Fitbit started with a high-end fitness tracker and added the essential smartphone features the average person uses most. It gives you core notifications, works seamlessly with Android and Apple devices, and even offers useful extras like FitPay, Fitbit’s in-house NFC payment app. When you combine that with the excellent analytics tools available on the Fitbit app, you wind up with a high-value fitness-focused smartwatch at an incredibly affordable price.
Flaws: At its core, this is a fitness tracker with smartwatch functionality. Fitbit prioritized fitness features in both the physical and operational design of the Versa 2. Surprisingly, it lacks integral GPS support and doesn’t offer notification support for many popular messaging apps, something a few of its closest competitors do.
5. Apple Watch Series 3
The Apple Watch Series 3 hasn’t been the newest and most exclusive wearable for a couple of years, but it still offers substantial value. We won’t sugarcoat it; the Series 5 is an improvement in every measurable way except one: Price. It’s got a larger screen, more powerful processor, and uses a more advanced ECG heart rate monitor than the optical sensor on the Series 3. That said, the Series 3 is still an Apple Watch™, runs the same operating system, and costs substantially less.
Why we like it: If you want an Apple Watch but don’t see yourself dropping upwards of $400, the Series 3 is the perfect option. It excels at the fundamental tasks modern consumers demand from their smartwatch: Reading notifications, measuring steps/activity, and taking calls. Apple claims the processor on the Series 3 is less than half as powerful as that on the Series 5, but for the low-demand tasks your average smartwatch is used for we never noticed a difference.
Flaws: Every spec on the Series 3 lags behind those of the Series 5. It lacks the more advanced health tracking features of its newer cousin and doesn’t have always-on display capability.
6. Skagen Falster 3
If the Skagen Falster 3 gets anything right, it’s style. The latest offering from a famed Danish watchmaker, the Falster 3 is honestly one of the best looking minimalist smartwatches you’ll find. Thankfully, this beauty has brains as well, packing in very respectable performance under the hood.
Why we like it: Skagen listened to the valid criticisms leveled against the Falster 2. They’ve upgraded the specs across the board, with a more powerful processor, more RAM, and a built-in speaker that allows you to take calls. It runs on Wear OS and has access to all the best apps on that platform, including Google Pay and Google Fit. It has nearly every competitor beat in the looks department. The round and incredibly slim bezel feel a lot more like a traditional luxury watch than almost any other smartwatch.
Flaws: The Falster 3 looks like the kind of watch you’d wear into a meeting with your shareholders, and its fitness tracking performance reflects that. They aren’t bad, but they lag behind other flagship-level smartwatches.
7. Garmin Vivoactive 4
The Garmin Vivoactive 4 is an attempt by the renowned GPS company to show that they know how to build a flagship-grade smartwatch. It combines top-of-the-line fitness tech with a stylish design in two sizes and an intuitive interface that makes it easy to operate. When paired with an up to eight-day battery life, it’s an impressive offering.
Why we like it: The Vivoactive 4 is jam-packed with features. There are the essentials of a smartwatch, including notifications, canned messaging, and Garmin Pay, but where the Vivoactive 4 really shines is in the sports and fitness realm. It comes preloaded with 20+ different workout settings, including popular activities such as cardio, Pilates, and yoga plus the ability to create custom ones. It also allows offline listening using Spotify via the internal speaker or wireless headphones. Add in the advanced sensors, including pulse oximeter readings, and you wind up with a highly capable sports smartwatch that provides enormous value to athletes of all skill levels.
Flaws: The Vivoactive 4 offers tremendous fitness tracking capabilities, but it lags behind in smartwatch functionality. It’s more of a sports watch with limited smartwatch features than it is a smartwatch with fitness tracking. A striking example of this was the inability of the Vivoactive 4 to take calls on the watch itself, despite having both speakers and built-in Bluetooth connectivity. The price is also a hurdle for some.
8. Fitbit Versa Lite
The Fitbit Versa Lite is a stripped-down version of the company’s popular Versa 2 smartwatch. It’s physically identical to the Versa 2 and does mostly the same things that its more expensive cousin can. You lose out on a few features that may be important to some, but still wind up with a capable and reasonably priced smartwatch that looks sharp and features an impressive four+ day battery life.
Why we like it: If you liked the Versa or Versa 2 but want something a little less pricey, this is the smartwatch for you. It features all the core functionality of the Versa 2 at a much more wallet-friendly price point.
Flaws: There are some definite compromises to the Versa Lite’s design. It has similar fitness tracking capability but lacks the more advanced analytics and workout settings of the Versa 2. Another significant missing feature is FitPay. You won’t be able to pay up for lunch using just your watch with the Versa Lite.
9. TicWatch E2
The TicWatch E2 is a sporty smartwatch built to combine the best features of a dedicated fitness tracker with the looks and functionality of a smartwatch. What’s even more surprising is how inexpensive it is next to the likes of Apple or Samsung smartwatches.
Why we like it: The E2 has all the most essential features of a fitness tracker and a smartwatch in a shockingly affordable package. The recent upgrades allow you to wear it while swimming or even surfing, while the included workout package lets you select the activity you’re participating in from a list of popular choices. As a Wear OS device, it has full access to Android’s library of apps plus four-day battery life that’s one of the best in the field.
Flaws: If you look past the affordable price and showy fitness optimizations, you start to see the cracks in the E2’s facade. To begin with, it’s got a really basic look, with a blocky bezel and bland band. It also lacks NFC payment support and doesn’t offer a dedicated LTE connection.
10. AmazFit Bip
The AmazFit Bip is a value-priced smartwatch that nonetheless incorporates a lot of useful features for the average consumer. It can do all the essential functions of the top-quality smartwatches while costing just a small fraction of their price.
Why we like it: For the price, it’s hard to argue against the value the Bip provides. It has on-board GPS, adequate fitness tracking, sleep tracking, plus battery life that’s shocking. On simple notification and tracking mode, the Bip will run for up to 45 days on a single charge. That blows past the couple of days the best smartwatches give you.
Flaws: We weren’t kidding when we said this was a basic smartwatch. It has a plastic body, doesn’t allow the installation of outside apps, and is generally slower and less capable than flagship products.
Who should buy a smartwatch?
We won’t kid you; smartwatches aren’t for everyone. Some people are just fine with their smartphones, and others just can’t see themselves wearing a watch regularly. For the groups below, though, they can be a tremendously valuable tool.
Wearable enthusiasts – If you’re someone with a developing interest in the amazing things coming out of wearable tech, a smartwatch is the place to start. They’re by far the most developed wearable currently available and provide a significant amount of value.
Athletes – Whether you’re a high-intensity athlete or just someone who likes to stay fit, a smartwatch with fitness tracking capability is a useful tool. It can give you accurate information about your daily steps, heart rate, calorie burn, sleep cycle, and even the most optimum times to work out (1).
People with medical conditions and the elderly – Early smartwatches were little more than fancy gadgets for folks who like to be on the cutting edge. Modern examples now offer a ton of benefits to people with medical conditions, especially the elderly.
Smartwatches collect basic health information like heart rate, and they now include advanced sensors such as ECG/EKG that can detect when someone is having a heart attack or even stroke (2). The best can even send out an alert to your emergency contacts and emergency services if they detect a fall or medical event.
Anyone who likes to wear a watch – It’s obvious, but if you’re the kind of person who likes wearing a watch, a smartwatch may be the perfect fit. The best smartwatches look incredibly sharp, to the point where they fit right in with even business formal wear.
You can customize your watch display face and still accurately tell the time while benefitting from all the other useful features they can provide.
How we ranked
We used five key metrics to rank the smartwatches on our list. These were smartphone compatibility and cellular connectivity, app support and included features, style and comfort, battery life, and price.
Smartphone compatibility and cellular connectivity – It’s obvious, but your chosen smartwatch needs to connect with your phone. The vast majority of smartwatches are siloed into either Android (Wear OS) or Apple (Watch OS) compatibility.
Another feature we looked for is a cellular connection. It lets you make calls, receive texts, and do other fundamental functions without your phone.
App support and included features – Smartwatches are only as useful as the apps they support and the features they offer. One of the best add-ons to have in your smartwatch is as a fitness tracker. It lets you wear a single band that can answer texts, place calls, track your heart rate with an advanced ECG, and do many other useful things.
The operating system of your smartwatch is going to affect the available apps majorly. Apple has the most apps, with Android hot on its heels. The Fitbit OS is rapidly growing, but still has far fewer apps than either of the top two.
Style and comfort – Smartwatches vary considerably in size, screen shape, and band type. Larger watches have bigger screens and more space for advanced sensors and features but aren’t always the most comfortable.
They also don’t always fit with a business aesthetic. We gave additional points in our ranking to smartwatches that combined premium features with a compact, lightweight, and stylish design.
Battery life – Smartwatches pack a ton of functionality into a tiny package. One of the downsides to this is that there isn’t a lot of space for batteries.
The most feature-packed smartwatches top out at around two days of battery life. You can find more specialized models with limited features that have a longer battery life, but you give up many things that make a smartwatch worth wearing.
Price – Pricing on smartwatches varies from under $100 up to prices that rival mid-range smartphones. We included both reliable value-priced options and top-of-the-line powerhouses in our list, looking more to value for money spent than the actual price tag.
Q: Are smartwatches worth it?
A: It depends. If you’re someone who already likes to wear a watch, a smartwatch can provide a lot of value. It lets you keep your phone in your pocket while still giving access to notifications and even calling features. If you wear a watch and are considering a fitness tracker, you can benefit from a high-quality smartwatch.
Q: Can smartwatches make phone calls?
A: Yes! All the top-ranking smartwatches available today are capable of answering and placing calls when paired with your phone. Some flagship models from brands like Apple or Samsung can even place calls directly from the watch without having to be paired with a smartphone.
Q: Can smartwatches play music?
A: Yes! Many smartwatches store either MP3 files or download your favorite songs from music streaming services like Spotify. You can take your music, podcasts, or news with you without having to lug around a phone.
Q: What’s the best smartwatch for Android?
A: If you’ve got an Android smartphone, there are many great choices out there for smartwatches. One stands head and shoulders above the rest, though.
Q: What’s the best smartwatch for an iPhone?
Q: What are ECG and fall detection smartwatches?
A: An ECG or electrocardiogram is a specialized sensor that measures your heart’s electrical activity. Every time your heart beats the muscles within the different parts contract based on electrical signals from the brain.
An ECG reads these signals and detects when something isn’t right. ECG smartwatches monitor your heart health at all times, alerting you, your loved ones, or emergency services if something should happen (3).
They’re one of the most exciting features of the new generation of smartwatches that offer comprehensive health tracking.
Smartwatches are more capable and include more advanced features than we imagined possible when they first started coming out. The best smartwatches can track your heart rate, check your email, and even play your favorite songs without pulling your phone out.
For Hastings #1 smartwatch recommendation, click here.