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The right smartwatch can help you stay connected, informed and on track for your fitness goals.
For many people, smartwatches have become an essential accessory—a gadget that doesn’t just tell time, but also puts the most important notifications from friends, family and social media right on your wrist. But the best smartwatches are a lot more than a miniature version of your phone’s notification screen. They monitor your health, keep you on track for fitness goals and even let you make digital payments at the checkout and listen to music without your phone.
There are a lot of reasons to want a smartwatch. Fitness fanatics rely on their watch for tracking workouts, while other people might care more about notifications and or having a voice assistant on their wrist. Health and fitness is where the action’s at these days, though—many watches now bristle with sensors that can track your ECG, heart rate, heart rhythm, blood oxygen level and more. Many have integrated sleep tracking, too. And thanks to trip and fall detection, some smartwatches are finding a role helping elderly and at-risk users to manage their health risks.
Whether you’re looking for a premium watch like the Apple Watch Series 6 or a stylish model like the Kate Spade New York Scallop 2, there’s a smartwatch out there for you. From budget watches, style-forward models, fitness-focused smartwatches and more, here are the 11 best smartwatches you can get right now.
It’s something of a cliché to call the Apple Watch Series 6 the best Apple Watch yet—without exception, each one has been “the best one yet,” only to be topped by the next model. But if price is no object, the Series 6 is a worthy investment. It has all the great features from the Series 5, including the always-on display, plus the all-new SpO2 blood-oxygen sensor.
It also has somewhat faster charging, which comes in handy for the new sleep tracking feature (at long last). Unfortunately, it suffers from the same Achilles’ Heel as all Apple Watches: A battery life that is measured in hours, not days. Few other smartwatches struggle to make it though a single day on a charge.
Samsung’s Galaxy Watch 3 has a lot to offer, not the least of which is its superb and innovative rotating bezel, which makes it easy to quickly spin through apps, notifications, music and more. You can get there using the on-screen menus as well, but the bezel brings an immediacy to the Galaxy Watch you don’t get in most other smartwatches. It runs the excellent Tizen operating system and has a wealth of health and fitness features like automatic exercise identification, but the promised ECG isn’t enabled in the US yet (it’s built in, just not accessible). On the other hand, it does have a trip-and-fall detector.
While this watch works best with Android, your investment isn’t lost if you switch ton an iPhone at some point, because it works (in a limited way) with iOS as well. Like the Apple Watch, it has a pretty modest battery life, but it can last for the better part of two full days.
There are a lot of smartwatches on the market, and a lot of premium design-focused watches at that. But few look as sharp as the Moto 360, and the latest—2020’s third generation—is the one you want if style is your key criteria. The classic round display with a stainless steel bezel, always-on display, tasteful watch faces and optional leather band make this watch look good on any wrist. (You can also opt for a silicone strap that’s well-suited to exercise.)
And if you remember the older version of the Moto 360, fear not: The notch at the bottom of the display is gone. Now it’s a completely round digital display. It’s powered by the familiar Android Wear OS, which gives you access to a huge library of apps, but you only get about a day of runtime on the battery.
What do you get when a major women’s fashion brand puts its weight behind a smartwatch with the intention of making one that’s just as much fashion as tech? You get Kate Spade New York’s Scallop 2, a Google Wear-powered women’s smartwatch that barely looks like a smartwatch. The “Scallop” name makes sense; its most noticeable feature is the delicately scalloped sculpting around the watch face, but it’s also hard to miss the signature spade logo on the stem’s knob. It’s also one of the smallest and lightest smartwatches you can find, weighing just 8 ounces. If you’re so inclined, you can even use the Choose Your Look app to make the watch face match the color of your outfit each day.
This is also a full-featured smartwatch. You get fitness features like a heart rate monitor, GPS (so you can exercise without bringing your phone along) and a waterproof design for swimming, if you’re so inclined. It also includes Google Assistant for voice commands and Google Pay for contactless payments in stores. Battery life is only about one day, but it’s on par with many other less stylish smartwatches.
The Apple Watch Series 3 has been around since 2017, and unlike most Apple Watch models that Apple “sunsets” fairly quickly, this one doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, serving as Apple’s low-cost entry level smartwatch. It’s reasonably affordable—especially when it goes on sale, which it does regularly—and gives you all the essential health and fitness Apple Watch features. It also works with Apple’s new sleep tracking, though the battery isn’t especially robust and you’ll need to take the time to charge it every evening.
The Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 is exciting because it borrows most of the features from the Samsung Galaxy Watch 3 while clocking in at a budget price tag. You get the smart Tizen OS, a great rotating bezel for quick access to the watch’s major features, and even the same ECG, VO2 Max (maximum rate of oxygen consumption while exercising) and fall detection. There’s also menstrual tracking for those in need. This is a superb health and fitness watch for Android owners.
If you’re shopping for an Apple Watch right now, you have more choices than usual, since there’s a new flagship (the Series 6), a budget model (the Series 3) and the Apple Watch SE all available. So where does the SE fit in? It’s the best value and probably the right choice for a lot of smartwatch users.
For a mid-range price tag, you get most of the features found in the iPhone Series 5 and Series 6. What’s missing: the always-on display, ECG and SpO2 sensors. Otherwise, the watch can ID many exercises, has fall detection, detects irregular heartbeats, and it’s compatible with all the usual apps. There are also many watch faces to customize it with, plus sleep detection to help your restfulness.
Fitbit more or less pioneered the fitness band category, and its Versa 3 smartwatch is a superb fitness-focused smartwatch that seems to do everything, from great battery life to health, fitness, and notification duties. Unlike all the Apple Watches and many top-tier Android watches, the Versa 3’s battery lasts for up to six days at a time, a welcome relief from the charge dock.
Fitbit has exercise identification and tracking down to a science, and the Versa 3 benefits from that. You also get the obligatory heart rate tracking and sleep tracking, and with waterproofing, you can take it in the shower or pool. You can leave the phone at home because it has GPS on-board. It’s not ideal for iPhone users—you can only reply to messages via Android—but it’s otherwise a powerhouse fitness-focused smartwatch.
Depending on the age of your child, you might want a kids’ smartwatch that can keep them entertained, be an emergency communication device, a fitness band, or even a tracking device. The GizmoWatch 2 from Verizon is pretty much all of those things. Designed for kids age between 3 and 11, it has a color touchscreen that can display the time (naturally), play a few games place calls and act like a step counter for activity tracking. Because it’s designed for kids, it’s relatively rugged and has an IP67 rating.
To use the wireless features you need a $10 per month Verizon wireless plan, but don’t worry about your kids making random calls to strangers—it only works with “trusted” contacts stored on the watch. Your kid can make calls and text as well, though those are short voice recordings because the watch doesn’t do voice-t0-text translation. Perhaps the most important feature for parents, though, is its tracking ability—you can see exactly where your kid is anytime from a mobile app on your phone. You can also geofence your kid and get alerts when he or she leaves the area you specified.
If you are serious about your fitness routine and you are an Android owner, there may be no better watch than the Garmin Vivoactive 4. It’s hard not to love the on-screen animated exercise demonstrations, including Pilates and yoga routines—handy for checking your form.
You also get built-in storage for playing music while you work out and a large library of workout apps. Integrated sleep and menstrual tracking help you manage other aspects of health. You’re not going to use this for workouts 24/7, so Garmin also includes Garmin Pay (contactless payments like Apple Pay or Android Pay) and one of the best battery life ratings around with up to eight days of usage.
There are budget smartwatches, and then there are budget smartwatches. For well under $100, the AmazFit Bip S (don’t judge it by the goofy name) is a stunningly good value. It might not have the same classy industrial design as Samsung, Garmin or Apple, but it has all the most important features. Those include heart rate monitoring, water resistance to 5 atmospheres (meaning it protects against full submersion a bit more effectively), built-in GPS, a slew of exercise tracking modes and more.
It does all this with an impressive 40-day batter life, one of the longest of any smartwatch. In addition, you can choose from more than 40 standard watch faces and edit widgets on several as well, similar to the Apple Watch.
These days, smartwatches are bristling with ever-more health and fitness sensors. Two of the most common sensors in modern watches are ECG and optical heart rate sensors, and while they both measure your heart, they’re measuring different things.
Virtually all smartwatches today include an optical heart rate sensor — it’s one of the oldest health sensors found in wearable devices. An optical sensor reflects a particular wavelength of light off the blood flowing under the skin beneath your watch, which helps the watch determine how fast your heart is beating. Some watches measure this regularly through the day; others reserve it just for workouts and when you trigger it manually.
An ECG—short for electrocardiogram—is a more recent innovation in smartwatches. It measures electrical signals under your skin generated by your heart’s normal rhythmic beating to generate a very accurate picture of your heart rate. To function, the ECG feature must be triggered manually and requires you to touch a specific part of the watch while the ECG measures the electrical signal generated by the heart’s contraction. The result is a summary that tells you if your heart is behaving normally or if there’s an abnormal rhythm (called atrial fibrillation).
Unfortunately, in order to set up a new Apple Watch, an iPhone is a necessity. There’s no way to set it up without one, and you need to use the Apple Watch mobile app on your iPhone to install watch faces and watch apps, as well as to make many kinds of changes to settings.
On the other hand, if you have an iPhone but don’t always carry it with you, you can certainly wear an Apple Watch instead and use many of the watch’s key features on its own. But on its own, an Apple Watch can’t connect to the internet (unless you have a cellular version of the watch) and will not be especially useful.
IP, which is short for Ingress Protection, is an industry-standard method for describing how protected a device is from being damaged by the environment. IP ratings always have two numbers, such as IP65 or IP15. The first digit indicates how well protected the device is from intrusion from solids like dirt, dust and debris. The second digit is for moisture protection—such as rain, drips, sprays or full immersion in water.
Generally, the higher the IP rating you see, the better protection it has. Here is a quick guide to what each number means:
Dave Johnson has been a tech journalist since the days of the Palm Pilot and Windows 95. He’s the author of about three dozen books about tech, digital photography, small