Incredibly slick interface packed in a visually appealing design. Built-in GPS. Samsung Pay. Android/iOS compatible.
A tad bulky; some users complain about its larger diameter. Fewer apps than some competitors.
Gorgeous design with state-of-the-art technology including SiP with speedy processor. Curved edges and vibrant images create a large look without the need for a bulky face. Impressive amount of functions; digital crown with haptic feedback.
Expensive. A newer watch, so if it has any bugs, you may be among the first customers to discover them.
Best-looking of the Android Wear smartwatches out there because it looks like a real watch instead of a tech toy. Good price, too.
Battery life is an issue, and the watch is more than a bit on the heavy side.
The latest smartwatch by FitBit that has been restyled to be waterproof and offer WiFi connectivity. Has a light, slim build that feels nice on the wrist. Has Fitbit 2.0 OS and offline music access.
A bit more expensive than its predecessor, the Blaze, but it's still a reasonable deal. Firmware can take a while to update. A few syncing issues.
We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.
Smartwatches have gained a lot of popularity in recent years with people seeking a convenient way to stay connected. General, everyday smartwatches can display a lot of useful information, limiting your need to reach for a smartphone or tablet. Given their rising utility, the number of options available is large.
The right smartwatch is a combination of the right features and comfort. The shape and size of the smartwatch will determine how it feels on your wrist and how easy the screen is to read. Features and specs are a matter of personal choice. Make sure the options you check out have the battery life, app support, tracking capabilities, and style you want.
Since there are many different smartwatch brands and models these days, it helps to have some guidance when deciding which one to buy. Our guide will give you all the details about important features, considerations, and some of the top models you should check out.
Up until a few years ago, smartwatches and fitness trackers were decidedly different product categories. But as each has evolved, the lines have blurred. Smartwatches now include fitness-tracking functionality by default, and most fitness trackers can receive smartphone notifications and interact with smartphone apps.
So is there a difference between a smartwatch and a fitness tracker? Sort of. Smartwatches are designed to run apps from your phone, including fitness apps. They’re perfect for taking fitness further if you have a workout app you love, but because they’re also running a lot of other apps, they usually only last a day or two on a single charge. To put it another way, smartwatches extend the mobile experience from your phone to your wrist. That’s good for functionality, but it’s not so good for battery life.
Fitness trackers, on the other hand, are built with one primary goal in mind: helping you stay fit. Fitness trackers are more affordable and often include basic smartphone connectivity, so you can receive mobile notifications, but they rarely include features like the option for LTE mobile internet access. Fitness trackers can sometimes last up to a week on a single charge, which is no small feat when compared to their smartwatch equivalents.
Primarily manufactured by traditional watchmakers such as Timex and Fossil, these timepieces sync with a smartphone and provide alerts when a phone call comes in, when a social media message is posted, or when a text arrives. However, these gadgets lack the ability to respond to said notifications.
As the price increases in this category, you’ll find more complex devices that are powered by either the Apple or Android operating systems to facilitate advanced functionality.
Entry-level models offer basic fitness and sleep tracking. More advanced units may include a customizable face. In addition to syncing with an Android smartphone, the Fossil Q line has built-in WiFi and Bluetooth, providing users the ability to remotely control music as well as use voice to control its features.
A hardy winner from Samsung
This newer upgrade from Samsung is slick and handsome, and you get lots for your investment, including a high-speed connection to the internet, the ability to monitor heart rate, and GPS. It’s a hardy watch that lots of owners love, though some wish it had more apps on board.
Back in the day, there was only one watch feature that mattered: whether or not it could tell time. Nowadays, it’s a bit more complicated. Here are the features to pay the most attention to as you’re comparing different models.
App support: First and foremost, you want to make sure that the smartwatch you buy can integrate with your smartphone and the apps you already have. Smartwatches are semi-functional on their own, but they need to connect to a smartphone in order to unlock the most useful functionality. If you own an iPhone, that means you’ll get the most from an Apple Watch. If you own an Android phone, it means you’ll want to look at smartwatches that run Android Wear.
Notifications: Some smartwatches don’t support apps but will receive notifications from your smartphone. If you’re looking for a basic smartwatch, get one that supports notifications, like a Fitbit. That way, you can still do things like receive important text messages.
Fitness tracking: If you’re a physically active person, pay attention to the fitness-tracking features available on different smartwatches. Some include GPS functionality so you can track runs or bike rides; others simply include a step counter. Consider your fitness goals before you buy, and make sure your smartwatch can support them.
Using a smartwatch can be a great way to conserve battery life on your phone. Most phones use a lot of their battery life powering the screen, but with a smartwatch, you can get notifications from your phone without having to use its screen at all.
If you’re planning to buy a smartwatch with independent LTE support, contact your wireless provider first. You’ll need to add LTE service for your watch to your existing data plan, so be sure to ask about how that will change your monthly bills.
Smartwatches can also function as remote controls for media on your smartphone. For example, if you decide to go on a run and listen to music, you can change the volume or skip backward or forward in a playlist directly from your smartwatch.
Between $100 and $199, you’ll find entry-level smartwatches that are good at basic tasks like notifications and counting steps but leave out advanced features like app support. If you want to try out a smartwatch to see if you like wearing one, you can find decent options in this price range. If you think you might someday be a smartwatch power user, however, you may wish to consider pricier options.
Between $200 and $399, you’ll find the best values in smartwatches: models that have current-generation processors and can fully integrate with your smartphone apps. Smartwatches typically come in standard sizes like 38mm and 42mm; larger models generally cost more.
Smartwatches that cost more than $400 typically include LTE functionality, so you can use them without a smartphone. In many cases, upgrades to moderate phones (like a premium watchband) can bump the price of a smartwatch over $400, so keep an eye on the optional choices that could save you money.
Before you buy a specific smartwatch, look up the manufacturer’s typical product cycles, just in case a new version is expected soon. In a lot of ways, smartwatches are like smartphones — new iterations come out every few years with innovations and improvements that are worth waiting for. If there are some killer features you’re looking for, sometimes waiting for the next generation is the smart move. On the other hand, if a new version is coming soon, you’re more likely to find massive discounts as retailers look to liquidate their stock of current models. The more aware of product release cycles you are, the more likely you are to find the perfect deal for you.
If the smartwatch you want requires a proprietary charging cable, buy an extra one. Some smartwatches have their own charging cable interface, so they can’t be charged with standard micro-USB cables. No matter how your smartwatch gets powered up, keep a spare cable at your desk or in your bag — you never know when you’re going to need a charge on the go.
Q. Can I make a phone call with a smartwatch if it’s not connected to my smartphone?
A. It depends on the smartwatch. Most smartwatches are designed to be connected to a smartphone all the time, and in those cases, the smartwatch can act as both a microphone and speaker for calls from your smartphone. Some high-end smartwatches, with their own mobile data plans, can independently make phone calls and connect to the internet.
Q. What customizations can I make to a smartwatch?
A. Because smartwatches have a built-in screen, you can choose from multiple available digital watch faces. On Android Wear smartwatches, you can choose from hundreds of available options (including user-submitted designs). On Apple Watches, you can select a watch face from their curated gallery of designs. If you want to update the look of your smartwatch, you could always buy a third-party watchband.
Q. What does it mean when a smartwatch says it supports mobile payments?
A. Some smartphones support mobile payment systems, which means that you can store your banking or credit card information and pay with your phone. If a smartwatch supports mobile payments, it means that if it’s connected to smartphone that can make mobile payments, it can interface with the payment system — that is, do the actual paying — with just the watch (so you don’t have to get out your phone).
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