Updated May 2022
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and all opinions about the products are our own. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
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We recommend these products based on an intensive research process that's designed to cut through the noise and find the top products in this space. Guided by experts, we spend hours looking into the factors that matter, to bring you these selections.

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Buying guide for Best smartwatches

The wearable technology revolution is here! Smartwatches are now everywhere, ready to be the device that strikes the perfect balance between fitness tracker and smartphone. And while you may not think you need yet another screen in your life, it’s worth reconsidering because the right smartwatch can help you reduce your overall daily screen time by streamlining the key information you need.

Smartwatches come in all shapes, sizes, and colors — and are often designed to add functionality to specific smartphones. For example, most smartwatches are built to be used with Android-based devices, and the Apple Watch works best with iOS devices, although many smartwatches (like Garmin’s extensive product line) are agnostic and compatible with any mobile device.

Whether you’re looking to track key health metrics, conveniently communicate with friends and colleagues, or extend your smartphone’s battery life by redirecting your most important notifications to your wrist, a smartwatch is the best way to make it happen. 

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Smartwatches, like smartphones, run their own operating systems, so interfaces vary between manufacturers. For example, Apple Watches run watchOS and integrate with iPhones. Others run Android Wear and connect to Android smartphones.

Smartwatches vs. fitness trackers

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.

Expert Tip
If your smartwatch alerts you to a health concern, don’t dismiss it--it could be an early warning for something serious. Follow up with your physician to learn more.
BestReviews Electronics Expert

Key features

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.

Expert Tip
If you have an iPhone, you can use any Apple Watch series 3 or higher to unlock your phone. This is especially handy if you’re wearing a mask and FaceID doesn’t recognize you.
BestReviews Electronics Expert

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.

Health Monitoring

These days, smartwatches can provide you with a variety of health data. Some models can even monitor blood oxygen levels and ECG information, which may give you an idea of when you need to seek medical attention. If you have particular health concerns, you may want to consult with your health care provider about which health monitoring features will be most beneficial for your situation.

Battery life

There are few things more frustrating than a watch that stops working in the middle of a busy day, so it’s important to get one that lasts as long as you need it to. Look through user reviews to get real-world battery life estimates on different smartwatch models.

Smartwatch prices

Inexpensive

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.

Mid-range

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.

Expert Tip
Most smartwatches are made in standard sizes, but you can get your own watchband in a more comfortable size or style if you don’t like the one it comes with.
BestReviews Electronics Expert

Expensive

Smartwatches that cost more than $400 typically include wireless cellular functionality, so you can use them without a smartphone. In many cases, moderate smartwatch upgrades (like a premium watchband) can bump the price up over $400, so keep an eye on the optional choices that could save you money. A top choice like the Apple Watch Series 6 falls in this category, but it may be a worthwhile investment.

Tips

  • 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.

  • Insure your smartwatch in case of an accident. Many manufacturers and retailers offer product insurance on smartwatches, often referred to as “performance plans.” With most electronics, performance plans aren’t worth it — but they’re a must for smartwatches. Smartwatches have glass screens that can crack or scratch easily, not to mention dozens of sensors that can get damaged. Play it safe and get some peace of mind with an insurance plan. (Just be sure to get one that covers accidental damage.)

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If you don’t like the busy watch face that comes default on most smartwatches, you could always switch to a more traditional one. For example, some people opt for a watch face that mimics an old-school analog watch.

FAQ

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 a 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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