Picking a smartwatch isn’t as simple as buying the best-looking or most feature-packed one you can find. Between a growing number of companies like Apple, Samsung, and Google inching closer to using smartwatches as a way to keep you committed to their other hardware, an abundance of health and fitness tracking options to sort through and compare, and a variety of designs and functions, there’s a lot to sift through when considering buying a smartwatch.
If you’re just looking for basic tracking for workouts and sleep, you may be better off with a more affordable fitness tracker, but smartwatches not only do everything fitness trackers do, they provide some of the functionality of your phone. Many can even be used without your phone to make or receive calls and respond to texts (though you’ll need to sign up for a cell plan and also keep the watch synced to your phone), download music for offline playback, and mirror your phone’s notifications so you don’t have to reach into your pocket for every ping. Most smartwatches can also download third-party apps like Strava or a water tracker to make sure you’re staying hydrated, as well as let you make contactless payments and pair with Bluetooth headphones. Most fitness trackers don’t offer all those features in one package.
We spoke with a marathon runner, a smartwatch reviewer, and fitness writer, as well as conducted our own testing and research, to find you the best smartwatch to suit your needs, whether you’re a fitness enthusiast or just looking to spend a little less time looking at your phone.
What we’re looking for
Over the past few years, the big three companies in the smartphone space — Apple, Samsung, and Google — have started treating smartwatches as a way to further lock you into their respective platforms. Victoria Song, smartwatch reviewer at The Verge, says that approach makes things tricky for consumers. “Your smartwatch has a very close relationship to your phone because it’s there to make you look at your phone less, and if it’s not a stand-alone device, you’re more tied to your phone,” she says. “So think about how married you are to your phone and its ecosystem; that’ll tell you which smartwatch is best for you.”
Thomas Watson, editor and running coach at Marathon Handbook, echoes that sentiment. “It’s also a big deal because there’s a big switching cost if you change devices. If you’ve used one platform for a couple of years, you’ve built up swathes of personal health and fitness data on that platform,” he says. “Changing to another manufacturer will probably mean you can’t port all that information straight over and may lose it.” The solution, he suggests, is to think long term about what brand you’ll still be happy with in a few years, and which one you’ll trust with all your health data.
Given the commitment a smartwatch requires, that sort of longevity is important. The latest Android-friendly smartwatches from companies like Samsung will have a Qualcomm Snapdragon Wear 4100 chip, which is the only third-party chip that’ll run Google’s Wear OS 3 (Wear OS 2 watches may not be able to run certain apps like the latest Google Maps or YouTube Music). To avoid having your new smartwatch left in the dust when new features arrive, Song suggests staying clear of watches with anything but the newest chip, even if you can find one for a good discount. She also recommends paying attention to the watches that have a third-party app ecosystem (an app store that’ll let you download apps like Strava or Spotify), as they’ll offer more capabilities than a watch without one.
If you like to keep all your personal data close to the chest, a smartwatch probably isn’t for you, Song says. Even an Apple Watch, with all of Apple’s promises of protecting your personal data, can’t protect you once you hand that data over to a third party like Strava or Peloton. “Once you use its HealthKit app with another app, all bets are off,” Song says. “Apple doesn’t have control over what that third party does with your data.”
Health and fitness tracking
Most smartwatches these days flaunt pretty robust capabilities for tracking workouts and overall health. Companies like Apple and Samsung highlight features like ECG (electrocardiogram) and blood-oxygen monitoring, as well as sleep tracking and even fall detection. These flagship smartwatches will have more health-related features than cheaper models, but for more serious monitoring like heart health, Song says those features don’t mean much, although she suggests making sure any watch featuring ECG capabilities be FDA cleared.
Casey Johnston, author of the She’s a Beast newsletter, says tracking all that data can be useful for athletes training for specific cardio-based workouts, but that for regular people just looking to be a little more healthy, it can be more detrimental than helpful when taken too seriously. “Virtually all long-range studies on workout tracking via smartwatches have shown that, while the tracking can be exciting and motivating feedback maybe at first, the feeling wanes for almost everyone,” she notes. “Most people need a more personal or impactful reward than data in order to achieve long-term adherence to exercise.”
Watson agrees: “While this information is undoubtedly valuable, unless you’re competing for a podium position in your field and working with a coach who can interpret all the data, focusing too much on the myriad of metrics available can take your mind further away from where it should be: on the activity at hand.”
Flagship smartwatches can have a battery life ranging anywhere from 18 to 65 hours, depending on your usage and if there’s a low-power mode. Though Song says it’s hard to find a watch that’ll last longer than 24 to 36 hours, you should look for one that lasts at least 24 hours and supports quick charging.
You should look for a smartwatch that supports quick charging. If you only charge overnight, that might not seem like an important feature with a fresh watch, but batteries deteriorate over time and you’ll need to plug it in more often.
Unlike smartphones, smartwatches don’t have the benefit of being protected by something like your pocket, a bag, or a protective case; they’re exposed on your wrist all the time, leaving them more vulnerable to damage.
Most smartwatches will come with an IP (Ingress Protection) rating, which indicates how resistant they are to water and dust. The higher the IP rating, the better the protection. The first part of the number, following the IP, tells you how resistant the watch will be to dust, while the second indicates protection levels against liquid, so a rating like IP67 tells you the device is totally protected from dust and safe from water up to one meter. A rating like IPX7 indicates that the watch doesn’t have any protection against dust (and most people don’t need to worry about dust protection anyway). Some watches use the more traditional water-resistance rating, given in atmospheres (ATM) of pressure, and other companies, such as Apple, may simply list the water resistance in meters.
The bigger your watch’s screen, the easier it’ll be to read at a distance. At the same time, bigger screens may look and feel more obtrusive on your wrist depending on your wrist size. Smartwatch sizes usually range from 36 to 40mm for smaller wrists, while larger models can go all the way up to 45mm. The best thing to do, if possible, is to go into a store and see how each might look on your wrist before taking the plunge.
Many smartwatches offer both GPS-only and cellular models of their flagship smartphones. The Bluetooth-only models (sometimes labeled as the GPS model) can only receive notifications and new information when in close proximity to your phone, while the cellular options allow you to take a call from your wrist even if you’ve left your phone behind. Typically, though, you’ll need to pay an additional fee for your watch to access a cellular network, so keep that in mind.
Best overall smartwatch for iOS
Platform support: iOS | Health and fitness tracking: Blood oxygen, heart rate, and irregular heartbeat, ECG monitoring (FDA-cleared), ovulation cycle, sleep cycle, fall and crash detection, and workout tracking for walks, runs, cycling, and strength training | Battery life: 18 hours (36 hours in low-power mode) | Water/dust resistance: IP6X, water-resistant up to 50 meters | Display size: 42mm and 45mm models | Cellular support: Bluetooth-only and cellular models
If you’re using an iPhone, you’ll get the best smartwatch experience with an Apple Watch; it integrates better with iOS than a third-party watch, it’s packed with fitness-tracking features, and it gets the basics like notification management right. The Series 8 is the latest version and came out in September 2022. Watson is still rocking his Series 7 and recommends the Apple Watch for anyone looking to casually track their data. “The Apple Watch workout app tracks just about every type of workout you can imagine,” he says. “Then you’ve got all the ‘passive monitoring’ of the activity and heart-rate data, which is compelling to sit with and browse on your iPhone.”
Like Watson, I’m still using a Series 7, and I’ve been using Apple watches since the first model came out in 2015. Its seamless integration with iOS makes it easy to interact with notifications without having to touch my phone, which has become invaluable to me when I need to focus on work or being with loved ones. It also has more third-party apps available than Wear OS watches, like the app I use to track my time at work or my audiobook player, all accessible from my wrist.
On the health front, the Series 8 can monitor your blood-oxygen levels (though it’s not a diagnostic tool), your heart rate, and any irregular rhythms in your heartbeat, ovulation cycle tracking, as well as fall and crash detection. Of course, it also tracks standard workouts like running, cycling, and now strength training.
The display, which comes in 41mm and 45mm sizes, features an always-on display that’s bright enough to see even in bright sunlight and provides information at a glance without having to raise your wrist. Apple says it can last up to 18 hours on a single charge and can go as long as 36 hours when kept in low-power mode, though that disables the always-on display, heart-rate and blood-pressure monitoring, and automatic workout tracking. Song was only able to get about 24 hours at most in her testing, though, so your mileage may vary.
If you’re looking for better fitness-tracking features without losing all the benefits of Apple’s integration, and you don’t mind a larger watch face, there’s the Apple Watch Ultra. It’s effectively a beefed-up Series 8, with all the same features, plus more extensive fitness tracking for people who love to track every metric for a wide range of activities. The Ultra also supports greater GPS frequencies, which can give you a more accurate tracking of your workout routes.
Best less-expensive smartwatch
Platform support: iOS and Android | Health and fitness tracking: Heart rate and irregular heartbeat, ovulation cycle, sleep cycle, and workout tracking for walks, runs, cycling, and strength training | Battery life: 10 hours | Water/dust resistance: 5ATM | Display size: 36mm | Cellular support: Bluetooth-only
If you’re looking for a cheaper smartwatch that doesn’t require too many sacrifices, Song recommends Amazfit’s GTR 4, which she says “packs a lot of bang for your buck.” It’s from a lesser-known company, but its health and fitness tracking is robust and accurate enough to cover the bases for most people. In her review, Song says that although it won’t compete with the Apple Watches and Google Pixel watches of the world due to its weaker integration with your phone’s OS, “it offers several features you’d expect to see on more expensive watches, such as multiband GPS, a vibrant OLED display, and turn-by-turn route navigation.”
The GTR 4 features all the sensors you’d need to track your workouts, plus a continuous heart monitor that can also check blood-oxygen levels, though it lacks more advanced features such as ECG. Like the Series 8, it features an always-on OLED display that’s crisp and bright. As for battery life, Song’s testing showed the watch can last up to ten days — which is longer than nearly any other smartwatch you can get, including all the other watches on this list — without requiring a charge, and it supports basic notification mirroring (any pings on your phone will show up on your watch), but it doesn’t support quick replies on iOS.
Best less-expensive smartwatch for iOS
Platform support: iOS | Health and fitness tracking: Heart rate and irregular heartbeat, ovulation cycle, sleep cycle, fall and crash detection, and workout tracking for walks, runs, cycling, swimming, and strength training | Battery life: 18 hours | Water/dust resistance: IP6X, water-resistant up to 50 meters | Display size: 40mm and 44mm models | Cellular support: Bluetooth-only and cellular models
If you’re new to the smartwatch game or an intermediate athlete who doesn’t need every metric possible, Song recommends going for the more affordable Apple Watch SE. It starts out at a little over $100 cheaper than the Series 8, comes in slightly smaller 44mm and 40mm sizes, lacks ECG and blood-oxygen monitoring, and doesn’t have an always-on display.
That said, it still covers all the bases of a good smartwatch. It can track your workouts, monitor your heart rate for peaks and lows as well as irregular rhythms, and track sleep and ovulation cycles (though the Series 8 adds the ability to give retrospective ovulation estimates), plus fall and crash detection.
Best smartwatch for Samsung phone users
Platform support: Android | Health and fitness tracking: Heart rate and ECG monitoring (FDA-cleared), sleep cycle, and workout tracking for walks, runs, cycling, and strength training | Battery life: Up to 65 hours | Water/dust resistance: IP68 | Display size: 45mm | Cellular support: Bluetooth-only and cellular models
If you’re on Android, Song says the Samsung Galaxy Watch 5 Pro is the best smartwatch you can get. It works with any Android device that supports Wear OS 3, making it more compatible with other devices than an Apple Watch (but it’s still tied to Android). Its 45mm casting is larger than most standard watches, which might stand out on smaller wrists, but Song says it doesn’t look as big on your wrist as other smartwatches of its size, and the larger touch bezel (which you can use to scroll through the watch’s interface) is easier to use.
On the fitness front, the Watch5 Pro has everything you need, including workout tracking for runs, swims, and bike rides, sleep tracking, and heart-rate monitoring. You can use the Watch 5 Pro without using Samsung’s Health app, but Song notes that not all features are accessible outside Samsung, such as ECG monitoring, and that overall you’ll have to use four apps to totally manage the watch (Galaxy Wearable, Samsung Health, Samsung Health Monitor).
Despite the larger screen size of the Watch5 Pro, Song says it’s worth the trade-off for a more readable display, better touch bezel, and longer battery life. In my testing, that tracks: It’s hard to beat the experience the Galaxy Watch 5 Pro offers when paired with a Samsung phone. Its battery life beats out the regular Watch 5, and its interface is easier to navigate than any other Wear OS watch. Even on my wrists, which are on the smaller side for a guy, its larger size isn’t much of an issue.
Best smartwatch for non–Samsung Android users
Platform support: Android | Health and fitness tracking: Heart rate and ECG (FDA-cleared), sleep cycle, and workout tracking for walks, runs, cycling, and fall detection | Battery life: Up to 24 hours | Water/dust resistance: 5 ATM (water resistant up to 50 meters) | Display size: 41mm | Cellular support: Bluetooth-only and cellular models
If you want a sleeker-looking watch or have an Android device that’s not from Samsung, and you’re okay with the kinks of a first-generation product, Google’s Pixel Watch will do the trick. Like the Galaxy Watch5 Pro and Apple Watch Series 8, Google’s first flagship smartwatch packs an always-on display, robust fitness tracking, and good notification management into a sleek design.
I’ve been testing the Pixel Watch for a few months, and although it’s not for those who prefer a bug-free experience, it’s a great-looking watch that gets a lot of the basics right. Its rounded display looks nicer than the Apple Watch, and it’s easy to pair with your phone without any fuss.
On the health front, it can monitor your heart rate for irregular rhythms (with FDA-approved ECG alerts), sleep, and workout tracking, and comes with six free months of Fitbit Premium, though Song says the Pixel Watch doesn’t quite have all the features a Fitbit does (but it packs more smartwatch features like notifications and Google Assistant).
Despite lacking some of the features of a Fitbit, it’s still the most robust option for Android users without a Samsung phone. It doesn’t require as many apps as Samsung’s watch for full management and tracking, and it doesn’t lock any features to Google’s Pixel phones, so you’ll get the same experience no matter what smartphone you’re using.
Best for fitness tracking
Platform support: iOS and Android | Health and fitness tracking: Heart rate and ECG monitoring (FDA-cleared), sleep cycle and menstrual cycle tracking, and workout tracking for walks, runs, cycling, golfing, swimming, and fall detection | Battery life: Up to 9 days | Water/dust resistance: 5 ATM (water resistant up to 50 meters) | Display size: 33mm | Cellular support: Bluetooth-only
If you’re not sure whether you can commit to Android or iOS for more than a year or two, or you like to lean heavily into the fitness aspect of wearables, get Garmin’s Venu 2 Plus. Its fitness tracking is hard to beat, with options for cardio, HIIT, yoga, Pilates, golfing, cycling, and swimming, plus all the basics for health tracking.
Beyond that, Song says it’s a pretty solid smartwatch despite coming from a third party. It can mirror your phone’s notifications (with customizable quick replies if you’re on Android), and there’s even a third-party app store with enough options to give you the basics. It’ll work with your phone’s voice assistant too, though it’s not quite as robust as using a Pixel Watch or Apple Watch.
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