The smartwatch phenomenon began in earnest during 2015, but now it’s in full swing. Although we only saw a handful of new smartwatches in 2016, the latest and greatest smartwatches are a big improvement over the unsightly first-generation models. Now we have a number of attractive smartwatches from tech companies and fashion brands alike.
There is a smartwatch on this list for everyone, whether you’re a businessman or a woman. We’ve also included a variety of smartwatch operating systems on this list, so you can find the watch that works best with your phone.
Why should you buy this: It’s the best smartwatch
Who’s it for: Anyone with an iPhone who wants a smartwatch
How much will it cost: $370+
Why we picked the Apple Watch Series 2
The Apple Watch Series 2 is beautifully made, comfortable to wear, comes in different materials to suit most pockets, and there’s a choice of straps that should ensure it can fit in with most people’s style. Plus, it comes in two different sizes — 38mm and 42mm — so it’ll look equally at home on male and female wrists.
The key to the Apple Watch’s success is the variety of styles, sizes, and price points. Watches are very personal and people want to customize them and make their watch unique. Apple even partnered up with fashion and sportswear brands like Hermes and Nike to make special versions of its Series 2 Watch. Now, it’s waterproof up to 50 meters, you can swim with it, and it has GPS onboard; it’s the ultimate smartwatch for active people.
Style isn’t the only thing we love about the Apple Watch Series 2. Its WatchOS 3 operating system is much easier to use than the original version of the OS. Also, apps load super fast, thanks to the new processor and dock feature, which stores your most-used apps for quick access. We love the unusual, fun messaging features, such as being able to send haptic taps directly to another Apple Watch. Add in fitness tracking, a heart rate monitor, an array of apps, a solid notification system, plus a growing range of accessories, and the Apple Watch sets the overall standard for current smartwatches.
As far as downsides go, it’s expensive at $370+ — particularly if you choose anything but the Watch Sport. You can get a number of third-party watch bands to help knock down the price though. Here are some of our favorites. It also only works with the iPhone, but it’s an Apple product, so this shouldn’t be a surprise. It’ll only work with iPhones, of course, but you probably already guessed that.
The best Android Wear smartwatch
Why should you buy this: It’s good-looking, gender neutral, and has solid specs.
Who’s it for: Anyone who wants a classy round smartwatch that’ll work on iOS or Android
How much will it cost: $350+
Why we picked the Huawei Watch
It took nearly 10 months to hit store shelves following its announcement, but the Huawei Watch is worth the wait. Available in black, gold, or stainless steel, it is the best looking Android Wear device we’ve seen from a tech company. It’s technically impressive too, with the 400 x 400 pixel, 1.4-inch AMOLED screen, which surpasses all other Android Wear watch displays in terms of sharpness.
Android Wear runs smoothly on the watch, and even though it’s not our favorite smartwatch OS, the new version is a big step forward in terms of design and ease of use. You can read our hands on with Android Wear 2.0 here. It’ll also work with both iOS and Android devices, though iOS functions are limited. If you have an iPhone, we still recommend the Apple Watch Series 2 ahead of Huawei’s Watch. However, for Android users, it doesn’t get better than this.
For those who like to workout, there’s a heart rate monitor for fitness tracking and the Google Fit app will keep tabs on your workouts. It’s not for swimming, though it is IP67 water resistant and can handle 30 minutes in 1 meter of water. There’s no built-in GPS, either.
The 42mm circular body is just about compact enough to suit male and female wrists, but it’s still skewed towards men. However, the design is sleek enough to appeal to everyone. Huawei also offers female-friendly versions of the watch, which come in nice rose gold finishes and a Swarovski crystal dial. It won’t be to every woman’s taste, and the watch is large on the smallest of wrists, but if you like big watches, it’ll please you.
The Huawei Watch lasts 1-2 days on a charge depending on how much you use it, and it has a nice magnetic charger that’s easy to use.
You’ll need to splash out some dough if it takes your fancy. The basic leather strapped model costs $350, but you could end up paying anywhere up to $800 if you prefer the rose gold version. You can grab 18mm bands from third parties to lower your costs somewhat. Price aside, it’s our favorite Android Wear smartwatch.
The best Samsung smartwatch
Why should you buy this: It is the best smartwatch for Samsung users
Who’s it for: Anyone with a Samsung phone who wants a stellar smartwatch
How much will it cost: $350
Why we picked the Gear S3 Frontier
Samsung’s Gear S2 was a hit, and its Gear S3 Frontier is even better. It’s a traditional-looking sporty smartwatch with classic Swiss design elements and a 46mm diameter casing. It’s thicker and sporty, traditional-looking watch bezels with an index. The larger size isn’t for everyone, but it’s ideal for people who like bigger, chunky watches. Those with small wrists and women who don’t like big masculine watches should consider the Gear S2 Classic instead.
The Frontier’s index is numbered like the dial on most outdoors watches, and it has a stainless steel case that is waterproof up to 5 meters for 30 minutes, thanks to an IP68 rating. The steel of the Frontier is coated with a dark color and has a silicon band. You can use any 22mm strap with the two Gear S3 Frontier, but Samsung sells its own straps. All of them are really gorgeous and connect with the classic pin mechanism you’ll see on most watch straps.
It’s a powerful smartwatch with Samsung’s Always-On display technology, which ensures the watch face is always visible in full color. It boasts built-in GPS and tons of fitness features like the ones you’d find on its fitness trackers. The Frontier is fully focused on outdoor tracking and it even comes in an LTE variant, for those who want to use the watch as a standalone device.
The smartwatch uses the same innovative, circular Tizen-based interface as the Gear S2, and you use the same rotating bezel for navigation. It’s the best smartwatch OS other than Apple’s WatchOS. It also offers mobile payments with Samsung Pay, and this time it can use both NFC and MST technology, so you should be able to use it at any normal register, even if it doesn’t have NFC support. The improvements make it a great smartwatch for Samsung phone owners. It will work with other Android phones, but some functions aren’t as well-developed for non-Samsung phones. Now, the Gear S3 will work with iPhones, thanks to the new Gear S app. It’s a bit hard to connect, though, and some features won’t work.
The best smartwatch by a fashion brand
Why should you buy this: It’s a classic Fossil watch made with high-quality materials
Who’s it for: Men who like big, bold Fossil watches, but want to try out Android Wear
How much will it cost: $275+
Why we picked the Fossil Q Founder
If the Huawei Watch is our favorite Android Wear smartwatch for wrists of all sizes, then the Fossil Q Founder is the one to buy if you love a chunky watch. The chrome version is absolutely gorgeous, and treads the fine line between being satisfyingly large without being cumbersome. It’s a delight to look at, and you’ll be proud to wear it. This is the smartwatch for fashion-focused folks who love Fossil’s design aesthetic.
The technology inside the Q Founder isn’t all that different from other Android Wear watches, though it does have an Intel chip and 1GB of RAM. The Intel chip doesn’t make it that much faster in everyday use. Some people will be put off by that distinctive ‘flat tire’ display with a cut-off bottom, but it doesn’t detract from the watch as a whole. The price is also extremely reasonable, especially given the brand name and gorgeous design.
It runs Android Wear and offers basic fitness tracking like other smartwatches. It will likely get the update to Android Wear 2.0, which will make it easier to use and more consistent with modern design. The Q Founder offers IP67 water-resistance, too, so it’s safe from splashes. The battery will last you about a day, so you’ll have to charge it every night on the semi-impractical charging pillow.
Fossil also sells a few more Android Wear smartwatches, including the Q Wander for women and the Q Marshal for men who like slightly smaller watches. We currently prefer the Q Founder, but we’ll update the post once we get the Q Marshal in to review.
The best Android Wear smartwatch for women
Why should you buy this: It’s the best-looking smartwatch if you have smaller wrists
Who’s it for: Anyone with an iPhone who wants a smartwatch
How much will it cost: $300+
Why we picked the Motorola Moto 360, 2nd gen
The original circular smartwatch is back with a vengeance, and although the trademark ‘flat tire’ display remains, the watch now comes in two sizes — 46mm and 42mm, to suit men and women. Everything from the bezel’s finish to the color of the strap can be altered in Moto Maker, allowing you to create a watch that’s completely to your taste.
It’s also the only Android Wear watch on this list that we can recommend to women. Third-party straps work with the Moto 360, too, the 46mm version works with 22mm straps and the 42mm version works with 18mm straps. It’s easy to find good, cheaper options online than you’d get from Motorola.
Android Wear runs on the Moto 360, so it’ll work with Android and iOS devices, though it’ll be better with Android. The Android Wear 2.0 update will likely hit the watch as soon as Google makes it available. The Moto 360 has a 1.4-inch 360 x 325 pixel LCD screen and typical processing power for a smartwatch. The battery differs in size depending on which model you pick, but expect a day-and-a-half use.
Prices vary, but it starts at $300. You can likely find a deal online for less now, though. It may be getting up there in age, but so are many Android Wear smartwatches. The second-generation Moto 360 is the one to buy if you’re a lady who likes smartwatches.
How we test
We test smartwatches just like we test smartphones. We use them every day and test out all the marquee features. We strap them to our wrists (no matter how silly they look), and walk around town with them, making calls and exercising to test out the workout features. We pair them with different phones and test the experience when the watch is connected to phones different OSes. We dunk water-resistant smartwatches in water and take outdoorsy watches on hikes. We download tons of apps and discard the lame ones to determine how strong the app ecosystem really is, and we go to cafes that accept mobile payments and buy lattes with our wrists.
Basically, we get lots of weird looks, but it’s worth it.
Which smartwatch OS is best?
Each smartwatch operating system is different. Apple’s Watch OS 3.0 and Samsung’s special round Tizen OS for the Gear S line of watches are the two best smartwatch OSes in terms of design, features, and ease of use. Android Wear has fallen behind, and that’s reflected by low sales and lukewarm enthusiasm from its manufacturing partners — We haven’t seen many new Android Wear devices in 2016. Android Wear 2.0 looks better and solves many of the OS’ problems, but it still involves a lot of swiping and isn’t intuitive to use. It doesn’t support mobile payments, either.
In contrast, Apple’s WatchOS is dead simple and so is Samsung’s Tizen. Both offer fully-featured fitness tracking that’s easy to access and intuitive interfaces. On the Gear S watches, you just twist the bezel in a circle to navigate through quick launch apps, your full library of apps, and settings. Each app is made to suit the circular OS, so navigation is easy to figure out. You always have a back button if you get lost, too. The addition of Samsung Pay also takes Samsung’s watches to a new level with mobile payments.
The same could be said of Apple’s WatchOS. It’s attractive, apps are easy to find with a press of the digital crown, and you have access to quick launch apps in the Dock with the press of a button. Apple pay works on WatchOS, too. WatchOS 3 is even simpler than Samsung’s interface now that Apple has cut down on a few pointless menus and boosted the companion app.
In terms of app support, Apple’s OS has the best and most plentiful apps that we use on a regular basis. Android Wear is second and is starting to develop a decent number of apps, and Samsung’s app store is a distant third. There are not a lot of useful apps on Tizen.
Winner: WatchOS by Apple
Should you buy a smartwatch now? Probably not
So you think you want a smartwatch? Are you sure? Are you flush? Are you unashamed to rock bleeding edge tech very publicly on your wrist? OK. Proceed!
The problem with smartwatches is that you really don’t need one. Yeah, it’s nice to have the time and notifications on your wrist, and fitness tracking is cool, but you could really just buy a fitness band for a third of the price. A fitness band won’t do as much, but smartwatches are still very niche and not necessary. That’s the problem. One-day battery life is also hard to swallow for some people, so if you’re adverse to charging multiple gadgets every night, stay away.
We think the Apple Watch is the most useful, and if you’re looking to buy an Apple Watch, the Series 2 is a great buy. It’s brand new and Apple isn’t likely to replace it super quickly. It took nearly two years in between the first and second Apple Watches, so you’re in for a wait if you want the Series 3. If you’re okay spending the dough and realizing that this is still early days for the samrtwatch, it’s the one to buy.
If you’re looking for an Android Wear watch … wait. We haven’t heard anyone besides Fossil and a few other outliers talking about launching new Android Wear smartwatches for some time. The OS needs help and Google’s partners aren’t happy with sales. Some reports say they’re considering ditching Android Wear for good or at least waiting a while. That’s bad news. Now’s not a good time to buy an Android Wear watch.
If you’re a lady, hold your horses for a female-friendly Gear S watch. While you’re at it, petition Samsung for one. The company is under the impression that ladies don’t like smartwatches, so it’s focusing on men with its Gear S3. Let’s prove that research wrong, shall we?
Although no one needs a smartwatch, these are the best ones you can buy right now at this very moment, so let’s get ticking!