The best smartwatch you can put on your wrist today is the Apple Watch Series 5. Digital Trends has reviewed more than 60 different smartwatches and wearables, often wearing the ones selected for in-depth treatment for several weeks before passing judgement, and it’s by far the most user-friendly, feature-packed, reliable, and customizable smartwatch you can buy.
Yes, you’ll need to own an iPhone to use an Apple Watch, but if you do then it’s the only sensible choice to make. If you own an Android smartphone, then the Apple Watch has already been ticked off your list of potentials. Don’t worry — there are other smartwatches that come close to Apple’s wearable.
The best smartwatch: Apple Watch Series 5
Why you should buy this: It’s the best smartwatch. That’s all.
Who it’s for: Anyone with an iPhone who wants a smartwatch.
Why we picked the Apple Watch Series 5:
The Apple Watch has been our best smartwatch for a while, so it shouldn’t be a surprise to see the latest Series 5 model also beating the pack. However, it’s not just by a whisker, or with numerous caveats. It’s the best smartwatch by far, and a device that sports the same wonderful design as the Apple Watch Series 4, but also brings a handful of new features.
Just like its predecessor, the Apple Watch Series 5 comes in a choice of 40mm and 44mm case sizes. We recommend the 100% recycled aluminum body, but if you want to splash out there are stainless steel, titanium, and ceramic variants.
The big new feature for the Series 5 is the always-on display. You no longer have to raise your wrist to bring the screen to life. The Apple Watch Series 5 runs WatchOS 6 which brings a variety of new apps, a dedicated app store to help you find them, and some new, fully customizable watch faces to take advantage of that always-on display.
Fitness features have also been enhanced, so in addition to the GPS, heart rate sensor, and electrocardiogram feature, there are activity trends that show your progress and warn if you become less active, the option to track period cycles for women, and a new noise app that can warn you when you’re at risk of hearing damage. The case is swim-proof, and the prebuilt workout plans include cycling, swimming, yoga, hiking, and more. All this combines to make the Apple Watch a comprehensive, easy-to-use, and highly accessible fitness tracker, with plenty of motivational alerts to keep you going.
A new S5 processor powers the Series 5 watch for super-smooth performance and greater efficiency than the S4. Opt for the cellular version and you can leave your iPhone at home and make on-the-wrist calls, check email, or chat with Siri. You will have to pay extra through your carrier to have 4G LTE for calls and data, but a sensible array of apps means the Apple Watch really can work as an iPhone replacement, if only for a short time.
If there is a downside it’s the battery life, something that’s not unique to the Apple Watch. The quoted 18 hours of use is about right, although it can be stretched out for a few more hours with limited use, plus there is a power-saving mode that turns everything off except the time. It is also quite expensive, especially if you opt for a more durable case material and cellular support.
We recommend one of the Sport Loop straps, and do think the space grey model looks best. There are plenty of great third-party straps available, too.
It doesn’t matter how much you spend, the functionality is the same, and all come with 32GB of internal storage space, up from 16GB in the Series 4. Whichever you choose, be happy in the knowledge you’re wearing the best smartwatch currently available, and one of the finest Apple products.
Best smartwatch for Android: Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2
Why you should buy this: It’s the best smartwatch if you own an Android phone
Who it’s for: Anyone who values a great user interface on a slick smartwatch
Why we picked the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2:
This will be a bit confusing, thanks to the various operating systems for smartwatches now available. The Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 is the best smartwatch you can buy if you own an Android phone, regardless of whether it’s made by Samsung, LG, HTC, Huawei, or any other brand. It uses Samsung’s own Tizen software, and here’s a little-shared piece of information — Tizen’s better than Google’s Wear OS at the moment.
The Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 comes in two sizes, with a 40mm or 44mm case and a 1.2-inch or 1.4-inch Super AMOLED screen, which is tough, bright, vibrant, and sharp. The rotating bezel we liked so much in the Samsung Galaxy Watch, which helps you zip through the menus quickly and simply, rather than prodding and swiping on a tiny touchscreen for every interaction, is back, but it’s digital in the Watch Active 2 rather than mechanical.
With a small, sleek design, the Watch Active 2 is adept at blending in with your look and even sports a “My Style” feature that uses a selfie from your phone to generate watch faces that match your clothing.
One of the major strengths of the Watch Active 2 is the fitness features, which include a heart rate sensor, automatic workout recognition, fitness tracking, onboard GPS, and a range of fitness apps available through Samsung’s app store. There’s also a built-in running coach, alerts if you’re sedentary for too long, and Samsung has an ECG feature in the works, which may alert you to any irregularities in your heartbeat.
There is LTE support if you’re willing to buy it and you can browse YouTube and Twitter or use Google Translate directly from your wrist. It has 4GB of internal storage space for music, supports Spotify music playlists, and can connect to Bluetooth headphones so you can work out without your phone. It’s also IP68 rated and can handle depths of up to 5 meters.
On the downside, the Galaxy Watch Active 2 is not as focused or user-friendly as the Apple Watch Series 5.
You can use the Galaxy Watch Active 2 with almost any Android phone with the Samsung Gear app, and also with iOS, although it’s missing several features and we still recommend the Apple Watch to iPhone owners.
Best smartwatch for running: Garmin Forerunner 945
Why you should buy this: It’s packed with all the right fitness features for serious runners.
Who it’s for: Anyone who wants smartwatch looks with tons of fitness-specific features.
Why we picked the Garmin Forerunner 945:
Fitness bands will track all your exercise and a whole lot more, but the design is often best for the gym and not everyday wear. If you want smartwatch looks without sacrificing the right fitness tracking features, the Garmin Forerunner 945 is the watch for you. It looks like a watch, not a fitness band, yet still has all the necessary sensors and hardware to keep up with an active lifestyle.
At 47mm, it is quite large but weighs a manageable 50 grams. That’s not bad going considering the hardware packed in here, which includes an optical heart rate monitor, barometric altimeter, pulse oximeter, compass, gyroscope, accelerometer, and even a thermometer. Information is displayed on the 1.2-inch, always-on display, which is bright and fairly sharp. You can customize the face to suit you, but the real attraction of a watch like this is the tracking capabilities and it can handle more than 30 different indoor and outdoor sports, though it’s particularly good for running, nailing basics like distance and pace, but also offering useful features for serious athletes, like altitude and heat acclimatization.
The Garmin Forerunner 945 will also track your sleep, monitor your stress, and accurately track runs via GPS. You can decide what phone notifications you want to receive on your wrist, though there are fewer options if you’re an iPhone owner. Battery life is stellar — it can go up to two weeks between charges. One last feature that makes training more fun is the space for up to 1,000 music tracks and Bluetooth support to enable you to pair headphones.
Best smartwatch for swimmers: Coros Apex
Why you should buy this: It’s comfortable, durable, and designed for triathletes in training, so perfect for tracking swimming.
Who it’s for: Swimmers, or those who require a water-resistant smartwatch.
Why we picked the Coros Apex:
There was a time smartwatches did not have water resistance, but that time has well and truly gone, as more and more smartwatches can cope with the wet stuff. We recommend the Coros Apex for swimmers. It comes in a 42mm size with a 1.1-inch screen and ceramic bezel, or a 46mm body with a 1.2-inch screen and titanium bezel. The screens are bright and sharp enough to give you the latest data on your training session. The Apex also sports a silicone band that’s comfortable even when wet.
The design is clean and modern, with a single button and a digital crown. The Coros Apex looks quite refined for a rugged fitness watch and, while it looks at home on the track or in the pool, it won’t look out of place around the dinner table.
With a very user-friendly interface, the Coros Apex doesn’t try to do too much — it’s designed for the triathlete in training and so it primarily tracks running, biking, and swimming. It can also handle hiking, GPS cardio, and gym cardio, but you’ll have to start sessions manually. While the activities may be limited there are plenty of metrics on show, enabling you to check your pace, distance, heart rate, elevation, and more in real-time by switching between the five data screens.
It’s fully waterproof with a 10ATM rating for the pool or open water swimming. You can pick pool size when going for a swim and get distance alerts and the physical button makes it easy to use in the pool. Post-swim there are stats aplenty, including distance, time, stroke style, average pace, and Swim Golf (SWOLF) for every lap.
The Coros Apex can also track sleep and connect to your smartphone via Bluetooth LE, where you can dig a little deeper into your data. Perhaps the crowning glory of the Coros Apex is the near monthlong battery life.
In terms of cons, it has a fairly limited feature set and offers no web-based analysis but ultimately, you will struggle to find a better swim tracking watch.
Best smartwatch that looks like a watch: Withings Steel HR
Why you should buy this: It’s a good-looking hybrid analog and smartwatch that’s packed with fitness tracking features.
Who it’s for: Men or women who like traditional watches, but want to try out a smartwatch.
Why we picked the Withings Steel HR
Smartwatches tend to look like pieces of technology, mostly because of the touchscreen, but what if you want a smartwatch that looks more like a traditional watch? You want a hybrid smartwatch, which does away with the touchscreen but still includes smartphone connectivity for notifications and fitness tracking. The choice in this category is growing and evolving, and you can spend very little or an awful lot, depending on your preferences and the size of your wallet.
We think the Withings Steel HR Sport strikes a nice balance between style and substance with a classic analog watch face, and a 40mm, matte black, stainless steel casing with a single side button. It comes with a choice of silicone or leather bands or can be paired with any third-party 20mm band you like.
At the top of the analog watch face, there’s a small LCD that shows health metrics and incoming notifications from your paired smartphone. It measures heart rate, step count, calories burned, and more. There’s also connected GPS tracking (which means it uses your phone) and support for VO2 Max which estimates the oxygen you use during exercise. It will prod you about your fitness goals and also tracks your sleep, giving you a report on the quality.
Up to 25 days of battery life rounds out a great value package. The only doubts we have are about the performance analysis and the tiny display. Overall, though, the Withings Steel HR offers a nice combination of tracking features for the casual user and looks and feels just like a regular, traditional watch.