The best smartwatch you can put on your wrist today is the Apple Watch Series 4. 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.
Best smartwatches at a glance:
- Best overall smartwatch: Apple Watch Series 4
- Best smartwatch for Android: Samsung Galaxy Watch
- Best WearOS smartwatch: Fossil Sport
- Best smartwatch for running: Garmin Forerunner 645 Music
- Best smartwatch for swimmers: Garmin VivoActive 3 Music
- Best Wear OS smartwatch for women: Kate Spade Scallop 2
- Best budget smartwatch: Mobvoi Ticwatch E2
- Best smartwatch that looks like a watch: Fossil Q Commuter/Fossil Q Neely
Who’s it for: Anyone with an iPhone who wants a smartwatch.
Why we picked the Apple Watch Series 4
The Apple Watch has topped our best smartwatches list for a while, so it shouldn’t be a surprise to see the latest Series 4 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 has genuinely earned a 5-out-of 5-stars rating. This doesn’t happen very often, and to find out why it did, read our review (above) for the full story.
It’s a different beast from the Series 3 is a few ways, the biggest being an increase in case size — it’s now 40mm and 44mm, over 38mm and 42mm — as well as a considerably larger viewing area on the OLED screen. The WatchOS 5 software makes great use of the extra space, with more detailed notifications, and new watch faces with more complications. Larger buttons make interacting with the Apple Watch Series 4 easier, too.
Fitness features have also been enhanced, and the Apple Watch Series 4 has GPS, a heart rate sensor, and soon an electrocardiogram feature. This will come as an update in the near future, and will help monitor for an irregular heartbeat. The case is swim-proof, and the prebuilt workout plans now include yoga and hiking. 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 S4 dual-core processor powers the Series 4 watch for super smooth performance, and the speaker for the cellular version has been improved, making on-the-wrist conversations easier to hear in noisy environments. You will have to pay extra through your carrier to have 4G LTE for calls and data, but a sensible array of apps available now mean 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 a little more expensive than the Series 3 watch.
Advice we gave for the Series 3 still stands. Make sure you really want the cellular connectivity feature, because if you don’t, you’ll save $100 on your purchase. 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. A gold and an aluminum Series 4 model are also available, along with a special Nike version, and if you’re ready to pay up, a special stainless steel Hermes model can be purchased starting $1,250.
It doesn’t really matter how much you spend, the functionality is the same, and all come with 16GB of internal storage space. Whichever you choose, be happy in the knowledge you’re not only wearing the best smartwatch currently available, but the finest Apple product available today.
Read our full Apple Watch Series 4 review
Who is it for? Anyone who values a great user interface on a slick smartwatch
Why we picked the Samsung Galaxy Watch
This will be a bit confusing, thanks to the various operating systems for smartwatches now available. The Samsung Galaxy Watch 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’s not the best Wear OS smartwatch, because it doesn’t run Wear OS. 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.
Why? It’s mainly because of the way you interact with it using the Samsung Galaxy Watch, and other recent Samsung smartwatches including our last pick, the Gear Sport. Tizen relies on a rotating bezel which helps you zip through the menus quickly and simply, rather than prodding and swiping on a tiny touchscreen for every interaction. The bezel rotates with a satisfying click, and minimizing screen touches helps keep the 1.3-inch AMOLED screen (a smaller Galaxy Watch with a 1.2-inch screen is also available) clear of too many fingerprints. That’s always a bonus.
The watch itself is Samsung’s most stylish yet, and its most watch-like too. It moves away from the sporty style adopted for the Gear S3 and the Gear Sport. Samsung has also dropped the Gear name for the Galaxy Watch, and introduced two case sizes and plenty of straps and colors. We like the 46mm version which only comes in silver, while the 42mm version comes in black or gold.
Despite the change in style, there are plenty of fitness features including a heart rate sensor, automatic workout recognition, fitness tracking, onboard GPS, and a range of fitness apps available through Samsung’s app store. However, it’s not as focused or user-friendly as the Apple Watch Series 4. It has 4GB of internal storage space for music, supports Spotify music playlists, and can connect to Bluetooth headphones so you can workout without your phone.
You can use the Galaxy Watch 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. The Galaxy Watch starts at $330.
Read our full Samsung Galaxy Watch review
Why should you buy this: It packs the latest technology into an extremely good-looking smartwatch.
Who’s it for: Anyone who wants a sleek, sporty smartwatch that’ll work on iOS or Android.
Why we picked the Fossil Sport
The Fossil Sport is Fossil’s first smartwatch with the new Snapdragon Wear 3100, which offers better battery life and improved performance. It also runs Google’s new version of Wear OS, which is a massive improvement over the previous version. For an affordable price, the Fossil Sport offers built-in GPS, heart-rate monitoring, and more, all packed into a lightweight and sleek looking smartwatch you’ll want to wear every day.
In terms of size, the Fossil Sport comes in two different case sizes (41mm and 43mm) for those who have smaller and larger wrists. There are also six different quirky color options to choose from, some of which come with matching bands. It’s the lightest smartwatch Fossil has created yet, as the bottom of the case is made of nylon while the top is made of aluminum, making it feel like it weighs close to nothing. It’s also extremely comfortable to work out with and versatile enough to pair with any outfit whether it’s for work, the gym, or a fancier event.
Thanks to the new chipset, scrolling through menus and apps feels much smoother and you won’t encounter as much lag. There is also a 1.2-inch AMOLED display that gives off sharp and bright visuals, even in direct sunlight. Whether it’s the watch face or content you’re looking at, the colors appear vibrant and bright. With redesigned Wear OS, you’ll also have a more pleasant experience accessing notifications and shortcuts like Google Pay. As for the battery, you can expect to get close to 24 hours out of the smartwatch before having to charge it again. The Fossil Sport also automatically enters battery saver mode once battery life drops to 10 percent. With enhanced ambient mode, certain dials showcase color and a sweeping second hand that looks more stylish, even when your smartwatch battery is dying.
While working out, the Fossil Sport takes advantage of Google Fit which you can easily access by swiping to the left on the display. It will give you a complete overview of your activity with in-depth metrics, whether that is during the day or while on a run. With its built-in heart rate sensor, you can also check your beats per minute manually or set up the Fossil Sport to track it automatically throughout the day.
Read our full Fossil Sport review
Why should you buy this: It has a genuine smartwatch looks and functionality, with all the right fitness features.
Who’s it for: iPhone or Android users who want smartwatch looks with tons of fitness-specific features
Why we picked the Garmin Forerunner 645
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 645 Music 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.
The one thing it doesn’t have is a touchscreen. This is more like a hybrid smartwatch and is controlled with the five buttons on the case. On the back is a heart rate sensor, and inside is GPS for tracking runs without the need to carry your phone. Even with the GPS active, the battery will still last for five days — a neat benefit of not having a power-sucking touchscreen. Runners will love the watch due to sensors being able to measure stride length, cadence, balance, and even ground contact time.
That is before we get to features including a compass, thermometer, onboard music storage for offline play, water resistance for use in the pool, and Garmin’s extensive fitness tracking software platform. It is quite expensive, but it’s hard to find a feature sports and fitness addicts will want that it doesn’t have. Plus, even when you’re not working out or running, the Forerunner 645’s looks will blend in with most outfits. You can check out our guide to the best fitness trackers for more.
Read our full Garmin Forerunnner 645 Music review
Why should you buy this: It’s the best value Wear OS smartwatch you’ll find, with all the right features at a low price.
Who’s it for: This big watch will suit larger wrists, and for those on a strict budget.
Why we picked the Mobvoi Ticwatch E2
For $160 we recommend you buy the Mobvoi Ticwatch E2. Despite being cheap, it’s very good value, with a 1.4-inch screen showing the latest version of Google’s Wear OS, a heart rate sensor on the back, and GPS to track your run. The only notable missing feature is NFC for Google Pay.
There’s good news on the battery side, with it lasting at least a day on a full charge in our tests. No, it won’t stretch out into two full days; but it won’t stop working before you get a chance to put in on the charger at night. The Ticwatch E2 isn’t the most stylish watch, but it’s not ugly. We’d call functional with a dash of high-tech charm.
Why did we pick the Ticwatch E2, instead of a hybrid watch? It’s simple — it’s the most affordable Wear OS watch available, with features you also find on watches that cost twice as much. That makes it a bargain, and it’s rare to find those in mobile tech today.
If you’d rather have a hybrid smartwatch, then the Fossil Grant, Commuter, Nate, Neely, Carlie, and Jacqueline watches all cost from $155 directly from Fossil, and are well-designed, non-touchscreen hybrids. The price changes depending on the type of strap you select, while the features remain the same.
Read our full Mobvoi TicWatch E2 review
Why should you buy this: It’s the best-looking smartwatch if you have smaller wrists.
Who’s it for: Anyone who wants a smaller smartwatch.
Why we picked the Kate Spade Scallop 2
Gradually, the tech world is beginning to understand women don’t always want to wear a big, masculine smartwatch, and is therefore making more of them suitable for smaller wrists. It’s also edging away from simply making the resulting smartwatch pink and hoping for the best, as designers that understand women’s fashion become more involved. Our current pick of this growing range comes from Kate Spade, a brand that understands what makes a desirable tech product for women.
We’ve chosen the Kate Spade Scallop 2 not only because of this but also for its realistic price of $295. The smartwatch has been engineered using the latest technology, so the profile is neat and slim, and therefore less intrusive than older smartwatches. The screen measures 1.2-inches and is encased in a body that is 42mm wide. There are several different strap options, which emphasize the scallop design, and variations on the gold body color available.
The Scallop stands out due to several cool software features, with a favorite being a way to customize the watch face according to the colors of your outfit, which is called into action using the button beneath the crown. If you don’t want to do that, the animated faces all take on familiar Kate Spade design elements, and are fun to use. The watch has Google’s Wear OS operating system, so connects to Android and iOS devices, and unlike the first Kate Spade Scallop smartwatch, it does have a heart rate sensor, GPS, and NFC for Android Pay.
Read our full Kate Spade Scallop 2 hands-on review
Why should you buy this: It’s water-resistant, looks good, and comes with Garmin’s comprehensive swim tracking features.
Who is it for: Swimmers, or those who require a water resistant smartwatch.
Why we picked the Garmin VivoActive 3 Music:
There was a time smartwatches did not have water resistance, but that has changed recently with more smartwatches being able to cope with the wet stuff. We recommend two smartwatches for swimmers. The first is the Garmin VivoActive 3 Music, which is ideal if you own an Android phone or an iPhone.
The design is sleek and suitable for all wrist sizes, and is more stylish than Garmin’s more focused activity watches like the Fenix and Forerunner, yet it offers the same swim tracking features — from time and distance to stroke and SWOLF. However, it doesn’t track open water swimming. The Garmin VivoActive 3 Music is water proof to 50 meters, and as the name suggests has internal storage space for your own music. There’s an LTE version coming soon too, if you want more functionality.
Alternatively, if you own an iPhone, we recommend the Apple Watch Series 4, which is waterproof to 50 meters, and has pool and open water swim tracking in the standard fitness app, which is a joy to use. Not only that, but the App Store has plenty of swim-related apps, including MySwimPro, that are compatible with the watch. Plus, swapping straps is easy — and there are thousands from which to choose — so there’s no need to ruin your everyday strap in the pool or the sea, or live with a generic silicone strap.
Either of these two smartwatches will serve you well in the pool.
Why should you buy this: It’s a classic Fossil watch made with high-quality materials.
Who’s it for: Men or women who like traditionally styled watches, but want to try out a smartwatch.
Smartwatches, mostly due to the touchscreen, look like pieces of technology — but what if you want a smart watch that looks more like a traditional watch? You will want a hybrid smartwatch, which does away with the touchscreen but still includes smartphone connectivity for notifications and fitness tracking. The choice is massive, and you can spend very little to a massive amount, depending on your preferences and size of wallet.
The Q Commuter or Q Neely will appeal with its minimalist style and no-nonsense approach to connected watches. It still counts your steps, measures the distance traveled, and estimates calorie burn for the day. It vibrates when a notification comes through on your phone and when you reach your daily step goal, plus it can track your sleep quality, assuming you wear it in bed.
Through the app, you can configure what notifications you want to receive on your wrist, and the minute and hour hands will point to a number on the clock indicating the app or contact. It can alert you to calls, texts, emails, and a host of incoming messages from popular social media apps, but you’ll want to cherry pick to avoid it all becoming pervasive.
There are certain functions you can set to the three buttons on the watch. Our favorite is the hybrid’s highlight feature, where you can press a button to see your estimated time of arrival at a preset destination — like your work. You can also choose from other functions like using the button to pause or play music, finding the time in another city, and more. Because the watch doesn’t have a touchscreen, battery life is great, and it’s powered by an easily swapped out coin cell. It should keep going for up to a year.
Fossil makes plenty of different hybrid smartwatches, for both men and women, so finding the right style and look for you is easy.
Research and buying tips
- How do I decide between Apple, Tizen, or Wear OS?
- How durable is a smartwatch?
- Do I need a smartwatch with GPS?
- Can my smartwatch use my data plan?
- Will a new smartwatch work with my older phone?
- Which smartwatch OS is best?
- Should I buy a smartwatch?
Although it sounds like a complicated question, this is surprisingly straightforward. If you own an Android phone, then you can use a Tizen — which is the operating system used on Samsung’s smartwatches — or a Google Wear OS watch. The Apple Watch only works with Apple’s iOS software.
If you own an iPhone, all smartwatches work with your phone provided you use Samsung’s or Google’s special app to sync the two up. However, be aware that neither Wear OS or Tizen watches will provide the same level of functionality as they do when connected to an Android phone. This is due to Apple restricting third-party device’s access to the iOS software. For this reason, and many others, we don’t recommend iPhone owners buy any other smartwatch than the Apple Watch.
For Android phone owners wanting a smartwatch, it may come down to design preference which model of watch you buy, but we do prefer the way Tizen operates on the Samsung Galaxy Watch, over many Wear OS smartwatches.
Because it’s on your wrist, smartwatches are exposed to danger. They’re easy to knock against things, and can quickly get wet. Does this mean you must be extra careful with your watch? Some smartwatches, like the Casio Pro Trek WSD-F30 and the Mobvoi Ticwatch S2, meet military standards for toughness, and will withstand harsher treatment than others.
While many smartwatches are water resistant today, from the Apple Watch Series 4 to the Kate Spade Scallop 2, not all have sapphire crystal over the screen. This adds an extra level of scratch resistance to the screen, and also provides a beautiful reflective sheen, but you’ll have to pay a little more for the pleasure. The Tag Heuer Connected Modular 41, the Montblanc Summit 2, and the Kronaby hybrid watches all have sapphire crystal over the screen.
It’s sensible to treat your smartwatch carefully, even with these extra levels of protection, but no more so than you would with traditional watch.
If you are a runner and intend to use your smartwatch to track routes, and crucially don’t want to run with your phone, then yes you do. Most modern smartwatches come with GPS as standard anyway, so you may find it’s ready and waiting if you need it. If your smartwatch doesn’t have GPS, then it can still use the phone’s GPS when connected, but it will be slower to operate. One thing to remember is that using GPS will drain the battery in the watch faster than usual.
If your smartwatch connects to your smartphone using Bluetooth, then all the data it requires comes from your phone, at no extra charge to you. This changes if you buy a smartwatch with 4G LTE, like the LTE version of the Apple Watch Series 4. When a smartwatch has its own data connection, it can be used on its own without being connected to your smartphone, ready to make calls, receive messages, and plenty more.
However, you will have to pay extra for the privilege. The amount varies depending on your carrier and current plan, but expect to pay around $10 per month to enable the 4G LTE connection on your smartwatch.
If your Android phone or iPhone was purchased in the last three or four years, then the answer is almost certainly yes. To make absolutely sure, here are the requirements. For Google’s Wear OS, provided your Android phone has version 4.4 or later installed, or on an iPhone iOS 9.3, then it will work without a problem.
The Apple Watch varies a little. The Series 3 and Series 4 with a cellular connection need an iPhone 6 or later to work. If you buy an Apple Watch Series 3 or 4 without a cellular connection, they will operate with an iPhone 5S or later.
Samsung’s Tizen operating system, found on the Galaxy Watch and others, requires Android version 5.0 or later, and on an iPhone it needs iOS 9.0 or later installed on at least an iPhone 5. The 4G LTE version of the Galaxy Watch is only compatible with Samsung phones, and may also only operate on certain carriers.
Each smartwatch operating system is different. Apple’s Watch OS 5 and Samsung’s special round Tizen OS for the Galaxy Watch line of watches are the two best smartwatch OSes in terms of design, features, and ease of use. Google rebranded Android Wear as Wear OS and has started to address the issues we have with the software, and although it’s getting more useable, it’s not as user-friendly as WatchOS or Tizen.
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 Galaxy Watch, 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 5 is even simpler than Samsung’s interface now that Apple has cut down on a few pointless menus and boosted the companion app. Google’s Wear OS is evolving, and works with Android and iOS devices, supports Google Pay, and is controlled with swipes and taps; but often menus are slow and lists are long which can lead to frustrations.
In terms of app support, Apple’s OS has the best and most plentiful apps that we use on a regular basis. Wear OS has a decent number of apps from the Google Play Store, and Samsung’s app store is a distant third. There are not a lot of useful apps on Tizen.
So, you think you want a smartwatch? Are you sure?
After all, unlike a smartphone, no-one really needs a smartwatch. However, because manufacturers are finally coming round to the realization a smartwatch needs to look good if we’re to buy one, they’re a lot more tempting than they once were. One-day battery life and a touchscreen on a watch is still hard to swallow for some people, but that’s why hybrid smartwatches were invented.
The Apple Watch Series 4 works without a phone, to a degree, and Wear OS is a considerably better wearable operating system than it once was. The choice of styles, for both men and women, is far greater than it was a year ago. Many big-name fashion brands are adding full touchscreen smartwatches to their ranges, bringing considerable kudos with them. We’re also seeing improvements as the next generation of Wear OS watches, using Qualcomm’s updated Snapdragon 3100 chip, emerges. Now is a great time to get into smartwatches.
However, if you’re not ready to commit to a touchscreen smartwatch, but still want to try out some smart features, the huge choice of hybrid watches has got you covered. They often cost half of what you’ll pay for the cheapest Apple Watch, link with any smartphone, and provide traditional watch looks matched with a connected smart experience.
If you’re tempted by a smartwatch, we say go for it.
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 may look), and walk around town with them, making calls and exercising to test out the workout features. We pair them with different phones and try them with different operating systems. 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.
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