The Apple Watch Series 5 is the best smartwatch you can buy right now. It’s feature-rich, user-friendly, gorgeous, and extremely reliable. Simply put, it’s the best smartwatch out there, at this very moment.
However, that recommendation comes with caveats — and the biggest one is that you need to an iPhone to use the Apple Watch. That means it’s the sensible and easy choice if you do, but if you’re using an Android smartphone, well, the Apple Watch simply isn’t an option. But don’t worry, while the Series 5 may be the top dog, there are plenty of solid alternatives that deserve a place on your wrist. Best of all, a few come close to Apple’s wearable, and we’ve found some irresistible smartwatch deals on a number of them.
Digital Trends has reviewed more than 100 different smartwatches, fitness trackers, and wearables, so we have all the insight you need to find your ideal smartwatch. We test smartwatches in depth, wearing each device for several weeks and trying out all of its features before passing judgment.
Best smartwatches right now
- Best overall: (Review)
- Best for Android: (Review)
- Best WearOS: (Review)
- Best Wear OS for women: (Review)
- Best value: (Review)
- Best for running: (Review)
- Best for swimmers: (Review)
- Best smartwatch that looks like a watch: (Review)
Who it’s for: Anyone with an iPhone who wants a smartwatch.
Why we picked the Apple Watch Series 5
The Apple Watch has topped our best smartwatches list for quite some time, so it shouldn’t be a surprise to see the latest Series 5 model leading the pack. However, it’s not just by a whisker, or with numerous caveats — it’s simply the best smartwatch by far, sporting the same wonderful design as the Apple Watch Series 4, but with the welcome addition of 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 Series 4’s 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.
The 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 bands, and do think the space gray model looks best. There are plenty of great third-party bands 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. If you’re currently rocking an Apple Watch Series 4, it’s probably not worth the upgrade cost — but if you’re using an older smartwatch, or want to experience the best smartwatch for your iPhone, the Apple Watch Series 5 is a definite.
Read our full Apple Watch Series 5 review
Who it’s for: Anyone who values a great user interface on a slick smartwatch.
Why we picked the Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2
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. This might be a bit confusing, because of the mix of operating systems for smartwatches that are available right now. You see, it’s not the best Wear OS smartwatch, because it doesn’t run Wear OS. The Galaxy Watch Active 2 uses Samsung’s Tizen software, and here’s a little-shared piece of information — right now, Tizen is better than Google’s Wear OS.
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 is back, and this helps you zip through the menus quickly and simply, rather than prodding and swiping on a tiny touchscreen for every interaction. It’s digital in the Watch Active 2 rather than mechanical, which means you may need to change the sensitivity to your liking.
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 matches the color of your clothing for that day.
The fitness features are one of the Watch Active 2’s strongest areas, and it includes 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 a built-in running coach and 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.
You can get LTE support if you’re willing to pay a bit more 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 don’t have to cart your phone around if you want to listen to tunes while you work out. 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, but it is quite a bit cheaper, which makes these negative points easier to swallow.
You can use the Galaxy Watch Active 2 with any Android phone with the Samsung Gear app. While you could also use it with an iPhone, it’s missing several features on iOS, and we still recommend the Apple Watch to iPhone owners. The Galaxy Watch Active 2 starts at $280 for the 40mm version and $300 for the 44mm version.
Read our full Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2 review
Why you should buy this: It packs the latest technology into a slick-looking, fashion-first smartwatch.
Who it’s for: Anyone who wants an unfussy, high-performance smartwatch that’ll work on iOS or Android.
Why we picked the Skagen Falster 3
The Skagen Falster 3 has it all, and is our favorite smartwatch with WearOS at the moment. The design is minimalist and cool, with a range of comfortable, colorful, and varied straps available to customize the look. We have reviewed the special edition Skagen Falster 3 X Kygo, a collaboration between the Danish watch brand and Norwegian DJ, which has a stealthy style. Whichever you choose, the design is one of the best out there.
The size, and the overall design, is just right. At 42mm the stainless steel body doesn’t overpower the wrist and the simple fuss-free look means it should appeal to many people. The silicone strap on the X Kygo model is very comfortable, but we really love the silicone mesh versions available on the standard Falster 3 too, due to the lovely texture and sweat-free versatility. If you don’t want the black X Kygo model, the standard Falster 3 comes in gunmetal grey.
It has all the tech you could want from a WearOS smartwatch. Qualcomm’s Snapdragon Wear 3100 platform with 1GB of RAM powers the watch, plus there is a heart rate monitor on the back, NFC for Google Pay, GPS, and a speaker and microphone to take and receive calls. This feature doesn’t require a separate connection or carrier contract, and is performed using Bluetooth from your phone.
WearOS is up to date on our review model, and is surprisingly fluid and speedy, something old WearOS models couldn’t always claim. There are still some frustrations, but operation is improved, with the rotating crown making it easy to scroll through menus and pages. Fitness tracking comes via Google Fit, which is easy to use and full of exercise tracking features, though it won’t satisfy athletes seeking in-depth data.
Battery life is pretty decent at around a day, and you can extend that by switching off features you don’t need, plus it’ll recharge in about an hour. The watch is rated to 30 meters for water resistance, which means splashes and rain won’t pose a problem, and it can be worn when swimming, too.
The Skagen Falster 3 has a one other close challenger — the Fossil Gen 5. The hardware is identical, but it’s worth noting there are two styles available — the masculine Carlyle and the feminine Julianna, both of which have 44mm cases. It’s definitely worth your attention if the Falster 3’s style doesn’t appeal.
Why you should buy this: It’s the best-looking smartwatch if you have smaller wrists.
Who it’s for: Anyone who wants a smaller smartwatch.
Why we picked the Kate Spade Scallop 2
It has taken a while, but the tech world is beginning to understand that women don’t always want to wear a big, masculine smartwatch, and we’re seeing more and more devices that are suitable for smaller wrists. It’s also edging away from simply making the resulting smartwatch pink and hoping for the best, as designers that actually understand fashion become more involved. Our current pick of this growing range comes from Kate Spade, a brand that really 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 band options, which emphasize the scallop design, and variations on the gold body color available.
The Scallop 2 stands out thanks to several clever 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 it 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 Google Pay. If you’re looking for a more sporty smartwatch, Kate Spade also has the KSNY Sport model, which is not only very light weight, but also packed with the very latest tech. It’s a great alternative to the Scallop 2, depending on your lifestyle.
Read our full Kate Spade Scallop 2 hands-on review.
Why you should buy this: It’s the best value Wear OS smartwatch you’ll find, with all the right features at a low price.
Who it’s for: This big watch will suit larger wrists, and 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 large, bright 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 it functional with a dash of high-tech charm. It is also water resistant and can track your swimming, as well as your other workout sessions.
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 all of the same features you’ll 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 band you select, but the features remain the same.
Read our full Mobvoi TicWatch E2 review
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 your exercise sessions and a whole lot more, but the designs are 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 may be the watch for you. It looks like a watch, rather than 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 that’s packed in here: There’s 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. 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 for headphones.
There has to be a catch here somewhere, right? The Garmin Forerunner 945 costs a seriously hefty $600. We think it’s worth it for serious runners, but you can check out our guide to the best fitness trackers for more options at different prices. An alternative is the Suunto 7 which is the brand’s first smartwatch to use Google’s WearOS software, yet still packs in all the familiar and desirable Suunto fitness and health tracking.
Read our full Garmin Forerunner 945 review
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 when smartwatches lacked 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 too 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. It also starts at $300 for the 42mm model and costs $350 for the larger variant. But, ultimately, you will struggle to find a better swim tracking watch.
Read our full Coros Apex review
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 Sport
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? Well then, 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. If you like the sound of this but would rather spend less, then the Withings Move ECG is worth a look, though the ECG feature is still clearing the FDA. The Withings ScanWatch is also coming soon and boasts a bigger display and the ability to monitor irregular heartbeat and atrial fibrillation. If you are willing to spend a lot more for a Swiss timepiece and import, then the Alpina AlpinerX deserves your consideration. If you want something that sports traditional watch hands, but with an E Ink display behind them, then the Fossil Hybrid HR could be for you.
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.
Read our full Withings Steel HR Sport review
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 certain restrictions that Apple applies to third-party devices and what they are allowed to access in 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 seeking a smartwatch, it may come down to design preference for 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 often 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 5 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.
If you want to make sure you can wear your chosen device in the shower or to go swimming, then you need to think about smartwatch water resistance, and look for an IP or ATM rating.
It’s sensible to treat your smartwatch carefully, even with these extra levels of protection, but no more so than you would with a traditional watch.
If you are a runner and intend to use your smartwatch to track routes, and don’t want to run with your phone, then yes, you do need GPS. 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 some can use your 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. 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 sure, here are the requirements for each version. Google’s Wear OS requires an Android phone running version 4.4 or later, or an iPhone on iOS 9.3 or later. You should be alright as long as you’ve bought a phone in the last two or three years.
The Apple Watch varies a little. The Series 3 and later with a cellular connection need an iPhone 6 or later to work. If you buy an Apple Watch Series 3, 4, or 5 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 WatchOS and Samsung’s special round Tizen OS for the Galaxy Watch line of watches are the two best smartwatch platforms 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; it’s getting more usable, but it’s still not as user-friendly as WatchOS or Tizen.
Apple’s WatchOS is super simple and so is Samsung’s Tizen. Both offer fully featured fitness tracking that’s easy to access along with 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 also have a back button if you get lost. The addition of Samsung Pay’s mobile payments also takes Samsung’s watches to a new level.
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 6 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 regularly. 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 around to the realization that 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 — and battery lives and control mechanisms are constantly getting better.
The improvements really are coming in thick and fast. The Apple Watch Series 5 is almost a complete phone replacement, and Google has improved Wear OS into a considerably better wearable operating system. 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. Honestly, 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 try out every single feature. 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 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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