Smartwatches have faded in popularity, but there’s still plenty of great choice in 2018. Here we review and rank the top 10.
The Apple Watch Series 3 is hard to beat, especially for iPhone users, but there are loads of great Wear OS rivals to choose from. Add in hybrid smartwatches and you’re bound to find something you like the style of and has the features you need.
We’ve gone hands-on with the Samsung Galaxy Watch – it’s sure to make this chart once we have a full review.
Your buying guide to the best smartwatches in 2018
Why do you need a smartwatch?
There’s an interesting theory that smartwatches are to the smartphone what wristwatches were to the pocket watch. Picture the way the average gentlemen used to have to rummage through his pocket for his watch prior to the 20th century. Now skip forward 100+ years and the average smartphone user still has to dive into his/her pocket to check their phone.
The kicker now is that your smartphone holds far more information than a pocket watch ever did, yet all of which is still locked into your pocket.
Smartwatches aren’t for making phone calls, although some can do this, but instead they provide a quick and easy way to check what notifications are on your smartphone, so you can decide whether it’s worth delving into your pocket or searching around your bag to fetch your smartphone or not.
What type of smartwatch should you look for?
There are two type of smartwatch around at the moment: those with a colourful touchscreen like would find on your phone, and those which combine a regular analogue watch with smart features.
We call them ‘semi-smartwatches’ but they’re also known as hybrids. The latter we class as a semi-smart device and normally gives you information via a small LCD screen, LEDs or even smaller hands on the watch face.
While a fully-fledged smartwatch can do a lot more, the juice guzzling screen results in a short battery life. Semi-smart watches benefit from longer battery life with some even having separate cells for the watch and smart features.
If you’re an Android user then a Wear OS (formerly Android Wear) smartwatch is the obvious choice but it’s not necessarily the best for everyone. Google’s OS tweaked for wearables also plays nicely with iOS but with cut down functionality so iPhone owners will get more from the Apple Watch. Read more on how to use Android Wear with iPhone.
What makes a good smartwatch?
When testing for what is the best smartwatch, the important factors to consider are how much of your smartphone’s functionalities can it perform, and how well does it handle each task, the final attribute is obviously style – it’s still bling after all.
You’ll also want to make sure it’s compatible with your smartphone – some are only for iPhone or Android while others support most phones. Note that Wear OS now has iOS support but the experience is cut down in comparison.
Fitness fans will want to look for a device with a heart rate monitor and built-in GPS, although the heart rate monitors are often poor. Many also come with NFC which can be used for contactless payment.
We consider the important factors of a smartwatch to be level of notification detail, battery life, style, water resistance, compatibility with a range of devices/smartphones, plus additional features such as microphones and Wi-Fi support so you don’t have to connect to a phone for full functionality.
With very similar, if not identical, hardware on offer with many of the Wear OS smartwatches, a large part of the decision will come down to design and price.
1. Huawei Watch 2
It might not have quite the same classy look, but the Huawei Watch 2 is a big improvement over the original. There are prettier watches around but the Watch 2 has a lot of hardware on offer.
It’s got optional 4G connectivity, GPS, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, so this smartwatch can function fine without your phone. An array of sensors provides in-depth fitness tracking, allowing for a more holistic view of your exercise regime.
It’s got a little bit of everything.
Read our Huawei Watch 2 review.
2. Apple Watch Series 3
The Series 3 with LTE does what it set out to do, but it is a bridge product. We are not yet in a sci-fi world where everyone wants a watch to make calls instead of a smartphone. Apple has nailed the integration way better than anyone else, but with network restrictions and a high price – and limited practical use cases – it isn’t going to become mainstream yet.
As a GPS running watch its Activity app works well but isn’t as fully featured as other activity trackers, such as the Fitbit Ionic. The GPS tracker works excellently though.
As a smartwatch it excels – iPhone users will adore seamless notifications, fitness tracking and outstanding build quality.
Read our Apple Watch Series 3 review.
3. Samsung Galaxy Watch
The Galaxy Watch is the first to take the Galaxy branding, and its Samsung’s best wearable yet. That means it’s also the most expensive, but it has GPS, NFC and auto exercise tracking for a complete experience.
Third party apps are not Tizen OS’s forte, but the Galaxy Watch nails the basics. It’s best used with a Samsung phone so you get the message and email apps on board, but it works perfectly with other phones, even iPhones.
It’s not as packed with tech or as refined software as the Apple Watch, but for Android users it’s preferable to Wear OS watches – and this is to Samsung’s credit.
Read our Samsung Galaxy Watch review.
4. Withings Steel HR Sport
The Withings Steel HR Sport is a little confusing; is it an analogue watch? Is it a smartwatch? Is it a fitness tracker? To be honest, it’s a little of each. Offering an analogue watchface with an OLED subdial to provide notifications, updates on steps taken, distance and other exercise metrics. It offers tracking for over 30 activities, from standard exercises like running and swimming to niche activities like Ping Pong and dancing.
Most importantly, it doesn’t look like a sporty smartwatch, so it looks as at home on your wrist at the office as it does at the gym. Pair that with a great app that provides real insight into the data collected by the app and a 25-day battery life, and you’ve got a highly desirable wearable.
Read our Withings Steel HR Sport review.
5. Samsung Gear Sport
The Samsung Gear Sport is expensive, but is Samsung’s best GPS running watch to date – even if it is as much a smartwatch not unlike the Apple Watch.
The watch’s software is very simplistic but you can view all your data on Samsung’s decent Health app on your phone. Its looks also mean it’s not too garish for formal events, but if you’re after a pure running watch you can spend less.
Read our Samsung Gear Sport review.
6. Fitbit Ionic
The best Fitbit for sports
The Fitbit Ionic is the most fully featured Fitbit smartwatch and activity tracker. It has it all, and its built-in GPS is great for runners or exercisers who don’t want to lug their phone around with them.
As well as all the usual fitness stats it features automatic multi-sports tracking, Fitbit Coach for on-screen workouts, Caller ID and texts notifications on wrist, can store up to 300 songs with music control and be used for contactless payments, as well as chose from a range of special apps (Weather, Starbucks, Runkeeper, Strava, and more).
The Fitbit Versa (which has the same features minus the built-in GPS) is cheaper and smaller, but the Ionic is still lightweight enough for you not to realise you’re wearing it.
Read our Fitbit Ionic review.
7. Fossil Q Commuter
If the screen and battery life of a regular smartwatch doesn’t appeal then a hybrid is a great alternative. The Fossil Q Commuter is an excellent example and the best we’ve tried so far.
It’s stylish, available in various finishes, with top-notch build quality at an affordable price. It’s not the most intuitive system but once you get used to it, the Commuter handles tracking, notifications and more pretty neatly.
Read our Fossil Q Commuter review.
8. Garmin Vivomove HR
This is a great Fitbit alternative if you want a smartwatch that looks like an actual watch. The subtle design has everything you’d want aside from GPS and the battery lasts almost a week with light use.
The Garmin Connect app presents fitness information well, and the Vivomove HR automatically tracks walks, as well as running, swimming (yes, it’s swimproof), weights and more. At under £200, it’s one of our favourites.
Read our Garmin Vivomove HR review.
9. Ticwatch E
The Ticwatch E is a fairly basic Wear OS smartwatch, but including both a heart-rate monitor and GPS at such a low price makes this one of the most affordable smartwatches around that can also serve as a fitness tracker.
The battery life is a bit of a disappointment – not quite meeting the manufacturer’s claim of two days – and we struggled to get it working properly with an iPhone, but if your phone runs Android and you want a no-frills smartwatch to go running with, this isn’t a bad choice.
Read our Ticwatch E review.
10. Ticwatch Pro
The Ticwatch Pro is a middle of the road smartwatch.
On the plus side, it’s cheaper than many rivals and offers better battery life due to its dual-screen technology. Having both AMOLED and TN displays is pretty cool and you won’t find that elsewhere.
However, we’re not overly impressed with the bulky and heavy design. You do get NFC, GPS and a heart rate monitor but we’ve not found the tracking to be as accurate as some others.
Read our Ticwatch Pro review.
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