Buying the best smartwatch isn't an easy task, with a crowded, stylish market that has changed dramatically in the last couple of years. Now, better designs are challenging classic watches, with an ever-expanding range of features. And with the like of Apple, Samsung, Fitbit, Garmin and even traditional watch brands like Fossil and Tag Heuer involved, it's tougher than ever to pick the top smartwatch for you.
There are important considerations to be made about your choice of operating system, battery life and fitness options, but wearing a smartwatch is about expressing your personality too.
So we've put together the below guide to make the job a bit easier, followed by our current picks for the best smartwatches you can buy right now - and the ones still to come.
Wareable's best smartwatch 2017
Apple Watch Series 3
OS: watchOS 4 | Display: OLED | Size: 38mm/42mm | Battery: 2 days | Water resistance: 50m | Heart rate: Yes | Connectivity: LTE, GPS, NFC, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth | Works with: iOS
The Apple Watch Series 3 has arrived, kicking the Series 2 off our list and claiming the crown of top spot. We're currently in the process of putting together our full review, but the Series 3 has everything of the Series 2 - and then some - so for the time being we can confidently say it's worthy of first place.
The Series 3 is part smartwatch, part fitness tracker, and a much better, and one that's come a long way from Apple's first wearable back in 2015. It's still far from perfect and Android Wear 2.0 has caught up in terms of features, technology and style, but as far as the overall smartwatch experience goes, Apple is still doing the best work here.
Series 3 is almost identical to the Series 2, but with one key difference: LTE. This is Apple's first cellular smartwatch, letting you cut the invisible tether to take it out sans iPhone and still make/receive calls, get texts and all other notifications you would on your phone. Yes, that's going to hit your battery more; the Watch 3 still gets an average of 18 hours, but only one hour of continuous talk time over cellular.
The Series 3, like the 2, is also heavily focused on fitness, with built-in GPS that we've found to be impressively accurate, and 50m waterproofing. Apple's made improvements with the optical heart rate sensor too. In Series 2 we found this mostly hit the mark, but watch this space for our verdict on whether matters have improved in high intensity - an area the Series 2 fell down, and something Apple has promised to build on. The Series 3 now also tracks elevation, something the Series 2 couldn't.
Fitness aside, this is also Apple's best "smartwatch", and all more so with the latest watchOS 4 software. Apple has learned how people want to use the computer on their wrist, and the new operating system means you'll need to spend less time swiping and tapping around - which is a good thing. All of this is packed into a sleeker body than similarly-specced rivals, and an eye-popping 1,000-nit display.
That said, the app selection is still way too small and developers aren't making enough use of the GPS and sensors for untethered experiences. With Series 3, hopefully we'll get even more apps to take advantage of standalone functionality, and Apple Music will be coming in October so you'll be able to stream music without your phone.
Apple's end-to-end control might irk some, but it especially works in its favor with the Watch. Every single one has Apple Pay, and each software rollout reaches all devices instantly. The only drawback is that the very original Apple Watch cannot do resting heart rate, a new feature Apple has introduced with Series 3 and watchOS 4.
Apple shouldn't rest on its laurels, as fashion brands improve the Android Wear experience and Garmin, Fitbit et al start encroaching more on the smartwatch space, but for the time being Apple has the best around.
Feature check: GPS, swimming friendly, Apple Pay, two-day battery, heart rate monitor.
Wareable's hands-on Apple Watch Series 3 review:
"The Watch Series 3 is by no means sounding the death knell for the iPhone, but a more capable complement. Apple sees you taking a five-minute conversation here, replying to a message there, but it's not able to fully replace your phone… yet."
From $329 without LTE, $399 with LTE, apple.com
Samsung Gear S3
OS: Tizen | Display: Super AMOLED (360 x 360) | Size: 46mm | Battery: 380mAh, 1.5 days | Water resistance: IP68 | Heart rate: Yes | Connectivity: GPS, NFC, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth | Works with: iOS, Android
Compatible with Android and iOS, Samsung is surprisingly open-minded with its selection of supported smartphones with the Gear S3, but it very much works to its favor.
The Gear S3 is an improvement on the Gear S2 in all ways but one: the design. Or at least we think so; you might disagree and prefer that bigger, bunkier look. While it might look more like a classic watch than the S2, it's also much bigger - 46mm wide.
However that larger body affords it a screen where Tizen can really shine, and a bigger battery, from which we've managed to squeeze an average of three days from - much better than anything in the Android Wear stable or from the Apple Watch. And like the Apple Watch, Samsung treads between smartwatch and fitness tracker, also packing in a heart rate sensor along with that GPS and its much-improved Samsung Health software. There's the option of LTE too if you wish for an untethered connection, with a standalone speaker for taking calls on the watch.
It's not quite the ultimate fitness all-in-one thanks to a lack of water-resistance, which makes swimming out of the question, while the crappy app selection puts it behind the Apple Watch and Android Wear 2.0 in terms of versatility too. New apps from Under Armour along with the only Spotify smartwatch app to provide offline playback make it a much more compelling proposition, and thankfully Samsung's own software means third-party apps aren't as essential for a fulfilling experience as they are on some other watches.
Strong individual style, the intuitive rotating bezel and great battery life mean it's keeping ahead of anything from Android Wear in our list currently. Does that make it the best smartwatch for Android users? That depends on what you value, and the size alone means we can't say this is the number one choice for Androiders, but the Samsung Gear Sport is just around the corner, and so far, it's promising.
Feature check: GPS, Samsung Pay, Tizen, heart rate monitor.
Wareable's Samsung Gear S3 review verdict:
"The Gear S3 is destined to divide. After delivering us its best-ever smartwatch with the Gear S2, it has sacrificed that sleek design to cram in more features."
Best Android Wear smartwatch
LG Watch Sport
OS: Android Wear 2.0 | Display: OLED (480 x 480) | Size: 46mm | Battery: 430mAh, 1.5 days | Water resistance: IP68 | Heart rate: Yes | Connectivity: GPS, NFC, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth | Works with: Android, iOS
The flagship model for Android Wear 2.0, the LG Watch Sport guns straight for the Apple Watch and Samsung's Gear S3. We first reviewed it at the start of 2017, but even now, the end of the year in sight, it still feels like the best on balance.
With GPS, LTE and NFC for Android Pay on board, the LG Watch Sport is more rounded than its sibling, the LG Watch Style, and comes running the new and improved Android Wear 2.0. The screen really impresses, and the 1.38-inch, 480 x 480 OLED display uses its 348ppi to best the Apple Watch Series 3.
Beyond outdoor workouts like running, it can keep track of reps in the gym, which is a surprising and welcome addition, and it'll track heart rate in all your activities. However, it's only water resistant to 1.5 metres for 30 mins, which makes it unsuitable for swimming.
It's also very bulky. 46mm wide might not sound like much, but then you have the depth, and there's a lot of it here. In fact, if we had to pick one criticism of the Watch Sport it's that it crams so much in, it does so to its detriment. The size will be too overbearing for many, and the LG Watch Style is worth a look, but the pay-off in size means that most of the great features of the Watch Sport have been discarded.
Alternatively, the Michael Kors Access Grayson is the next-strongest Android Wear smartwatch we'd recommend, and only fails to oust the LG Watch Sport due to its lack of NFC and any sports features. If those things aren't important to you, we'd advice looking to the Grayson instead.
Feature check: GPS, LTE, NFC, Android Pay, heart rate monitor.
Wareable's LG Watch Sport review verdict:
"The LG Watch Sport is a perfect showcase for Android Wear 2.0. It's big, but it's also clever, with some solid fitness chops and other standalone features that make it feel truly independent from your phone."
Best smartwatch for gym and sports
OS: Fitbit OS | Display: LCD (348 by 250) | Size: 38mm width | Battery: 4 days+ | Water resistance: 50m | Heart rate: Yes | Connectivity: GPS, Bluetooth | Works with: iOS, Android, Windows 10 Mobile
In the Ionic Fitbit is finally delivering its first smartwatch, but perhaps more importantly to some, this is its best fitness tracker too. Running, biking, swimming, weight lifting - the Ionic has algorithms for tracking a range of different workouts, and in our testing it's proven to be impressively versatile.
Fitbit says the Ionic's GPS is better than anything else on the market, and we have to say it performed admirably in testing, while the four-plus days of battery life mean you won't be taking it off your wrist as much as any of the smartwatches above. Heart rate testing proved a little uneven in our trials, but Fitbit has a good history of tweaking its algorithms through updates in the past, and we're hoping it can nix some of the problems we've come across. Generally though, HR has proven decent in our experience so far.
The Ionic takes the place of the Garmin Vivoactive HR in our list, and while we still highly rate it an amazing sports watch, the new Garmin Vivoactive 3 is just around the corner. What's more, the Ionic puts more of the "smart" in smartwatch. The only problem is that, right now, the app selection is small. The Ionic is up for pre-order and goes on sale in a few weeks time, at which point we hope to see more third-party apps to add the currently meagre selection, and some improvements to the heart rate tracking.
The new relative SpO2 sensor also means Fitbit can track sleep apnea, but having that insight into blood oxygen levels could one day open up other insights too, which others here aren't capable of. Also helping Fitbit deliver a great sports watch is the built-in music player, which can be paired with wireless headphones, along with Pandora if you're in the US (Fitbit still hasn't confirmed what Europe will be getting by way of a third-party music service).
The Ionic doesn't have the option of a cellular connection, however, so you won't get the standalone functionality you get with the Apple Watch Series 3 or the Samsung Gear S3. As to whether this is a bad thing or not, it depends if you class LTE as a feature or an excess.
Overall, some blemishes aside, the Ionic is the best sports watch out there right now for our money. Fitbit knows fitness, and it's not half-assing this, but watch this space; we'll be testing the Vivoactive 3 shortly. No one is ever safe in this game.
Feature check: GPS, heart rate monitor, onboard music, dedicated sports modes, heart rate monitor.
Wareable's Fitbit Ionic verdict:
"Fitness and sports tracking including the Coach platform make a really good impression and smartwatch features like notifications, music player support and Fitbit Pay work without issue. Then there's the battery life, which wipes the floor with the competition."
Best smartwatch for runners
OS: Android Wear 2.0 | Display: TFT (240 x 240) | Size: 1.3-inch | Battery: 500mAh, 2 days | Water resistance: IPX8 | Heart rate: Yes | Connectivity: GPS, NFC, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth | Works with: Android, iOS
While the Fitbit Ionic is an excellent choice for those who flit between a host of sports, the Polar M600 is just for pavement-pounding runners.
Built by running giant Polar, and backed up with Android Wear, powerful running smarts are placed front and centre, with GPS and advanced metrics such as Training Benefit, Running Program, Running Index and Sport Profiles available alongside bog standard speed, pace and time.
But as an Android Wear device it's capable of running apps, offering notifications, accessing Google Voice commands and all-day activity monitoring. You're essentially getting the best of both worlds here, and even better now that Android Wear 2.0 is running on the watch. Wear 2.0 is a vast improvement on Google's software, but too often it's let down by the hardware, especially when it comes to fitness.
The Polar M600 breaks the mold in that respect, and makes no compromises when you're pushing the limits of your training. GPS tracking proved very accurate in testing, though the Ionic delivers a little better in the department. Heart rate on the M600 also kept nice and close to chest-strap readings in our runs.
However, the big let down if you couldn't already tell is the bland design, giving the look of a fitness tracker more than a smartwatch, so if you want something that you'll be proud to show off on your wrist, this one might not be for you. If you're not too fussed about that, this is a stellar choice for runners.
Feature check: Heart rate monitor, GPS, Android Wear 2.0, Polar Flow syncing, water resistant to 10m.
Wareable's Polar M600 review verdict:
"It's easy to forget that you're using an Android Wear smartwatch when you've got the Polar M600 strapped on. It's an outright running watch (with decent activity tracking on board too) as far as we're concerned, with Android Wear simply there in the background in case you need it."
Best hybrid smartwatch
Nokia Steel HR
OS: N/A | Display: OLED | Size: 40mm | Battery: 28 days | Water resistance: 50m | Heart rate: Yes | Connectivity: Bluetooth | Works with: iOS, Android
When we talk about smartwatches, we tend to think of full-on OLED screen-toting wrist computers. But there is another way. Withings (now part of Nokia) has a pretty slick hybrid smartwatch that uses an analogue watch face to pack invisible tech into the case. Even almost a year since we first reviewed it, the Nokia Steel HR strikes a balance between smarts and style better than anyone else out there. Let us explain.
These past few months have brought many hybrids, a lot from Fossil's cohort, which try to deal with notifications, sometimes fitness, while maintaining the mystique of being a regular timepiece.
The Nokia Steel HR might not look like a classic in the way the Kate Spade Metro Grand or the Skagen Jorn, but its tiny screen lets it deliver information that won't require guessing whether the hands whirring to 9 o'clock mean a phone call from your gran or a sexy Snapchat from your significant other, something you don't want to confuse. That said, keep your expectations low on how much information that screen can deliver.
Even the larger of the two size options, the 40mm, is still very reasonable for what Nokia is cramming in here. But the biggest strong to Nokia's bow here is the 25 days of battery life, which wipes the floor with anything mentioned up until this point.
As well as accelerometer-based step tracking and sleep monitoring, the Steel HR has a heart rate monitor built in, which measures bpm 24/7, reporting useful data such as resting heart rate into the impressive Nokia Health Mate app. For high intensity workouts, it's not the best in the business, but for RHR the watch was mostly on the mark in testing.
Feature check: Water resistant to 50m, heart rate monitor, 25 day battery.
Wareable's Nokia Steel HR review verdict:
"Withings has made a watch that walks the line between smartwatch and analogue timepiece with impressive skill. As a fitness tracker it's among the most feature-packed and best looking; as a running watch it's still quite pared down."
Best smartwatch for budget and battery
OS: PebbleOS | Display: e-paper (144 x 168) | Size: 40mm | Battery: 1 week | Water resistance: 30m | Heart rate: Yes | Connectivity: Wi-Fi | Works with: iOS, Android
A double winner – not bad for a smartwatch that's essentially DOA. Conventional wisdom says that buying a Pebble smartwatch is a terrible idea, given that the company has been shuttered after its buyout by Fitbit. But hear us out.
The latest and last update guarantees that smartwatches will continue to work even after the servers are switched off, and when it comes to buying on a budget, few can match the Pebble 2 for features and value.
Pebble's watch is smartphone agnostic, meaning you'll get the same experience on both Android and iOS. It's important to mention that, because even with Android Wear 2.0, iOS users must still make some concessions. With the Pebble, you needn't worry about that.
The Pebble 2 is not a great looking smartwatch, but it's a cult hero thanks to a lively ecosystem of apps and watch faces, and low-power e-paper that will run you for a week before needing a recharge.
There's also a heart rate monitor and a decent fitness tracking and health platform, which was really picking up pace before the sell out. The monitor isn't amazing in accuracy when it's pushed during workouts, but it's not terrible either, and you also have the benefit of resting heart rate being tracked through the day - something the Apple Watch has only just caught up on.
There are also tonnes of those mentioned apps to play with while the Timeline interface, a sort-of Google Calendar, is pretty useful. If you're dipping a toe into smartwatch waters for the first time but are fearful of not liking it, the Pebble 2 is an affordable entry point. Who knows, you might end up falling in love.
Feature check: Heart rate monitor, week-long battery, thousands of Pebble apps.
Wareable's Pebble 2 review verdict:
"The Pebble 2 packs in a lot for its price, and there's plenty to love, but it's let down by design. If you're after an entry-level fitness tracker and don't care too much about how it looks, this is a solid choice."
Best smartwatch money-no-object
Tag Heuer Connected Modular 45
OS: Android Wear 2.0 | Display: AMOLED (400 x 400) | Size: 45mm | Battery: 410mAh, 1.5 days | Water resistance: 50m | Heart rate: No | Connectivity: GPS, NFC, Wi-Fi | Works with: Android, iOS
Tag's Android Wear second-coming is all about customization. Available with titanium, ceramic and 18K rose gold finishes, you can even change the smart part for a traditional mechanical Tag module, such as the Calibre 5 or the chronograph Tourbillon Heuer 02-T. You're free to swap out the lugs, the straps and even the buckle too.
In all, Tag says there are 56 different versions available, making it the most modular Android Wear watch around. What also makes it notable is the inclusion of GPS and 50m water resistance, two fitness features that other fashion-forward Android Wear watches often miss. In testing that GPS fared well against the TomTom Spark 3, too. The inclusion of NFC for Android Pay also works to its credit, however you're still only getting the average 1.5 days of battery life.
That last one makes the cost a little harder to bear; the Tag starts at $1,550 and moves up depending on your choice of materials.
We've seen a lot of beautiful Android Wear smartwatches this year, many of them coming out Fossil's door, and while we certainly rate the Tag on looks, you may also want to look in the direction of something like the Michael Kors Access Grayson or the Fossil x Cory Richards. If you're happy to pay a lot more, there's the Louis Vuitton Tambour Horizon and the Movado Connect to consider too.
Feature check: GPS, Android Pay, 50m water resistance.
Wareable's Tag Heuer Connected Modular 45 review verdict:
"The modular design is a big plus and while it's no match for a sports watch, the GPS and waterproofing definitely gives it something over the first Connected. There's still room for improvement, but overall, Tag's second attempt shows proves that this is one Swiss watchmaker that's learning very quickly how to make a good smartwatch."
From $1,550, tagheuer.com
Still to come...
We've mentioned a few upcoming devices above to help stave off risk of buyer's remorse as your flashy new gadget becomes instantly outdated, but below we mention a few more on the horizon and go into a little more detail on what you can expect from what's next.
Samsung Gear Sport
Samsung's back with a big new wearable for 2017 - but it's not the Gear S4. Instead Samsung is putting all its fitness eggs in one basket with the Gear Sport, a smartwatch that's waterproof to 50 metres, boasts partnerships with Speedo, Endomondo and MyFitnessPal, and comes in a more reasonably sized package than last year's Gear S3.
Hands on: Samsung Gear Sport review
In sum, we're excited. Samsung is at risk of being squeezed out of the fitness spotlight by Apple and Fitbit in the year ahead, so the Gear Sport is a strong strategic move for the company - and a very promising smartwatch for us.
Price: TBC, out October | samsung.com
Garmin Vivoactive 3
Garmin's Vivoactive 3 is a radical departure from the Vivoactive HR - gone is the ugly, black block, now replaced with a round body that's much more svelte. Add in wearable payments and better notification support, and Garmin is covering almost all its bases (just not music playback, sadly).
Hands on: Garmin Vivoactive 3 review
The 240 x 240 pixel, 1.2-inch Chroma display isn't going to rival most on this list, but it should mean good visibility in all conditions. The bevy of workout modes definitely will give others a run for their money, and Garmin's including all-day wellness monitoring too, sleep tracking included.
...and everything from Fossil
Fossil has been blazing a trail in the smartwatch space by sheer number of devices, and we're still waiting on a lot of them to drop before the year's end. The Diesel On Full Guard cooks in some fun new ideas for Android Wear, while the Michael Kors Access Grayson and Access Sofie, on sale 25 September, up the style stakes. The Emporio Armani Connected had us impressed on first look, too.
And then there's the Misfit Vapor, which has gone through many changes since its announcement, including a move from a proprietary OS to Android Wear. That's landing in October, and as it marks Misfit's first full-screen smartwatch, we're more than a little intrigued.
Check out our guide to the best upcoming smartwatch releases for a deeper dive into what's on the horizon.