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Whether you’re just counting calories or training for a marathon, there are a number of reasons why you should invest in a smartwatch. Once reserved for elite athletes, smartwatches have become almost de rigueur these days for anyone who cares even remotely about their health and fitness, and with production costs lowered and access to technology more readily available than ever before, smartwatches have also become more affordable to own.
While the Apple Watch may have set the standard, a number of competitors have stepped up their game in recent years with solid smartwatches that deliver impressive battery life, enhanced tracking metrics and surprisingly useful new features, all designed to help you stay active and alert throughout the day, and restful and stress-free at night.
Improving your workout or monitoring your health is now as simple as strapping one of these watches around your wrist. Here are five of our favorites.
What You Need to Know Before Buying a Smartwatch
There are many factors to consider when choosing the right smartwatch for you; below are the most important ones, which we considered while we were researching this list.
Watchband size: A smartwatch can have all the features in the world, but that won’t matter if it doesn’t fit. Our picks have bands between 20mm and 22mm, which should fit the average wrist. Thankfully, third-party bands are available for many of the watches in this guide.
Face Size: You’re going to be glancing down at your watch dozens of times a day, so we only chose models that had a screen size of around one-inch or above. We also made sure to pick a mix of round and rectangular screens.
Weight: A gadget’s weight is always important to consider, but it’s extra important when you’re carrying it on your body at all times. Keep in mind that lighter watches often have fewer features or worse battery life than their heavier counterparts.
Smart Features: All of these watches are smart, but their features vary pretty widely. Some have access to full app stores, support wireless payments, and integrate with smart assistants. Our baseline was that you should at least be able to get notifications on your wrists, so you don’t have to look at your phone.
Health Features: Modern smartwatches have sensors that allow them to pull double duty as fitness trackers. These features range from basic (counting calories burned) to very advanced (tracking four distinct levels of sleep).
Battery Life: Nobody wants another gadget they have to charge every single night, so we made sure our picks can last at least two or three days of actual use (but usually much more).
1. Fitbit Versa 2 Smartwatch
The Fitbit Versa 2 builds on the solid foundation from the first version by introducing more exercise tracking modes, improving battery life.
It comes with two bands (S, L) which fit 5.5 inch to 7.1-inch wrists and 7.1 inch to 8.7-inch wrists respectively, and its 0.987 color screen is just close enough to pass our threshold for acceptability.
The Versa 2 weighs 39 grams, which is about average for a smartwatch —for reference the Apple Watch Series 3 weighs between 26.7g to 52.8g depending on its finish. You’ll feel it on your wrist, but not enough to be annoying. What’s more impressive is the fact that Fitbit is squeezing up to six days worth of battery life per charge (this will vary based on how you use it), with an always-on display.
As you’d imagine, the Versa 2 is a fitness-focused smartwatch, but it has an impressive amount of smart features, too. It supports Bluetooth, so you can pair the watch directly to your wireless headphones while you exercise — a great feature for runners who want to leave their phone at home. You can also access an app store primarily populated by fitness and music streaming apps right from the watch.
The two standout smart functions on this Versa 2 are Fitbit pay, a contactless payment service that lets you pay for goods, and the Fitbit’s integration with Amazon’s Alexa, so you can ask questions, adjust settings, and control compatible smart home devices. Naturally, you can also view any incoming notifications from your phone (texts, calendar alerts, phone calls, etc.) on the watch’s screen.
All of those abilities prove the Versa 2 can stand on its own as a smartwatch, but the fitness features take it even further. This watch can track your calories burned, heart rate, sleep, and has over 40 “exercise modes,” that let you record specific workouts (including swimming, since the Versa 2 is waterproof up to 50m of water).
It also supports cycle tracking, guided breathing exercises, and a technology called SmartTrack that automatically detects when you’ve started working out.
The watch can hold a week’s worth of this data on its own, but it’s designed to be synced with Fitbit’s iOS and Android app, so you can view your progress over time. Fitbit has built up an entire ecosystem with it’s app that lets you challenge other Fitbit owners to weekly fitness challenges, or check in on their progress. These features can help encourage you to exercise more frequently.
Note: the company also makes a Fibit Ionic model, which includes all the above features plus built-in GPS (I.e. to track your run or ride), better app compatibility, up to five-day battery life and a brighter watch face under a durable Corning Gorilla Glass cover. Purchase: $200.54 on Amazon.com.
2. Amazfit Bip
Don’t let the name fool you, the Amazfit Bip is a strong contender for the best smartwatch for beginners.
It comes with a single, 22mm band, weighs 32g, and has a 1.28-inch always-on color display. That screen is pretty large for a smartwatch, but the Amazfit says the Bip gets up to 30 days of battery per charge. I’ve used this smartwatch before, and I had to charge it about once a week, but I was pushing it harder than the average person.
The Amazfit Bip doesn’t have all of the smart and fitness features you’ll find in a higher-end smartwatch, but it covers the basics really well. It can receive all of the notifications from your smartphone (iOS or Android), and its larger screen makes texts very easy to read.
It can track your calories burned, heart rate, and sleep quality, and has four specific sports modes to record data from specific exercises. Your fitness data can be synced with Amazfit’s app, which lets you view your progress on your phone.
My favorite part of using the Bip for myself was enjoying its simplicity. The always-on display shows the time, your heart rate, and step count when you’re not using it, which is all the information I needed at a glance. It was comfortable to wear — even to sleep — and I barely felt it on my wrist.
Other smartwatches can do a lot more, but the Amazfit Bip’s proves you don’t always need the extra bells and whistles.
3. Misfit Vapor 2 Smartwatch
The Misfit Vapor 2 is a no-frills watch that’s a great option for people who want a circular screen, and value smart features over fitness features.
One thing to get out of the way quickly: This watch is very big. It has an approximately 1.5 inch screen (Misfit doesn’t say how big the screen is, so we took its overall case size and reduced it slightly to account for the bezel around the display), and weighs 75g.
You’ll definitely notice the Vapor 2 on your wrist, but that could be a good thing if you like the feeling of a traditional watch. Despite its size, it comes with a 20mm band, and only gets 24 hours of battery life — the least on this list. That’s enough juice to get through a couple of days of active use, but it’s not ideal.
Size aside, the Vapor 2 is a feature rich smartwatch. It runs WearOS, Google’s smartwatch operating system, which means the the Vapor 2 has access to a large app store, and supports Google Pay, a popular contactless payment service. It also lets you use the Google Assistant on your wrist, which is comparable to Amazon’s Alexa.
The Vapor 2’s fitness features are somewhat lacking. It can track your burned calories, sleep, and heart rate, but that’s about it. Misfit says it’s “swimproof,” which is a nice addition, and you can pair it with your Bluetooth earbuds, but overall it’s a little barebones.
All that said, if you’re looking for a smart watch that emphasizes the word smart, this is a solid choice.
4. Samsung Galaxy Watch
The knock on most smartwatches these days is that they, well, look like a smartwatch. That’s not a problem here, the Galaxy Watch has a round face and real watch hands that give you the feel of an old school analog watch (it even makes a ticking sound!) but the Galaxy Watch does more than just tell time.
One of the Galaxy Watch’s greatest strengths is that it comes in two sizes: 42mm and 46mm. Some people might like a smartwatch’s features, but don’t want to wear one that feels too big or small. We’ll run through all the specs of both sizes, so you can make the right choice.
Both sizes of the Galaxy Watch fall on the larger end of the smartwatch spectrum. The 42mm version has a 1.2-inch screen, weighs 49g, and comes with a 20mm band. The 46mm version has a 1.5-inch screen and weighs 63g.
These are big watches, but they’re smaller and lighter than the Misfit Vapor 2. Battery life will vary based on the size of Galaxy Watch you pick, and how you use it, but Samsung says it should last for “days.”
The Galaxy Watch has a robust slate of smart and fitness features that stack up well against smartwatches that favor one or the other. The watch literally starts helping you the moment you wake up; its sensors detect you’ve stopped sleeping, and its screen shows a rundown of your day based on your calendar events. You’ll need to sync the Galaxy Watch up to compatible services to get this functionality, but it’s impressive nonetheless.
Samsung built a large app store for the Galaxy Watch, which has everything from Strava to Spotify to Uber. If you’re trying to cut down on your phone usage, but still want quick access to your most-used apps and services, this is a robust package. But it doesn’t stop there. The watch also works with Samsung Pay, the company’s contactless payment standard, and can control smart home accessories from Samsung’s SmartThings line.
On the fitness side, the Galaxy Watch tracks your calories burned and heart rate, and has specific modes for more than 39 different exercises. It can also record four levels of sleep to give you an accurate picture of how your body is doing when you rest. All of this data is logged in an app called Samsung Health, so you can review it later.
Like many of the smartwatches on this list, the Galaxy Watch has Bluetooth built in, so it can pair with your earbuds while you exercise. The difference is that is has four gigabytes of internal storage, which is enough to hold hundreds of songs.
The Galaxy Watch manages to balance sophisticated smart and fitness features without sacrificing the quality of either one. All this in a package that’s so subtle, most people won’t notice you’re using a smartwatch.
5. Polar Vantage V
Polar’s Vantage V is the ultimate smartwatch in our guide. It packs a ton of next generation tech features into an unassuming package.
The watch 46mm watch weighs 66g, and has a 1.2-inch always-on display. That makes it on par with the larger Galaxy Watch on case size and weight, but it has a smaller screen. The Vantage V compensates for its screen to weight ratio in a few ways, including getting several days of battery life, and the ability to receive notifications on your wrist.
But the Vantage V excels at one thing: being an insanely fine-tuned fitness tracker.
It supports over 130 different sports, to more accurately track your training sessions and success rates. Polar says its watch is also much more responsive to skin contact than competing models, thanks to its “Precision Prime Sensor” technology, which eliminates anything on the skin that might alter your heart rate signal or produce unreliable readings.
In other words: even if you’re sweating through a hike, or biking through treacherous (and dusty) terrain, your performance will still be tracked as accurately as possible.
Runners will like the Vantage V’s ability to analyze the stress you are putting on your joints during a run or training session. Even better, all of these metrics can be taken just from wearing your watch on your wrist (instead of needing to connect a device to your legs and feet). This is just one example of the level of information you’ll receive when you work out with the Vantage V.
The watch’s “Training Pro” feature monitors your cardiovascular and musculoskeletal system (Cardio Load and Muscle Load), and also takes into account how strained you feel (Perceived Load). Its “Recovery Pro” function, meantime, gives you personalized training recommendations based on how hard you’re working, and will send an alert if you’re at risk of injury.
If this all sounds like overkill, it’s because it probably is for the average person. But it’s perfect for people training for a marathon or triathlon. You’ll be able to track every metric to identify weakness to optimize your performance. Think of it this way: With the Vantage V you have a personal trainer on your wrist 24/7.